Monthly Archives: October 2014

Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, & Georg Solti: A Critical Look at the Modern Music Directors of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Part 1.

By John P. Walsh

PART I: Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, & Georg Solti.

In 2013 just ahead of Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals the principal conductor and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dressed up in a Chicago Blackhawk’s sweater to conduct his orchestral version of their pep rally song.1 Riccardo Muti (Italian, born 1941) has worn many hats as opera and classical music conductor in a forty-year career but perhaps none with such hometown flair.

In the decades before his 2010 CSO appointment Riccardo Muti appeared to have had a knack for getting into all sorts of fine arts trouble – his resignation as music director from La Scala in summer 2005 is recent although early in his career Muti walked away from productions in Florence, Milan, and Paris because of irreconcilable differences over artistic questions. Despite these encounters, Muti continues to be one of today’s celebrated Mozart and Verdi specialists while unconventionally asserting his prestige by mounting major productions of lesser known composers. From his earliest days as principal conductor of the opera festival Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1968 to his appointment as chief conductor of the London Philharmonia in 1972 – both posts held into the early 1980s – as well as a longstanding association with the Salzburg Festival starting in 1971, Muti is only recently being acclaimed in America for what he has long been famous for in Europe – as a first order musical firebrand who makes opera scores spring to vivid life.2

When Riccardo Muti was made music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980 – a prestigious post with an American orchestra which had had only two previous music directors since 1912 (namely, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy) – Muti almost immediately stepped into the annals of controversy as a conductor in America. Classical music lovers bred on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s broad, brilliant live and recorded performances under Stokowski and Ormandy found a nemesis in Muti. Verging on his 40s, the new conductor’s ideas for this venerable orchestra with a traditionally lush and enveloping string sound were received by Philadelphia audiences with dismay. It seemed that Muti strictly observed notated musical scores and shaped distinctive interpretations from them which altered a 75-year-old sound brand. Still touting its “distinctive sound”3 today as well as other past glories, the Philadelphia Orchestra under the 44-year reign of Eugene Ormandy (1936–1980) earned 3 Gold records and 2 Grammy Awards.4  In 2014, more than 20 years after Muti’s resignation from Philadelphia, critics continue to weigh in on his enduring influence. One hears the heaving sigh of relief that Muti revolutionized less than they feared.5 Musical idealism remains Muti’s calling card coming into Chicago. Do his efforts at parceling annotated music merit negative criticism? The “very clean sound” which CSO musical director Fritz Reiner (1953-1963) brought to Chicago at a time when the orchestra was looking for stable leadership is praised; the “lean sound” which Muti brought to Philadelphia following 70 years of stable leadership produced misgivings.6 At the October 3, 2014 CSO matinée performance of Polish-themed music (Panufnik, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony) it is evident that Chicago’s premier group of players is subjected to a similar set of permuted articulations under Muti’s command. Yet these CSO musicians are mindful of their musical worth and perform at a high level whoever appears on the podium responding to what is asked of them.

Eugene Ormandy and Orchestra Members, 1960s

Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy (Hungary, 1899-1985) with orchestra membersin the 1960s.

Riccardo Muti (Italy, born 1941) rehearsing the Philadelphia Orchestra for his 1972 guest conductor debut with the ensemble.

Under music director Fritz Reiner the CSO’s celebrated brass section was born; later, Sir Georg Solti (1969-1991) gave it luster and clarity while Daniel Barenboim (1991-2006) added richness and depth. What is Muti doing?7 Since its founding in 1891  Riccardo Muti is the CSO’s tenth music director. Each of his predecessors had their own style but not all had the same impact or influence on the orchestra which harbors its own strong personality.8 I began my CSO concert subscription when today’s Symphony Center was Orchestra Hall and Sir Georg Solti was its music director. Like most everyone else in Chicago I was in awe of Solti. By 1985 he had with the CSO and chorus won 7 Grammy Awards for a succession of Mahler symphonic recordings plus 15 more Grammys for his Verdi, Puccini, Schoenberg, Berlioz, Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner, and Brahms. Over the next six years when I was regularly in the Hall Solti’s CSO won another 6 Grammy Awards – for his Liszt, Beethoven, Bartók, Wagner, Bach and Richard Strauss. Solti’s accomplishment in this area is wonderfully mind boggling.9 Both music director Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon (1963-1968) wished to heighten the orchestra’s national and international profile by recordings and tours but it was maestro Solti who fulfilled and then surpassed these earlier objectives. When Solti finally left his post as music director in 1991 after 22 years at its helm he had the legacy of having established Chicago as one of the very best orchestras in the world.

Fritz Reiner (Hungary, 1888-1963) was the sixth music director of the CSO from 1953 to 1963. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) said that Reiner “made the Chicago Symphony into the most precise and flexible orchestra in the world.”

The CSO’s seventh music director (1963-1968) was talented composer Jean Martinon (French, 1910-1976). Never gaining the complete acceptance of orchestra members, Martinon improved the musicians’ work conditions and introduced the CSO to a new repertoire of French and contemporary classical music.

While music director in the early 1960s at Covent Garden George Solti (Hungary, 1912-1997) was known as “the screaming skull” for his outbursts in rehearsals.

As music director at Covent Garden for ten years starting in 1961 Solti generated a reputation for being “the screaming skull”10 because of his intense and at times bruising style. But musicians not much later in Chicago saw a different and more complex man. Solti did not bait or act harshly toward them as Reiner had done in the mode of Arturo Toscanini (Italy, 1867-1957). Reiner, in the first hour of the first rehearsal as music director, fired one of the musicians. He  worked constantly after that to instill fear into his orchestra. He insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” and inflicted cruel verbal tests onto his men to test, to his mind, their character.  While believed to be utterly lacking in ready wit or sensitivity as sometimes displayed by the combustible Reiner, Solti was seen by his musicians to turn inwards into a private world.11 Unlike Leonard Bernstein, Solti could appear fashion challenged – he showed up at rehearsal in baggy pants and a simple coat thrown over a rumpled shirt. Nor did Solti drive a flashy sports car à la von Karajan or act podium showman like Stokowski. While Martinon and Solti were “late starters” to music, a 53-year-old Martinon came to the orchestra fully formed while 57-year-old Solti continued an intense drive to advance.12

The 1970s underway, Solti proved to be not the terror in rehearsal Reiner had been nor seeking anyone’s approval like Martinon.  And while Solti was accessible and sometimes sought to be an intermediary to certain first-rank players’ intramural conflicts, he remained markedly tense. Solti did admit to “gentle bullying”13 in Chicago but only to get his way with the music. Respect for the CSO is high among its music directors while at Covent Garden Solti admiited he had been “a narrow-minded little dictator.”14 Under Solti’s leadership the CSO’s technical brilliance produced clear, lustrous, and notably loud sound – known as “Der Solti-Klang.” With Solti the CSO’s 1970 appearance at Carnegie Hall was a rousing success and for its first European tour in 1971 the orchestra basked in stellar reviews. In six weeks they played in Scotland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and England. By 1972 the CSO won its first Grammy Awards under Solti for Mahler Symphonies 7 and 8, whose music was first suggested to Solti to conduct by Theodor Adorno. Sir Georg Solti and Chicago made for a winning team and the city shared in its glory.15

Louis Sudler (1903-1992) president of the Orchestral Association from 1966 to 1971, chairman from 1971 to 1977 and chairman emeritus from 1977 until 1992 announces that Georg Solti will become the CSO’s eighth music director beginning with the 1969-70 season.

Sir Georg Solti conducting the CSO in Orchestra Hall for the three-act opera (third act unfinished) “Moses and Aaron” by Arnold Schoenberg (Austrian, 1874-1951) on November 13, 1971.

Ticker tape parade in downtown Chicago after musicians of the CSO returned following their autumn 1971 European concert tour, the first such international event in the orchestra’s history.

In performance Solti’s large conducting gestures could appear stiff and stylized – one more aspect of the Toscanini temperament he dismissed. As Solti espoused Toscanini’s belief that music cannot be chopped up and must relax and flow Solti did not follow Toscanini’s lead – as Riccardo Muti, a Toscanini admirer, does not-  to forego the written musical score on the conductor’s podium during a concert. If Muti’s reason is to read and interpret a score’s annotations, Solti’s was a psychological one. Like Toscanini Solti committed the music to memory but kept the annotated score ever-present to serve as an insurance policy for musicians, especially singers, who Solti believed needed reassurance that the conductor had everything under control during a performance. Despite this careful preparation, a recurring criticism of Solti’s work is that it “lack[ed] refinement…finesse and, above all, attention to detail.” 16 For the keen musical mind of Daniel Barenboim who brought neither Solti’s or Muti’s purpose to the podium he nearly always conducted like Toscanini with no score.

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) demonstrating conducting gestures for a crescendo.

n rehearsal with British mezzo-sporano Josephine Veasey in Covent Garden, 1966

Sir Georg Solti in rehearsal with mezzo-soprano Josephine Veasey (British, born 1930) in Covent Garden, 1966.

Daniel Barenboim in a typical conducting stance at the Veranos de la Villa Festival in Madrid.

Riccardo Muti conducts the CSO in an October 4, 2012 performance at Carnegie Hall.

When Sir Georg Solti died suddenly in September 1997 there was the critical reaction linking him to the passing of an era – an erstwhile time of “old school toughness” when a conductor was a “super-hero” who did not negotiate musical interpretation but demanded it and never shared credit or fame with any musician. But this, of course, is largely myth. The era of “democratic playing” which is criticized as today’s musical model – that is, one of dialogue and partnership between conductor and ensemble – is in fact something that started in the United States and elsewhere around 1960 when Solti was embarking on the next four decades of his best work.17 In what ways is Muti’s directorship affecting “the Chicago sound”? How is this new and highly experienced, talented and forceful conductor – conducting Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” on October 3, 2014 Muti jabbed the air like a boxer – an old Solti gesture – changing this vital orchestra? CSO’s future lies in Muti’s head, heart and hands and while players are incredibly talented (no orchestra plays Strauss and Mahler better) Muti keeps them on a tight leash. How do the musicians respond to his direction? Results from such control and semiotic interpolation of a composer’s intention in the score should be the grounds on which the public will judge Riccardo Muti over time. The CSO strives to play to its Chicago audience, not to one in Asia or Europe, and so the case for Muti’s rise or fall will essentially be local.

NEXT: Daniel Barenboim.

Footnotes:

1 Huff post Chicago, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra Plays ‘Chelsea Dagger’ In A Classy Show Of Support For The Hawks,” 06/20/2013. Retrieved October 2014.

2 irreconcilable differences – http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Riccardo_Muti.aspx. Retrieved October 2014; makes opera scores spring to vivid life – Peter G. Davis, “The Purist,” Opera News, October 2014, vol. 79, no. 4. Retrieved October 2014.

3 https://www.philorch.org/history#/ and http://www.spac.org/events/orchestra. Retrieved October 2014.

4 3 Gold records; 2 Grammy Awards – Townsend, Dorothy (13 March 1985). “Philadelphia Orchestra’s Eugene Ormandy, 85, Dies”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2014. See also http://www.grammy.com.

5James R. Oestreich, “The Big Five Orchestras No Longer Add Up,” New York Times, June 14, 2013. Retrieved October 2014.

6 William Barry Furlong, Season With Solti: A Year in the Life of the Chicago Symphony, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974, p. 52.

7 whatever is asked of them – Donald Peck, The Right Place, the Right Time: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2007, p. 6;  brass born under Reiner – Oestreich; luster and clarity – Furlong, p. 84; richness and depth – Emanuel Ax, http://www.gramophone.co.uk/editorial/the-world%E2%80%99s-greatest-orchestras.

8Furlong, p. 62.

9 See http://www.grammy.com.

10 Furlong, p. 86.

11 insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” – Peck, p. 2; private world – Furlong, p. 52.

12 flashy sports car – Furlong, p.79; podium showman – Furlong, p.81; “late starters” – Furlong, pp. 58 and 87; fully formed – Furlong, p.60; intensely driven – Furlong, p. 83, 141.

13 Furlong,  p.86.

14 Furlong, p. 88.

15 technical brilliance – Furlong p.81; “Der Solti-Klang” – Furlong, p. 85; “stellar reviews” – Review of ”The Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Robert M. Lightfoot; Thomas Willis,” by M. L. M., Music Educators Journal, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Dec., 1974), pp. 87-88; European itinerary – http://csoarchives.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/solti-26-1971-tour-to-europe/. Retrieved October 2014; suggested to Solti by Theodor Adorno – Sir Georg Solti, Memoirs, Knopf, NY 1997, p. 100.

16 On Solti’s and Toscanini’s relationship – see Furlong, pp. 86; 93-94, 141; for quote “lack[ed] refinement…” – Furlong, p. 85. Solti first worked with Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and was invited by him to New York in 1939.

17 Old school toughness – Review of “The Right Place, the Right Time! Tales of the Chicago Symphony Days by Donald Peck,” by Lauren Baker Murray, Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Sep., 2008), pp. 21-22; “super hero” – “Editorial: Leading from the Front,” The Musical Times, Vol. 138, No. 1857 (Nov., 1997), p. 3; dialogue and partnership… started in…1960 – Furlong, p.110.

“©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.”

God Cherishes Simplicity: a brief account of the life of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897).

Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881.

Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881. The Martin family had moved from Alençon to Lisieux to be with the Guerin relatives. Its larger portrait with her sister Céline is next to it.  school

By John P. Walsh

October 1 is the feast day of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897), one of only four women “doctors” in the Roman Catholic Church, and popularly known as The Little Flower of Jesus.  Her religious name is Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face and, with St. Francis of Assisi, she is one of today’s most popular saints. For a young Norman woman who died at 24 years old in an obscure convent in northern France that is a surprisingly solid list of titles and accolades. Yet when she died on September 30, 1897, the Carmelite nuns in her community at the Carmel in Lisieux didn’t think they had any accomplishments to cite for her obituary. Her sister Céline (1869-1959), a nun in the same convent as Thérèse, observed: “In general, even in the last years, she continued to lead a hidden life, the sublimity of which was known more to God than to the Sistersaround her.”1

Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873, she was the youngest of five sisters and lively and precocious. She lost her mother Zélie Martin (née Guérin, 1831-1877) to breast cancer as a four-year-old and the decade that followed – according to Thérèse’s journal (The Story of a Soul, begun in 1895) she faced the most “distressing” years of her life.Thérèse’s mother was the breadwinner in the Martin house and after she was gone Thérèse naturally turned for nurturing to her father Louis (1823-1894) and four older sisters, especially the second eldest, Pauline. For the rest of the 1870s and into the 1880s Thérèse was the high-spirited baby sister in a family home called Les Buissonnets in the French town of Lisieux.

Blessed Azélie-Marie

St. Azélie-Marie “Zélie” Martin née Guérin (1831 -1877). mother of Thérèse.

With her husband Louis, she will be canonized on October 18, 2015.

Louis Martin (1823 –1894), father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

St. Louis Martin (1823 –1894), father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

As three of Thérèse’s sisters left the family homestead to enter convents – two of them to a Carmelite convent (“Carmel”) in Lisieux and another later to a Visitation convent in Caen – it became the youngest sisters, Céline and Thérèse, who remained at home with their father. Although Louis adored Thérèse and called her his “little flower,” Thérèse was often headstrong and obstinate and considered it a big favor that she do household chores. Soon the young child began to have panic attacks. Though intelligent and educated, at ten years old Thérèse believed a statue of the Blessed Virgin in her bedroom that her late mother had given to her had smiled at her. While unusual, from that point forward, the girl’s nerves calmed. Yet these early tantrums left their mark on her reputation. These, along with some of her later writings in journals, letters, and poems, left the future saint a prey for others in her lifetime and after her death to be talked of as a person whose spirit was “immature” and “sentimental,” even “neurotic.”3  Doubtless some of Thérèse’s thoughts sound naïve yet she writes profoundly: “At times when I am reading certain spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown through a thousand obstacles…my poor little mind quickly tires; I close the learned book that is breaking my head and drying up my heart and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons, perfection seems simple to me, I see it is sufficient to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God’s arms.”4

Marie (1860-1940), the eldest Martin sister. After she entered the Carmel in Lisieux, she was called Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart.

Pauline (1861- 1951). Thérèse’s favorite sister. When she entered the Carmel in Lisieux her name was Mother Agnes of Jesus.

OK LEONIE

Léonie (1863-1941). Entered the Visitation Sisters in Caen and took the name Sister Françoise-Thérèse.

Céline (1869-1959) was four years older than Thérèse and closest in age. She entered the Carmel in Lisieux after Thérèse did and took the name Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face.

On April 9, 1888, a 15-year-old Thérèse entered the Carmel de Lisieux on Rue du Carmel, less than a one-half mile walk from Les Buissonnets. Younger than a typical postulant, exceptions had to be made. She received the habit after some delay (mostly because of her father’s declining health) in January 1890. Although her profession was also postponed, Thérèse’s spiritual life was deepening through her reading of another Carmelite, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591). In due time, despite difficulty in prayer and doubts about becoming a nun, Thérèse received the black veil in September 1890. In early 1891 an 18-year-old Thérèse was made a sacristan’s aide, a duty she carried into 1892 as her father lay slowly dying. During this time her reading and prayer transitioned to the Gospels and she began to write poems for which she had talent. Founded in 1838 as a “progressive” convent so that by the 1890’s the nuns were allowed to practice photography within its walls, the Carmel was also a working-class foundation comprised of daughters of shop-keepers and craftspeople brought up to expect a day’s work for a day’s wage. When Thérèse’s favorite sister Pauline was elected prioress in early 1893, Thérèse was appointed novice master (and remained a novice herself) and embarked on her second artistic avocation of picture painting. Scheduled to graduate from the novitiate in September 1893 it was postponed in part due to convent politics and the duty of doorkeeper’s aide was added to Thérèse’s tasks. In the spring of 1894 Thérèse began to experience chest pains and a hoarse throat that grew worse by summer. After her father died in July and Céline entered the Carmel six weeks later, Thérèse began to seriously formulate her “little way” of seeking holiness of life based on scripture passages and before the year was out Pauline (Mother Agnes Of Jesus) ordered her to begin to record her life story in a journal (The Story of a Soul) that the novice would compose in segments in her free time over the next two and one-half years left to her. Early in 1895 Thérèse voiced the first prediction of her death as her prayer life was working out an idea for what she would dedicate her life to. It would be a life with God whom she termed Merciful Love. She confided these developments to Céline so that by summer 1895 Thérèse could recommend the same devotion to more nuns in the community. Throughout the rest of that year Thérèse continued to compose poems (and give them as gifts on special occasions), write plays and paint pictures. Her spirit was characterized by humility. Thérèse writes: “How shall she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love.”(the emphases are Thérèse’s).

Therese at 3 years old

Taken in July 1876, Thérèse is 3 and a half years old. As a child she was often stubborn and headstrong.

ThereseCeline

Céline and Thérèse in 1881.

Therese Feb. 1886
Thérèse is 13 years old in this photograph taken in February 1886. That Christmas she made her first holy communion and her nervous childhood sensitivity ceased. About these events in December 1886 she wrote: “I felt love enter my soul, and the need to forget myself – and since then I have been happy.”
lisieux-ew2 fixed
Thérèse is 15 years old in this photograph taken in October 1887. At this time Thérèse was seeking permission from the bishop at Bayeux to enter Carmel (the convent). She finally entered on April 9, 1888.
Carmel Lisieux

Carmelite convent (Carmel) where Thérèse Martin entered at Lisieux in April 1888 in a recent photograph.

saint-therese-of-lisieux07

Photograph of Carmel taken by Céline in September 1894. Thérèse stands on the steps, third from the right.

Therese 1889
Thérèse as a novice in Carmel in a detail of a photograph taken in January 1889. She was 16 years old and in the convent nine months.
Therese Carmel Jan 1889

Thérèse as a novice in January 1889 in a photograph taken by Fr. Gombault, bursar of the minor seminary.

saint-therese-of-lisieux
Thérèse in January 1889 in a photograph taken by Fr. Gombault.
saint-therese-of-lisieux

Late 1894.

MartinSisters-768x546
Thérèse (right) was one of five Martin sisters who became religious nuns. Taken in late 1894 or early 1895 by Céline.
Therese late 1894/95.

Detail of a photograph of Thérèse taken in late 1894 or early 1895. This image became the basis for an oval portrait painting done by Céline.

Therese oval portrait painting

This is the original oil oval portrait painting of Thérèse by Céline based on a photograph of Thérèse around Christmas 1894. Céline claimed that this image captured the real Thérèse. Photograph by the author.

St_-Therese-as-Joan-of-Arc
In a photograph taken by Céline between January 21st and March 25th, 1895 in the convent courtyard Thérèse is dressed as Joan of Arc for the part she played in her own play called “Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission.”
saint-therese-of-lisieux
Photograph of Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc taken by Céline between January 21 and March 25th, 1895.
Therese as Joan of Arc
Close up of a photograph taken by Céline of Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc, 1895
saint-therese-of-lisieux
Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc in a photograph by Céline, 1895.
saint-therese-of-lisieux
Community of 23 Carmelites in a photograph taken by Céline on Easter Monday, April 15th, 1895. First row left to right: Geneviève of the Holy Face (Celine). Second row left to right: Mother Agnès of Jesus (Pauline) and Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Teresa-de-Lisieux

Easter Monday, April 15, 1895.

saint-therese-of-lisieux23

Photograph taken by Céline for the feast of the Good Shepherd, April 27 or 28, 1895. Thérèse is at right between to white-veiled novices.

Carmel_023b

After July 3, 1896, photograph taken by Céline.

saint-therese-de-lisieux-granger

July 1896.

saint-therese-of-lisieux37

Photograph taken by Céline July 1896.

teresa_di_lisieux
Detail in the garden July 1896.
saint-therese-of-lisieux
Photograph taken by Céline in early-mid November 1896 of her sisters and cousin showing the work of the sacristan. Thérèse stands at right.
saint-therese-of-lisieux
The second pose of three posed photographs taken by Céline in the sacristy courtyard on June 7th, 1897. Therese was just beginning to complete the last section of A Story of a Soul.

Circumstances, however, were growing more difficult for Thérèse. In 1896 a new prioress of Carmel confirmed Thérèse’s role in the novitiate where she could continue to teach her “little way” and work in the sacristy and the laundry room. In addition to finding it difficult to pray, in April 1896 she began to spit blood, a sure sign of the seriousness of her illness. The last eighteen months of her life proved a dark period for the vivacious five-foot three-inch Norman young woman. Her physical pain was often unrelenting and any dreams she had of becoming a foreign missionary to Vietnam were abandoned. However, the priest in charge of foreign missions, Father Adolphe Roulland (1870–1934) whom she met in July 1896 as he was on his way to China, asked her to be a “spiritual sister” to the mission priests. This charge meant not merely to pray for the priests but in her correspondence with them to “console and warn, encourage and praise, answer questions, offer corroboration, and instruct them in the meaning of her little way.”6

In 1896 Father Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a
In 1896 Father Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a “spiritual sister.”

In a letter from Thérèse to Fr. Roulland she wrote: “Reverend Father… I feel very unworthy to be associated in a special way with one of the missionaries of our adorable Jesus, but since obedience entrusts me with this sweet task, I am assured my heavenly Spouse will make up for my feeble merits (upon which I in no way rely), and that He will listen to the desires of my soul by rendering fruitful your apostolate. I shall be truly happy to work with you for the salvation of souls. It is for this purpose I became a Carmelite nun; being unable to be an active missionary,  I wanted to be one through love and penance just like Saint Teresa, my seraphic Mother….I beg you, Reverend Father, ask for me from Jesus, on the day He deigns for the first time to descend from heaven at your voice, ask Him to set me on fire with His Love so that I may enkindle it in hearts. For a long time I wanted to know an Apostle who would pronounce my name at the holy altar on the day of his first Mass….I wanted to prepare for him the sacred linens and the white host destined to veil the King of heaven…The God of Goodness has willed to realize my dream and to show me once again how pleased He is to grant the desires of souls who love Him alone.”7

The year 1897 was defined by Thérèse’s successive physical decline from tuberculosis as well as a personal joy expressed in her conversation and poems. It was on the feast day of St. Joseph, March 19, 1897, during a personal novena to St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), that Thérèse asked St. Joseph to obtain from God the favor of “spending her heaven doing good on earth.” She also asked St. Francis Xavier for the same intercession.8

By April 1897 she was gravely ill and in May was relieved of all work duties and community prayer. She continued to write in her journal but left it unfinished, too weak to write. In August her suffering was so great she admitted to the temptation of suicide. After August 19 she was simply too physically weak to even any longer ingest the communion wafer and, on September 30, 1897, died in the convent infirmary. Thérèse was 24 years old. In her last hours she said: “Oh! It is pure suffering because there are no consolations. No, not one! O my God…Good Blessed Virgin, come to my aid! My God…have pity on me! I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it anymore!…I am reduced…No, I would never have believed one could suffer so much…never! never!…I no longer believe in death for me…I believe in suffering…O I love Him. My God I love you…”These last words of the dying nun were reported by more than one witness.

Sick Thérèse one month before her death, August 30, 1897.

An infirm Thérèse on August 30, 1897, exactly one month before her death.

At the centenary of her death in 1997, St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) made Thérèse a “Doctor of the Church,” one of only thirty-three such species. By elevating Thérèse’s simple example of love, the Polish pope, himself called out from behind an Iron Curtain and who lived to see it fall, clarified what may constitute a Church Doctor’s character and purpose. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was beatified on April 29, 1923 and canonized on May 17, 1925 and is co-patron saint of church missions with St. Francis Xavier and co-patron saint of France with St. Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431). She is also patron saint of AIDS sufferers, pilots, florists, bodily ills (especially tuberculosis), and loss of parents.

 

 

USE OBIT
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s obituary was printed in “Le Normand.” It reads: ““It is with a spirited feeling of sadness that we learned Thursday evening of the death at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of a young person who gave the most beautiful years of youth to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Miss Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, renounced the world at fifteen years of age and consecrated herself to God as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She departed after ten years of angelic life in the shadow of the cloister, and we have sweet confidence that death which put an end to long and cruel sufferings has come to take this youth in her bloom and already placed on her head the immortal crown, the goal of all our earthly aspirations. The funeral will be celebrated Monday morning at 9 o’clock in the Carmel chapel. Le Normand offers to the family of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the Prioress and all the Carmelite sisters the tribute of its respectful condolences.”

ENDNOTES:

  1. St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her last conversations, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1977, pp. 18-19. Her complete obituary printed in Le Normand reads: “It is with a spirited feeling of sadness that we learned Thursday evening of the death at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of a young person who gave the most beautiful years of youth to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Miss Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, renounced the world at fifteen years of age and consecrated herself to God as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  She departed after ten years of angelic life in the shadow of the cloister, and we have sweet confidence that death which put an end to long and cruel sufferings has come to take this youth in her bloom and already placed on her head the immortal crown, the goal of all our earthly aspirations.  The funeral will be celebrated Monday morning at 9 o’clock in the Carmel chapel. Le Normand offers to the family of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the Prioress and all the Carmelite sisters the tribute of its respectful condolences.”
  2. see Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996, pp. 51-67.
  3. The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003, p. 83.
  4. Letter from Thérèse to Father Roulland, LT 226, dated May 9, 1897, Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974, p. 1094.
  5.  Story of a Soul, p. 196. For this paragraph’s chronology see Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, 1297-1329.
  6. Görres, p.189.
  7. Letter from Thérèse to Father Roulland, LT 189, dated June 23, 1896, Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974, pp. 956-957.
  8. see footnote 11 in Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, p. 1074.
  9. Last conversations, pp. 204-205; 230; 243.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996;

Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux, Jean-François Six, University of Notre Dame Press, South Bend, Indiana, 1996;

St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her last conversations, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1977;

Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,Volumes I and II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974;

The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003;

http://floscarmelivitisflorigera.blogspot.com/2010/06/praying-for-priests-with-st-therese.html.

http://www.archives-carmel-lisieux.fr/

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