St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
(Edith Stein)

Virgin and Martyr, Co-Patron of Europe
Feast Day: 9 August

Who was Edith?

I saw a Saint
(Eye-Witness account of Edith's arrest in 1942.)

The Sacrifice of the Cross

Quotations of Edith

A Woman for our Times

Prayer and poem written by Edith

Futher Reading

Who was Edith?
A brief biography

Edith as a childEdith and her sister ElsaEdith Stein was born to a Jewish family at Breslau on October 12, 1891. She was the youngest of 11 children. Her father died when she was two years old, and her hard-working and devout mother took over the care of her large family and timber business. However, Edith did not keep the strong faith of her mother, and eventually declared herself an athiest, saying: "deliberately and of my own free-will, I turned away from prayer". She was a talented student, and after finishing school with top results, she chose to study philosoply in Gottingen where she encountered many new ways of thinking which challenged her religious experiences and decisions.

Edith graduated and continued her philosophical study, achieving a doctorate degree. During this time, she went into Frankfurt Cathedral one day and saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer. She said later: "This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot". She found herself searching after the truth. One day she went to visit a young Protestant widow, uneasy about what to say to comfort her. However, she was surprised at the faith of the young woman and said: "this was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me". One night during the summer of 1921 she found herself spending several weeks at the home of a fellow philosopher and his wife. She happened to pick up the autobiography of St Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) and read it all through the night, saying to herself as she finished reading at dawn: "This is the truth".

Edith holding her cousins son in 1921On 1st January 1922 Edith was baptized and received into the Catholic Church. It was a decision that her mother never accepted as long as she lived. Edith continued teaching philosophy and writing, and held dreams of finding a husband and a happy marriage. However, as darkness began to break over Germany in the 1930's, she sensed another call; to unite her life with the fate of her own Jewish people. Nazi law made it impossible for her to continue teaching, so she entered the Carmelite monastery of Cologne on 14 October 1933, saying: "Human activities cannot help us, but only the suffering of Christ. It is my desire to share it". Edith took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Edith as a Carmelite nun

As the the anti-Semitism of the Nazis grew, in 1938 Edith was smuggled across the border into the Carmelite Convent of Echt in Holland. However, as the war escalated and Holland was occupied, the danger for Jews spread to that country. In August 1942, as retaliation against the protests of Dutch bishops to the treatment of Jews, many Jewish Christians were arrested, including Edith and her sister Rosa (who had also converted and was living at the Carmel in Echt). They were transported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where Edith was gassed and cremated on 9th August 1942.

I saw a Saint
Eye-witness account of Edith's Arrest by the Nazis in 1942

My name is Frits van der Asdonk (63), Montfort Father. I was born at Meyel, a little village in the south of the Netherlands. My father originated from Echt where his unmarried sisters and brother were still living at the time of this story. They had kind of adopted me and so I spent most of my holidays with them in Echt. Pavement tile at the spot of Edith's arrest in EchtThey owned a store in the Grote Straat right opposite the Carmel of Echt which played a great part in the lives of my aunties and uncle. As a little boy I knew much of the sisters and their conditions of life.  Just before the great war a German Jewess had come to live at the Carmel of Echt; she came from Cologne and tried, together with her sister, to escape from Nazi Germany. You guess as much - her name was Sister Benedicta and her sister's name was Rosa. As my uncle had one of the few automobiles in the village, he was often asked to take a sister to the regional hospital in Roermond to consult a specialist. On one such occasion he took Sister Benedicta with Rosa to the hospital and it was my privilege to sit in the front seat. No word was spoken and the sisters prayed in German, a language of which we both were pretty ignorant. It confirmed the rumour that the Sister was awfully holy and learned.
In 1940 war also invaded the Netherlands and the persecution of the Jews, hitherto in Nazi Germany, spread to my country. Nobody feared for the Carmelite nun because, as everyone said, the Germans would respect an innocent nun. If dates serve my memory well, at the end of July 1942 the Dutch Bishops took a stand, and from the chancel in every parish church of the country sounded a loud protest and condemnation of the injustice to the Jews of the country and elsewhere in occupied countries.Edith around the time of her arrest
Revenge could be expected, but nobody thought of Sister Benedicta... in an enclosed convent... a nun... a Carmelite. Yet this was exactly what happened, the Sunday after, in the early afternoon. All of a sudden sounded the war songs of the SS while a group of some forty soldiers marched through the Grote Straat and halted at the Carmel. The villagers were forced to clear the streets and withdrew behind the windows of their houses from which they watched the scene, praying and weeping. Sister Benedicta appeared after some 15 minutes in choirdress with the David Star; proudly walking right in the middle of the road with her sister a little behind her and the German SS forming a "guard of honour" on the sidewalks of the street. From the windows came the farewell shouts of the people ("Sister Benedicta", "Sister Benedicta") which Sister acknowledged as far as the end of the road where a Panzer lorry was waiting. What a lonely scene! What a lonely scene! I witnessed the scene from the windows of the first storey of my aunts' house in the Grote Straat of Echt. I knew I had seen something historic, and whenever I revisit the Grote Straat at Echt I see in my memory's mind a martyr who still lives on not only with God but also in the hearts of people.
G.v.d. ASDONK smm        Heiloo, 10-8-1987.

The Sacrifice of the Cross
Edith Stein was born as her family were celebrating the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur. This is historically the Feast of Atonement, the only day of the year when the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem, to offer sacrifice for the sins of the whole people. Being born on this day made Edith very special to her mother, but it also foreshadowed the life and death that lay ahead of her.
The Letter to the Hebrews explains how the death of Jesus on Calvary brought this feast of Atonement to its fulfilment. Jesus is the High Priest who has made offering of His own life, once and for all, for the salvation of all humanity. Edith gradually came to identify her life with that of Jesus on the Cross. She said: "I understood the cross as the destiny of God's people. I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody's behalf." And this is what she did in her own life.
After her entry to Carmel, Edith said: "I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken away from her people precisely because God wanted her to plead with the king on behalf of her nation. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who has chosen me is infinitely great and merciful."
Edith escaped to Holland in an attempt to escape the Nazis, but she must have sensed that eventually she would be called to offer her life in imitation of Jesus. As the war escalated she wrote: "I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death... so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world".
Edith's last known words, heard in Echt, were addressed to her sister Rosa as they were arrested:
"Come, we are going for our people".

Some quotes of Edith Stein

My longing for truth
was a single prayer.

Every true prayer is a prayer of the Church; by means of that prayer the Church prays, since it is the Holy Spirit living in the Church, Who in every single soul 'prays in us with unspeakable groanings'.
If anyone comes to me,
I want to lead them to Him.
On being Jewish:
You don't know what it means to me to be a daughter of the chosen people, to belong to Christ, not only spiritually, but according to the flesh.
Images of St Teresa Benedicta Women:
One could say that in case of need, every normal and healthy woman is able to hold a position. And there is no profession which cannot be practiced by a woman.
Carmelite Vocation:
Those who join the Carmelite Order are not lost to their near and dear ones, but have been won for them, because it is our vocation to intercede to God for everyone.
Love and suffering:
Love is stronger than hatred. In the end there will be only the fullness of love... If we accept the whole Christ in faithful self-giving, by choosing and walking in the way of the imitation of Christ, then he will lead us through his Passion and Cross to the glory of the Resurrection.
Lay all your cares
about the future
trustingly in God's
hands, and let yourself
be guided by the Lord
just like a little child...

A woman for our times

At the beginning of the 21st century, we see a world which is highly developed technologically, and yet still suffering from many human problems, wars, human-rights abuses and inequalities. What has the life and death of Edith Stein, a woman who lived during one of the most terrible periods of human history, to offer us?
The writings of Edith Stein focus on three main subjects - the centrality of the person, the relation of the individual to society and the role and dignity of woman.

Centrality of the person:
During her early years of study, after the outbreak of the First World War, Edith witnessed the effects of human conflict, and felt called to respond in love to the injured, volunteering for the Red Cross nursing service. Her nursing work was selfless and compassionate, and at the end of her life we see she had not changed. A survivor of the Westerbork camp where Edith stayed some days before being transported to Auschwitz related how she went among the other prisoners comforting, helping and consoling them, and taking care of the little children whose mothers were unable to do so.

Relation of the individual to society:
Recognising that each individual and their relationships to others plays a part in the creation of a better world challenges our approach to solving the problems of society. Edith Stein
teaches us that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health.
Many modern conflicts stem from religious differences. As a Christian who remained ever loyal and respectful of her Jewish roots, Edith shows us how to bridge the gap between different traditions, and so she has an important role to play in the work of ecumenism.

The role and dignity of woman:

Edith has much to say to modern Western woman, who has lost sight of her destiny, her ‘feminine genius’ as Pope John Paul II called it. As a brilliant feminist scholar Edith was able to challenge certain assumptions of the day, arguing for greater involvement of women in the liturgical life of the Church, in the professions, and in the workplace. She was an intellectual leader of the fledgling women's movement in Germany after World War I. It is a remarkable tribute to her persona that she was able to harmonize these feminist aspirations with her abiding belief that at the deepest core of woman's personality one will find receptivity and motherhood. She saw receptivity and motherliness as woman's unique power, a power capable of transforming a home, workplace, professional environment, country, or society in ways that men cannot. The Edith Stein Foundation is an example of how the inspiration of Edith's life has influenced women's healthcare in the modern world.

In addition to these subjects, the life of Edith Stein can be an example to all those who are searching for the truth, especially young people. Many people in today's world describe themselves as "athiest", just like Edith once did. She can also be a friend to those who feel estranged from a family member because of religion or morals. As a highly educated and dedicated professor, she can be a role model for all those in the academic field. In conclusion, she is a great inspiration for all Carmelites about the meaning of our vocation, to unite with the salvific sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for the sake of all humankind.

Poem written by Edith
on Good Friday 1938
Prayer of St Teresa
Benedicta of the Cross
Today I stood with you beneath the cross
And felt more clearly than I ever did
That you became our Mother only there.

But those whom you have chosen for companions
To stand with you around the eternal throne,

They must stand with you beneath the Cross,
And with the lifeblood of their bitter pains,
Must purchase heavenly glory for those souls
Whom God's own Son entrusted to their care.
O my God, fill my soul with holy joy,
courage and strength to serve you.
Enkindle your love in me and then
walk with me along the next stretch
of road before me. I do not see very
far ahead, but when I have arrived
where the horizon now closes down,
a new prospect will open before me
and I shall meet with peace.

Further Reading

Much has been written about Edith Stein and it is impossible to discuss her fully on this short page. However, we hope to have provided you with enough information to "whet your appetite", and if you are interested in reading more about her, a quick internet search will reveal many references. To get you started, here are a few links which may be of interest:

Homily of Pope John Paul for the canonisation of Edith Stein, 11 October 1998

Pope John Paul II 's Angelus message on the canonisation day of Edith Stein

Vatican biography of Edith Stein

Volume IV of the Collected Works of bl. Edith Stein
The Hidden Life, hagiographic essays, meditations, spiritual texts of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Discalced Carmelite. Much of this was written while she was in refuge from the Nazis in Holland.

Website with various links and information about Edith Stein


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