THE LITTLE FLOWER
By His Eminence D. Cardinal Dougherty, D.D.
Archbishop of Philadelphia
(Published in the Catholic Home Annual of 1925)
Before I set out from the Philippines in 1912, for a year’s collecting tour in the United States, I was requested by a Sister of the Assumption, then teaching in an Academy at Manila, to visit her own sister, a Carmelite nun in Philadelphia.
Upon reaching this country, I lost no time in calling at the Philadelphia Convent. Entering it, I was asked by a soft-voiced, demure young lay-woman, dressed in black, who was acting as portress ((Many Carmels have an “extern”, a person who answers the door and directs people to the “Turn”. In these years at Philadelphia Carmel, the extern was Miss Mary Reilly (1879-1937), who also labored at promoting devotion to Sr. Thérèse. She later became aggregated to the Monastery as an out-Sister, with the name Sr. Teresita of the Child Jesus.)), to buy a life of The Little Flower, which she had on sale.
“Who is The Little Flower?” I inquired. I had never heard of her before.
“Why don’t you know of The Little Flower?” She said. “She was a Carmelite nun, who died in the odor of sanctity not many years ago.”
“I have been living on the other side of the globe,” I answered, “and have not been in touch with the outside world; hence you will pardon me if I say that I have never before heard of her.”
I bought the book; paid my visit to the Carmelite nun; returned to the priest’s house in which I was staying; and began to read the autobiography of Sister Therese.
Needless to say, it thrilled me. I made up my mind at once to place under her patronage the collection which I was about to take up for the erection of a large hospital and an orphanage in the diocese of Jaro, where such institutions were needed, not only for charity, but also to counteract proselytism.
I was astonished at the almost palpable co-operation of The Little Flower in my work. I never approached anybody for an offering without invoking her; and in many instances I could have not the slightest doubt of her intercession.
Having collected about two hundred thousand dollars in a few months, I made up my mind to visit the scenes of her life at Lisieux, in Normandy. I arrived at that town in the month of October, 1913, at eight o’clock at night, in the midst of a downpour of cold rain. I looked up the Sisters’ Chaplain, and from him got permission to say Mass the next morning at eight o’clock in the Convent Chapel.
The Little Flower and all her four Sisters became religious; one of them a nun of the Visitation Order ((Pauline (Mother Agnes), Marie (Sr. Marie), and Céline (Sr. Geneviève) were Carmelites at Lisieux; Leonie (Sr. Françoise Thérèse) was a Visitation nun at Caen.)). All four are still living; and the three Carmelites are, and have been, at the Carmel of Lisieux.
The first to whom I gave Holy Communion on the morning of my visit was the oldest ((Actually, Marie was the oldest, and Pauline the second child.)) sister of the family, Pauline, so often spoken of by The Little Flower in her autobiography and styled by her “My Little Mother.” The Little Flower at an early age lost her mother; Pauline took the mother’s place in the family.
I recall vividly my emotion upon administering Holy Communion to Pauline, now, as in 1912, Prioress of Carmel at Lisieux. After breakfast I was admitted into the cloister, where I found four nuns kneeling just inside the door, ready to receive me. As soon as I entered they threw back the long black veils, which screened their faces and bodies, arose and greeted me. My first words were: “Which is Mother Agnes?” The smallest of the four smilingly replied: “I am Mother Agnes”; after a little pause she added: “The Little Flower was taller than I.”
The four Sisters, accompanied by the Chaplain, conducted me through the Convent, now so familiar to lovers of The Little Flower through the pictures sent broadcast to all parts of the world.
I first visited The Little Flower’s cell, where she had passed her religious life. At that time there was nothing in it except a plain couch, which had been her bed, and which was as poor as poverty could make it. In leaving the cell, I noticed a thick piece of glass on the jamb of the door. Mother Agnes called my attention to writing beneath it. I examined it and found under the glass the word “Therese,” scratched there with a nail by the hand of The Little Flower.
Nearly everything connected with her religious life was at that time stored away in the adjoining cell. In it were to be found her Bible, her Following of Christ, her discipline, and the savage-looking, pronged girdle of steel links, which she had worn about her waist next to the skin. In another part of the cell, in a glass case, was to be seen the great mass of her long, waving chestnut hair, cut off when she received the Habit. By its side was a beautiful white dress which The Little Flower had worn at her First Holy Communion.
Next I visited the sacristy, where I saw the pictures, particularly the angels’ heads, that she had painted on the wall over the opening through which Holy Communion is administered to the Sisters at Mass. After taking a hurried look at the adjoining garden, where she had so often meditated, I was conducted to the infirmary in which she died. This is a cell on the ground floor, leading out into the inner court. It brought back to my mind some of the incidents of her last days.
On Holy Thursday ((April 2, 1896.)), she had spent the evening, until midnight, before the Blessed Sacrament, in the Chapel. After reaching her cell, and lying down on her couch for her night’s rest, she suddenly felt a warm fluid rise to her mouth; and although she suspected what it might be, she controlled curiosity with religious fortitude, resigned herself into the hands of God, and went off to sleep. Next morning, when she had arisen from her couch at the usual signal of the Convent bell, she went to the window to examine her handkerchief, and found it soaked with blood. That was the beginning of her sickness, and her death knell.
Instead of collapsing from fright, she went to the Mother Prioress ((April 2, 1896.)) and asked permission to continue her Lenten fast, in spite of the hemorrhage.
About this time she was commanded by the same Mother Prioress, who, in those days, was not her sister Pauline, to write her autobiography ((The Cardinal refers to the version of the Story of a Soul as it was known at this time (before the Cause had been introduced): while actually being comprised of three different manuscripts addressed to three different persons, on being prepared for publication they were edited by Mother Agnes (at the insistence of Mother Marie de Gonzague) and formed into a single volume addressed solely to Mother Marie de Gonzague (to whom, as a matter of fact, only the final manuscript, written in June and July of 1897, was originally addressed).)). She continued at this work as long as her strength lasted.
While she was lying on her death-bed in the infirmary, an old Sister, who had a special love for her, knowing The Little Flower’s fondness for flowers, gathered some in the garden and sent them in to her, asking, in return, a line of acknowledgment.
It happened that the life of St. Aloysius was at that time read in the refectory. In it is stated that an old Jesuit Father, named Carbonelli, had special love for St. Aloysius, who lived with him under the same roof next to the Church of St. Ignatius at Rome. Accordingly, the old Sister, in sending her little bouquet said: “Father Carbonelli presents Aloysius with a few flowers and asks a line in return,”
The Little Flower sent her back a note of thanks and added: “This morning during Mass I saw the grave of Father Carbonelli next to the grave of Little Aloysius.” When the old Sister received this note she turned pale, trembled and said: “I understand.” One year to the day after the Little Flower’s death, the old Sister was buried at her side in the grave-yard in the outskirts of the town ((This was probably Mother Hermance of the Heart of Jesus (1833-1898). )).
About the time of this prophecy an innocent young Postulant obtained permission to pay a visit to the infirmary. Struck by the heroic patience and radiant holiness of Soeur Therese, she naively said to her: “Surely, when you die your body will remain incorrupt.” The Little Flower replied: “Sister that would not be in keeping with my lowliness.” This saying was borne in mind by the Community; and they were not surprised when, upon the exhumation of the remains for the canonical inspection ((September 6, 1910.)), which belongs to the Process of Beatification, nothing was found in the coffin save a few particles of bones, a little dust, and some scraps of her Habit ((Her body had so completely deteriorated that even the wood from her coffin, permeated with her dust, became a first-class relic.)).
After leaving the Convent, I immediately went to the cemetery where The Little Flower was buried and I read the simple inscriptions over both her grave and the grave of the old Sister by her side. I then returned to the town and visited the Martin home, “The Buisonnets,” in which she had spent her girlhood. In it she had a vision while still a young child ((In the summer of 1879 or 1880, when she was 6 or 7 years old. Her father was away from home on a business trip at the time of this vision.)). Looking out from her room on the second story, towards the building in the garden where she was wont to set up her Christmas cribs, she uttered a cry of distress. Her governess and sisters, hearing the shriek, rushed to her room and inquired what was the matter; she said: “I have just seen father pass by with his head hidden in a cloud. ((“I saw a man dressed exactly like Papa … The man had the same height and walk as Papa, only he was much more stooped. His head was covered with a sort of apron of indistinct color and it hid his face” (Story of a Soul, pp 45-48). Paralysis affected M. Martin’s mental faculties during the last five years of his life and necessitated a stay in a psychiatric hospital. At one stage during his illness, he actually did veil his face.))” When nothing of this could be seen by her sisters and governess, they concluded that the vision was a fancy. But later on the apparition was recalled to mind, when M. Martin, the Little Flower’s father, had a paralytic stroke, which finally led to a loss of his mind. The affliction was the cloud which The Little Flower had seen in childhood.
Her father styled her his “Little Queen,” and was accustomed to take her by the hand into the Cathedral Church, passing through the park to its rear. In 1913 the kneeling-stool of The Little Flower was still to be seen in the Cathedral by the side of the main altar. It was here that she made her first confession; after which, upon returning home, she said to Pauline: “Should I not have said to the confessor that I loved him with my whole heart and with my whole soul?”
“Why should you have said that?” Asked Pauline.
“Because when he forgives sin he is in the place of God,” answered the Little Flower. ((Story of a Soul, pp. 40-41.))
Whilst at the Cathedral, I had the pleasure of seeing the priest who had heard her first confession ((This was Father Alcide Ducellier (1849-1916), who remained her confessor until 1881. He later testified at the Process.)).
From this stately Gothic Cathedral of the 11th century, it is a short distance to the Academy of the Benedictine Nuns ((This Abbey, along with some relics of St. Thérèse which it contained, was destroyed by the Allied bombings of Lisieux in June of 1944. Miraculously, however, the Carmel, the Basilica and Les Buisonnets were unharmed.)) in which The Little Flower made her studies and received her First Holy Communion, at the hands of the Father Chaplain ((This was Father Domin.)), whom I also met and who told me some happenings of her early life. It was in the street leading to this Benedictine Convent that occurred the incident related by The Little Flower concerning herself and her little cousin ((Marie Guérin (later Sr. Marie of the Eucharist in the Lisieux Carmel – 1870-1905). This incident is recorded in the Story of a Soul, p. 55.)), likewise a pupil of the Benedictine Nuns. As they were walking along the street, the agreed to imitate the lives of the early hermits of the desert; in order to shut themselves out from the world, at least as far as the senses were concerned, they closed their eyes and walked in recollection, until suddenly they stumbled over baskets in front of a grocer’s shop; whereupon they opened their eyes in alarm, and the two of them ran as fast as they could.
I spent three days in Lisieux, on one of which I noticed across from the Convent of Carmel a religious-object store, in which were sold the life of The Little Flower in various languages, and her portraits. Upon entering, what was my surprise to find that it was in the charge of an English-speaking young lady. I inquired if there were other English-speaking residents in Lisieux. “I am the only one,” she said.
“And how,” asked I, “did you come to settle here?”
She said: “My name is Miss –, of Dublin. My sister was given up for death by three doctors, who said she had but a few minutes to live. I made a vow to The Little Flower that if my dying sister were cured, I would devote the rest of my life in spreading devotion to her benefactress. My sister was cured instantly; and here I am.”
After my arrival in Rome, I called to see a Carmelite Friar, who had charge of the process of The Little Flower’s Beatification ((Father Rodriguez, OCD)), in order to deliver to him some letters from Mother Agnes. Upon telling him that I had been at Lisieux, and the reason of my visit to that town, he begged me to inform Our Holy Father, then Pope Pius X, of my American experience, and of the help which I had received from The Little Flower.
The next morning I had my audience with the Pope. He asked me how much I had received in the United States; and upon my telling him the amount he expressed surprise. I attributed the success of my mission to The Little Flower; and went into detail in relating my experiences. At the end he said to me in Latin: “By the intercession of Saint Therese you will receive still greater favors in your poor diocese.” I was struck by the fact that he styled her “Saint” Therese, although her process had not yet begun. He seemed to open his mind in her regard.
Within a few months, he himself, with his own hand (which, I believe, is unusual), signed the document permitting the introduction of her Cause ((This took place on June 10, 1914.)).
Three years later, in 1916, when I was returning a second time from the Philippines, I visited the French Jesuit Fathers in Shanghai; and thinking that Frenchmen would be interested, I told them about The Little Flower and my visit to her home.
There was present a Chinese Jesuit, who excused himself, went to his room, returned in a few moments, and presented me with a volume, saying, “Have the goodness to accept the life of The Little Flower in Chinese, written by myself.”
Two weeks later, I was a guest of the Jesuits in charge of the University of Tokyo. In the Community room, after the evening meal, I related what had happened at Shanghai. A Japanese Jesuit arose from his place, excused himself, went out; and, after an absence of a few minutes, returned and handed me a book, saying: “This is a Japanese life of The Little Flower, written by myself.” I had not thought that the knowledge of the Little Flower and devotion to her were at that time so widespread.
Last summer, when, by invitation, I attended the three days’ celebration in Lisieux in honor of the Beatification of The Little Flower, I could not help thinking, as, on each afternoon, a hundred thousand people wended their way through the streets of that quiet little town, and as priests carried on their shoulders the golden and marble shrine in which is found all that is mortal of The Little Flower, how, at the early age of fifteen, she had turned her back on the world to live for the rest of her days, unknown, within the high walls of her Convent of Carmel, located in a little byway of that out-of-the-way town in Normandy. Some of those present had personally known her; some of them had been her companions; but most of them were strangers from every part of the world. She had fled from honor and distinctions; and now the whole world was doing her honor and showing her distinction, because, in a perfect way, she had loved God and had tried to sanctify her every-day life, with all its little deeds.
Once more I visited, in 1923, her Convent and the spots associated with her life. On this occasion Pauline (Mother Agnes) requested me to say Mass in the infirmary in which The Little Flower had died. Although this cell has been converted into a chapel, the death-bed of the Saint is still there. In looking at it after my Mass, Mother Agnes said to me: “I have witnessed in this Convent the death of many Sisters; but I never knew any of them to suffer as much as Soeur Therese. Her last illness was a protracted agony; she was assailed with fearful temptations against faith; but at the end, the anguish passed from her face, her eyes were lifted up to heaven, and an ecstatic look of peace and happiness settled upon her, which I shall never forget.” Strange that The Little Flower who so loved God, who suffered for Him so much, who gladly gave her life in His service, should have temptations against faith! This brought back to my memory the little blank-book which is found with her other relics; and which contains the Credo, written by her in her own blood, by her own hand, on the occasion of a violent temptation against faith ((Sometime in the fall of 1896, during a community retreat preached by the Premonstratensian priest Godefroy Madelaine (1842-1931), Thérèse confided to him these temptations against the faith that she was suffering. It was he who gave her permission to write the Credo in her own blood and wear it over her heart, which she did until she died. Father Madelaine played an important role in editing and publishing the Story of a Soul, even obtaining the Imprimatur from the skeptical Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux.)).
I took the liberty of telling Cardinal Touchet, of Orleans, instrumental in the canonization of Joan of Arc, that I thought that Lisieux will become a rival of Lourdes, in the devotion of the Faithful. At first he would not accept this; but on the evening of the third day, in his masterly sermon before the immense concourse which filled the Gothic Church of St. James ((The parish church of the Martin family.)), he mentioned my remark; and said that, upon mature consideration, he was convinced of its truth. And indeed, pilgrimages from all over the world are now made to Lisieux; and devotion to The Little Flower is waxing stronger as time passes.
When I saw Our Holy Father, Pius XI, in the month of August last, he told me that he deemed it an honor and pleasure that his first Beatification was that of The Little Flower. Only God knows if, and when, she will be canonized. But if she be canonized, even as early as next year, the Jubilee Year ((She was, in fact Canonized in 1925, the Jubilee Year.)), I for one shall not be surprised.