Discalced Carmelites of the Australia Oceania Region

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942), Edith Stein, was born into a Jewish family at Breslau, then a German town, now in Poland. With a hunger for truth she studied philosophy and after gaining a Doctorate summa cum laude (literally, with highest praise) she embarked on an academic career. A period of atheism was followed by a search ending in her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922 after reading the life of St Teresa. At the same time she maintained a lifelong love for her Jewish heritage and people. Until Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany she exercised a very active apostolate of service to the Church: speaking, writing and teaching on matters philosophical, theological and feminist.

Her apostolic zeal took a new direction in 1933 when she entered the Carmel at Cologne taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Prayer now became her sole work for the Church and for her suffering Jewish people. For her safety she was later transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt. There she, with other converts from Judaism, was arrested by the Nazis in retaliation for the Dutch bishops outspoken condemnation of anti-Semitism. As she left her Carmel for the gas chambers of Auschwitz she said: 'I am going for my people'. She died there in August 1941. Her feast day is kept on 9 August.

Principal Events
in the Life of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

1891 12 October Birth at Breslau.
1897 12 October begins Victoria School in Breslau.
1906 Completes School and spends 10 months helping her sister Else. Decides she no longer believes in God: ‘I consciously stopped praying.’ In December Edith returns to Breslau to complete her schooling.
1907 For Edith, ‘a serious search for truth had begun’.
1908 Easter: passes examination for Obersecunda; attends Realgymnasium affiliated with Victoria School.
1911 Finishes her work at the Realgymnasium and begins her work at the University of Breslau; First contact with Gospel Text.
1912 Winter: teaches a beginner's course in English. Summer: severe depression related to meaning of life.
1913 Begins four semesters at University of Göttingen? Begins to occupy herself with religious questions. Depression lifts during a presentation of ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’.
1914 First encounter with Catholicism. War is declared on Aug 2 and Edith volunteers as Red Cross nurse. In November she returns to Göttingen; submits thesis for state boards.
1917 March 30 PhD in Philosophy summa cum laude. In November Adolf Reinach killed on Battlefield in Flanders.
1918 Spends time with Anna Reinach arranging her husband's papers and is moved by Anna's Christian response to death. Seed of faith sown: ‘My unbelief collapsed’ In February Edith resigns her position with Husserl after much frustration! Edith attempts to find Professorship.
1919 Still no professorship; teaches at Breslau; writes essays and articles.
1921 Summer: spends time with Theodore and Hedwig Conrad-Martius; by this time she knows Christianity is her destiny, but not where. Reads life of Teresa of Avila; buys missal and catechism and studies on her own before approaching the parish priest to ask for Baptism.
1922 January 1 Baptized, desires to enter Carmel immediately. Edith is confirmed on February 2 in private chapel of Bishop Ludwig Sebastian. Canon Schwind procures her a teaching position at St. Magdalen College for Women in Speyer, a training institute for teachers.
1931 March 27 Edith leaves Speyer.
1932 Begins to lecture on the vocation of woman; Delivers Radio addresses via Batavian Radio Network Easter Begins to teach at the German Institute in Munster. Resides at the Collegium Marianum.

January 30 Hitler comes to power in Germany. Edith Requests private audience with Pope Pius XI to discuss anti-semitism. Her request was refused and instead she received a blessing for herself and her family.

April 19: told she can no longer teach at the Institute.

April 30: prays for guidance regarding her desire to enter Carmel Mid-May Receives Abbot Walzer's permission to pursue Carmel and visits the Carmel of Cologne (now Köln). June 19: receives acceptance from Carmel.

July 16 Lives as an extern at the Carmel for a month.

Aug 15: goes home for last visit and tells Mother of her decision to enter Carmel.

September: begins writing her Autobiography. Oct 14 Edith enters Carmel.

1934 April 15: receives Carmelite Habit. During Novitiate year, Carmelite Provincial asks her to return to writing.
1935 Easter: Edith makes First Profession of Vows.
1936 Begins to write Finite and Eternal Being and completes it in September. On September 14 Edith’s mother, Frau Stein dies.

April 21: makes Final Profession of vows.

May 1: receives the Black Veil in Public Ceremony.

On November 8 the violence of Kristallnacht. Edith begins negotiations for transfer to Echt Carmel.

Dec 31 Night; crossed the border into Holland.


January Inquires whether autobiography manuscript can be brought to Holland; resumes work on it briefly.

March 26 (Passion Sunday) asks permission to offer herself as a "victim for real peace".

1940 Edith’s sister Rosa reaches Holland.

Summer Edith finishes Symbolic Theology of Pseudo-Dionysius.

In August begins writing Science of the Cross (unfinished). Edict requiring non-Aryan Germans residing in Holland to be deported by December 15; nuns begin negotiations with Carmel of Le Paquier in Switzerland for Edith's transfer there.

Sept 1 Jews required to wear Star of David on clothing.


July 26: Dutch Bishops issue Pastoral on Racism and Antisemitism.

July 27: reprisal - all Catholic Jews to be deported by week's end.

August 2 at 5 pm Edith and Rosa are picked up by the SS at Echt Carmel and taken to Amersfoort Prison Camp.

August 5 they arrive at Westerbork Concentration Camp in the morning; Edith's final notes to her community; On August 7 they leave Amersfoort for Auschwitz; Edith is described as looking ‘like a Pieta without the Christ’.

August 9 Edith and Rosa go to their death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz.