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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881 with her sister Céline. The Martin family had moved from Alençon to Lisieux to be with the Guerin relatives. Zélie Martin had died four years before.
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 Sisters around 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. The next decade – according to Thérèse’s journal (The Story of a Soul, begun in 1895) – was the most “distressing” years of her life.2
Thérèse’s mother was the breadwinner in the Martin house and after she died little Thérèse naturally turned to her father Louis (1823-1894) for nurturing along with her 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 the family home called Les Buissonnets in the Normandy town of Lisieux.
St. Azélie-Marie “Zélie” Martin née Guérin (1831 -1877) and St. Louis Martin (1823 –1894), the mother and father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. The married couple were canonized together in the Catholic Church by Pope Francis on October 18, 2015.
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– the two youngest sisters, Céline and Thérèse, remained at home with their father.
Although Louis adored Thérèse and called her his “little flower,” Thérèse was headstrong and obstinate and she seemed to do chores with the attitude like she was doing the household a big favor. The young child also began to have panic attacks. Though intelligent and educated, at ten years old Thérèse believed she saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin given to her by her mother in her bedroom smile at her. While unusual, from that point forward, the girl’s nerves calmed. These early tantrums left a mark on her reputation. They, along with some of her later writings in journals, letters, and poems, left the future saint prey for others in her lifetime and after her death to be called “immature” and “sentimental,” even “neurotic.”3
Doubtless some of Thérèse’s thoughts sound naïve, though 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.
Léonie (1863-1941). She 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 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).
St. Thérèse of Lisieux as a young nun read deeply of Saint John of the Cross who said many beautiful things about having a close relationship with Jesus.
In due time, despite difficulty in prayer and doubts about becoming a nun, Thérèse received the black veil in September 1890. In early 1891 the 18-year-old Thérèse was made 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. Thérèse, like another young French mystic saint, St. Bernadette Soubirous, sought to be useful.
When Thérèse’s favorite sister Pauline was elected prioress in early 1893, Thérèse was appointed novice master (though a novice herself) and embarked on her artistic avocation of picture painting. Scheduled to graduate from the novitiate in September 1893 it was postponed in part due to convent politics. 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 that summer. After her father died in July 1894, Céline entered the Carmel six weeks later. It was at that time that Thérèse began to seriously formulate her “little way” of seeking holiness of life based on scripture passages. Before 1894 had ended, her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes Of Jesus) ordered her to begin to record her life story in a journal (The Story of a Soul). The novice composed her journal in segments in her free time over the next two and a half years.
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 called Merciful Love. On June 9, 1895, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, during Mass, Thérèse decided to offer herself to Merciful Love who is the Lord. Thérèse confided these spiritual developments to Céline so that by summer 1895 Thérèse recommended the same devotion to more nuns in the community.
Sister Geneviève recounted later in her memoirs: “Coming out of Mass, eyes all on fire, breathing holy enthusiasm, Thérèse dragged me without saying a word to follow our Mother who was then Mother Agnes of Jesus. She told him in front of me how she had just offered herself as a Holocaust Victim to Merciful Love, asking her permission to deliver us together. Our Mother, in a great hurry at the moment, allowed everything without really understanding what it was about. Once alone, Thérèse confided in me the grace she had received and began to compose an act of offering.” (”Au sortir de la messe, l’œil tout enflammé, respirant un saint enthousiasme, Thérèse m’entraîna sans mot dire à la suite de notre Mère qui était alors Mère Agnès de Jésus. Elle lui raconta devant moi comment elle venait de s’offrir en Victime d’Holocauste à l’Amour Miséricordieux, lui demandant la permission de nous livrer ensemble. Notre Mère, très pressée en ce moment, permit tout sans trop comprendre de quoi il s’agissait. Une fois seule, Thérèse me confia la grâce qu’elle avait reçue et se mit à composer un acte d’offrande.”)
Throughout 1895 Thérèse continued to write–composing poems and giving them as gifts on special occasions, writing plays and painting pictures. Her spirit was characterized by humility.
Thérèse wrote: “How shall she prove her lovesince 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.”5 (the emphases are Thérèse’s).
Taken in the first part of July 1876, Thérèse is 3 1/2 years old. As a child she was stubborn and headstrong. For this photography sitting, Thérèse was fidgety and ill at ease. Looking as if she might cry, the photographer had to take her photograph several times so to achieve this image of Thérèse with a pouting look. Thérèse’s mother, Zélie Martin, accompanied her youngest child during the photography session and had to reassure her throughout.
Thérèse was 13 years old in this photograph taken in February 1886. Just months later, at Christmas 1886, Thérèse made her first Holy Communion and at once her nervous childhood sensitivity stopped.
That December 1886 she wrote about these occurrences, stating: “I felt love enter my soul, and the need to forget myself and please others, and since then I have been happy.”
Pretty and well-dressed Thérèse at 15 years old in a photograph taken in October 1887. At the time this photograph was taken Thérèse was seeking the permission of Bishop at Bayeux, Flavien-Abel-Antoinin Hugonin (1823-1898), to enter the convent of Carmel. She entered on April 9, 1888.
Below: a recent photograph of the Carmelite convent (Carmel) where Thérèse Martin entered at Lisieux in April 1888.
Above: Photograph of Carmel taken by Céline in September 1894. Thérèse stands on the steps, third from the right.
Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux and Lisieux had confirmed Thérèse on June 14, 1884. Nearly four years later, he authorized, with some reluctance on account of her young age, Thérèse’s entrance in Carmel at 15 years old. Soon after, Bishop Hugonin presided over her clothing on January 10, 1889 as he showed continued solicitude for the young Carmelite novice he had specially approved. Less than two months before his own death in May 1898, Bishop Hugonin, on March 7, 1898, gave his verbal imprimatur to Thérèse’s Story of a Soul.
Next two photographs below: Thérèse as a novice in Carmel in a photograph taken in January 1889. She was 16 years old and in the convent nine months. The photograph was taken by Fr. Gombault, the bursar of the minor seminary.
Above: Late 1894.
Thérèse (right) was one of five Martin sisters who became religious nuns. The photograph was taken by Céline in late 1894 or early 1895.
Above: Detail of a photograph of Thérèse taken by Céline in late 1894 or early 1895. The photographic image was the basis for an oval portrait painting done by Céline (below) in the same time period.
Original oil oval portrait painting of Thérèse by Céline based on her photograph of Thérèse around Christmas 1894. Céline later claimed that this image captured the real Thérèse. Photograph by author.
In this series of photographs taken by Céline between January 21 and March 25, 1895, in the convent courtyard, Thérèse is dressed as Joan of Arc. It was for a part Thérèse played in her own play she had written called Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission.
A longtime revered figure in France Joan of Arc was not yet a canonized saint in late winter 1895 when 22-year-old Thérèse dressed as her for a play within the convent walls and was photographed by her older sister Céline. Joan of Arc became a canonized saint following World War I on May 16, 1920.
Between January and March 1895 Thérèse chose to dramatize Joan of Arc who is today one of the patron saints of France. In the 15th century Joan became an unrelenting vessel of combat and action for the French King—and was burned at the stake by her enemies in Rouen, France, at the incredibly young age of 19 years old. Joan’s mission on earth always was driven by a spiritual dimension (her “voices”). About her dressing in armor, Joan said: “What concerns this dress is a small thing – less than nothing. I did not take it by the advice of any man in the world. I did not take this dress or do anything but by the command of Our Lord and of the Angels.”
In March 1895 Thérèse was 22 years old. In a little over a year Thérèse’s symptoms of tuberculosis indicated a serious turn for the worse in her health. Over the next two years, her health continued to decline so that by summer 1897 Thérèse was on her death bed.
Thérèse knew her great desire to be a missionary to Vietnam was now impractical. In June 1895 Thérèse decided to have an earthly mission within convent walls of “merciful love” and the “little way.” Like young Joan of Arc, Thérèse’s spiritual mission began on earth and would continue in heaven. So that a little over 6 months before her early death at 24 years old, Thérèse implored the favor by the command of Our Lord and of the Angels of “spending her heaven doing good on earth.”
Close up of a photograph taken by Céline of Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc in 1895.
Community of 22 Carmelite nuns in a photograph taken by Céline on Easter Monday, April 15th, 1895. First row left to right: Geneviève of the Holy Face (Céline). Second row left to right: Mother Agnès of Jesus (Pauline) and Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Photograph taken by Céline for the feast of the Good Shepherd, April 27 or 28, 1895. Thérèse is at right between two of her white-veiled novices.
Above photograph (including close-up) was taken by Céline in July 1896. Thérèse had been ill for several months.
Thérèse holds a lily in a photograph taken by Céline in the convent garden in July 1896.
Photograph of the community taken by Céline. July 1896.
Photograph taken by Céline in early-mid November 1896 of her sisters and cousin showing the work of the sacristan. Thérèse stands at right. In September 1896 Thérèse wrote a letter to her sister Marie whose text called Manuscript B became part of The Story of a Soul.
The second pose of three posed photographs taken by Céline in the sacristy courtyard on June 7th, 1897. It was taken 4 days after Thérèse had been asked to complete the last section of A Story of a Soul. Thérèse, who holds the image of the “Holy Face” of Jesus, was in the midst of her 18-month “dark night” of faith. She knew she would die soon and Céline made these photographs intentionally as a “final remembrance” of her 24-year-old sister. After many months of sickness and suffering, Thérèse died on Thursday, September 30, 1897.
Circumstances were growing more difficult for Thérèse in terms of her health and spirituality. 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. These last eighteen months of her life proved a dark period for the normally vivacious five-foot three-inch Norman young woman. Her physical pain was often unrelenting and the dreams she had of becoming a foreign missionary to Vietnam had to be abandoned. Yet, the priest in charge of foreign missions, Father Adolphe Roulland (1870–1934) whom Thérèse had met in July 1896 as he was going to China, asked her to be a “spiritual sister” to the mission priests. This charge meant not only 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 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 on the one hand by Thérèse’s physical decline because of tuberculosis and, on the other hand, her personal joy expressed in her conversations 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 asked St. Francis Xavier for the same intercession.8
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, Glasgow.
St. Francis Xavier baptizing, 18th century, Mexico City.
By April 1897 Thérèse was gravely ill and in May 1897 was relieved of all work duties and community prayer. Thérèse continued to write in her journal but abadoned it, too weak to write. In August 1897 Thérèse’s suffering was so great she confessed to the temptation of suicide. After August 19, 1897 Thérèse was too physically weak to even ingest the consecrated communion wafer. On September 30, 1897, Thérèse died in the convent infirmary. She was 24 years old.
In her last hours Thérèse 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…”9 These last words of the dying nun were reported by more than one witness.
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 credentialed. By elevating Thérèse’s example of simple love, the Polish pope, himself called out from behind an Iron Curtain and 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. She is co-patron saint of all church missions with St. Francis Xavier and co-patron saint of France with St. Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431). Thérèse is patron saint of AIDS sufferers, pilots, florists, bodily ills (particularly tuberculosis), and the loss of parents.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s obituary was written by the nuns of her community and printed in Le Normand. In an English translation 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.”
Thérèse died in the evening of September 30, 1897. The next morning, October 1, 1897, before her body left the infirmary where she died, Céline (Sister Geneviève), deeply impressed by Thérèse’s peaceful countenance in death, took one final photograph of her sister.
Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was buried in the Carmelite section at the municipal cemetery at Lisieux on the morning of October 4, 1897 after a funeral Mass at the Carmel. An obscure figure at the time of her death, the funeral procession which followed her body to the cemetery was small that day. It was to this municipal cemetery grave that pilgrims first came. Miracles began to be reported to have taken place at her tomb through her intercession. One notable miracle was that of Reine Fauquet, a four-year-old girl from Lisieux, who was blind. On May 25, 1908, the child was brought by her mother to the tomb of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus where the child’s sight was suddenly restored. A medical doctor who was not in favor of making Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus a saint, signed the medical documents attesting to the cure.10
Because of these events, a tribunal was convened by the bishop of Bayeux in August 1910 to interview witnesses at Lisieux. To investigate the corporeal remains of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus for its condition, the body was exhumed on September 6, 1910. The exhumation took place in the presence of the bishop of Bayeux, Thomas-Paul-Henri Lemonnier (1853-1927) and scores of others. The doctors who treated Thérèse before her death confirmed that the body decayed in the usual manner, finding only bones and bits of clothes.
The site of Therese’s first grave from 1897 to 1910 continues to be marked by the same cross. The site of her second grave in the same Carmelite section of the municipal cemetery is also marked. The second grave held her bodily remains in a cemented vault from 1910 until 1923. When Sister Thérèse of the Child jesus was declared a “servant of God,” the first step on the road to sainthood, there was a second exhumation. It was to the second grave site that large and growing numbers of pilgrims came to implore the Little Flower’s intercessions. The cross that marked the second grave was completely covered by prayers and tributes to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus by pilgrims.
On the occasion of her beatification, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus’s remains were transferred for a third time on March 26, 1923 to the Carmelite Chapel at Lisieux. Saint Thérèse was canonized on May 17, 1925 by Pope Pius XI and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Her feast day is October 1.
It is recorded that on May 26, 1908, Reine Fauquet who lived in Lisieux was cured of an eye disease following her visit to Thérèse’s grave in Lisieux. The 4-year-old child explained to her sister that she had an apparition of Thérèse: “I saw little Thérèse, right next to my bed, she took my hand, she laughed at me, she was beautiful, she had a veil, and it was all lit around her head” (“J’ai vu la petite Thérèse, là, tout près de mon lit, elle m’a pris la main, elle me riait, elle était belle, elle avait un voile, et c’était tout allumé autour de sa tête“). When Reine Fauquet met Thérèse’s sisters at the Carmel they asked her how Thérèse had been dressed in the vision. The child replied: “The same as you!′′ (“Pareille à vous!“).
On the evening of December 25, 1895, Thérèse created a ceremony for her community of sisters that celebrated the birthday of the Christ Child.
During the celebration each sister selected a folded note from a basket and handed it to an “angel” (one of the other sisters). The “angel” opened the note and sang its prayerful verse.
Each sister was then asked to offer to Jesus her best self in the coming year. Thérèse’s ceremony included a crib and wax figure of the infant Jesus for which Thérèse and her novice designed these hand-made costumes. A light-blue dress with lace trim was on display at the National Shrine of St. Thérèse in Darien, Illinois, in spring 2018. Photograph by the author.
The papal decree of August 14, 1921 declaring Thérèse of the Child Jesus a “Venerable” of the Church. It was promulgated by Benedict XV.
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.”
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.
The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003, p. 83.
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.
Story of a Soul, p. 196. For this paragraph’s chronology see Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, 1297-1329.
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.
see footnote 11 in Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, p. 1074.
Last conversations, pp. 204-205; 230; 243.
Thérèse and Lisieux, Pierre Descouvement and Helmut-Nils Loose, Toronto: Novalis, 1996, p. 316.
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;