Saint Teresa of the Andes

St Teresa of Jesus of the AndesSpeaking of the virtue of humility, the great Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, said that the practice of humility entailed not being ignorant of your own Greatness.  Mary the Mother of God, in her song of praise, praises God for how great God had made her; “My soul magnifies the Lord … all generations will call me blessed … He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.”

I think that these words of the Magnificat must have been engrained in the soul of Saint Teresa of Jesus of the Andes.  From her earliest years she had a wonderful sense of how God had created her, called her and made her holy.

Juanita Fernandez was born on 13th July 1900 in Santiago, Chile into a family of three boys and two girls.  She grew up surrounded by her extended family and attended the local College which was run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.  She later went to boarding school where she excelled although she was not particularly fond of school. 

Her family was like any other family with their differences and failures.  But Juanita lived a full and active life.  She loved horse-riding and was a champion swimmer.  Her family was a truly Christian family, practising their Faith and caring for those around them.  Juanita even helped with teaching younger children catechism. A very ordinary life for a young girl!  And that is precisely true. 

From a very early age Juanita was conscious of a special connection with the Lord.  At the time of her First Holy Communion she was able to discern the Lord speaking to her.  From this time on she ‘fell in love with Jesus’ and at fourteen years of age she gave herself completely to Him.  Soon after, she felt the desire to enter the Carmel in Los Andes as soon as she would be accepted there.  The Mother Prioress wrote to her telling her that she had been born a Carmelite.

Juanita’s knowledge and understanding of Carmelite life came solely from her reading of the lives of Saint Teresa of Jesus of Avila, Saint Therese  and Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity.  She could see in the lives of these Saints that Carmel was a place where she would be in the presence of God, ‘a little bit of heaven’

But this life would entail suffering and separation.  Juanita believed that whatever suffering there would be would be borne by the Lord on the altar waiting for her love.  She began to seek silence and solitude so the Lord would be able to speak to her heart.  She was receptive to every sign of the Lord’s presence and every sound of the Word of God.  This is what drew her to sanctity – being conscious of the Lord’s presence and alert to the Lord’s word.

Her understanding of the Carmelite vocation was that it was one of suffering, of loving and of praying.  She found that this was her whole ideal and she embraced it with Joy.  Joy pervaded every part of her life from then on. 

She became Sister Teresa of Jesus when she entered the noviciate of the Carmel of the Andes.  Her Carmelite life was to be short.  She died three months short of her twentieth birthday.  The reaction to her death among the Carmelites, the media and the public was extraordinary.  What caused such amazement?  The ordinariness perhaps!  This ordinary young woman was what God wanted her to be.  This ordinary young woman was alert to the promptings of God in her life.  This ordinary young woman was generous, was loving and was joy-filled.  This ordinary young woman understood how great she was in the eyes of God and she sang of the Lord’s greatness with her very life.

Saint Teresa of the Andes has been declared a patron of youth.  Other patrons of youth come to mind; Saint Maria Goretti, put before youth for her purity of heart: Saint Dominic Savio for his outstanding example to peers:  Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006) for his promotion of and devotion to the Blessed Eucharist.

Saint Teresa of the Andes is put before youth today for her joyful love of God and the illustration by her life of how wonderful is God’s creation of His children and how even the lowly are Great in God’s eyes.