St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

9th August

Edith Stein was born on the 12th October 1891 in Breslau, Germany, in a Jewish family devout in  the Jewish Faith. Edith’s birthday was a very special day for the Jews because it fell on Yom Kippur, one of the High Holy Days in Judaism. Her father died when she was only one. As her mother had to go out to work to support the family, Edith and her other five siblings were mainly brought up by her older sister, Else.

Edith was very intelligent, always achieving high grades at school except in mathematics! She loved to study not only for her exams but because she loved to learn. She went on with her studies at University where she earned a doctorate in Philosophy (the study about the meaning of life, knowledge and belief.) She became one of the leading philosophers at University, becoming a professor and teacher of Philosophy herself.

Edith herself, in her personal life, was searching for ‘the truth.’ As a young teenager, although still attending the Jewish religious services, she experienced a religious crisis and had stopped believing. She had become an atheist giving up faith in God.

Then during her studies at University she became exposed to the Roman Catholic Faith and became greatly impressed by the faith of her widowed friend. Edith herself stated that when she witnessed the strength of her friend’s faith after the loss of her husband, her ‘unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine His light’ on her. Later during a summer holiday at some friends’ place, she picked up a book about the life of St. Teresa of Avila. She read it in one night. She had already read the New Testament for the first time and she came to the conclusion that “This is the truth” she had been searching for.

She was baptized in the Catholic Faith on the 1st January 1922 when she was 30 years old. It was difficult for her mother, her family and friends, all believers in Judaism, to understand and accept her decision. At this time women were not given importance for their opinion and Edith became actively involved in the Catholic Women’s Movement. In 1934, she joined the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Cologne, taking the name of Sister Teresa Benedetta of the Cross. She continued to write books with deep spiritual reflections, but because she was a woman and a Jew, her works could not be published.

In the meantime the Second World War had broken out, with the Nazi Party pledging the annihilation of the Jews. Together with her sister Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism, she moved to a monastery in Holland. But when the Germans invaded Holland, the persecution of the Jews continued even there. Many people who were of Jewish heritage, even though they had converted to Catholicism, were arrested and taken to the Concentration camp at Auschwitz. Edith and Rosa were among them. A short time later, Edith, her sister and other Jews were put to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. She was canonized by St. Pope John Paul ll in 1998 and a year later proclaimed Co-Patroness of Europe.

After going over the life story of St. Edith Stein with the children, stop to talk to them leading them to internalize values from her life, by asking them their views, eg. if she had a happy life, her happiest/most sad experiences, when she might have felt afraid, confused, if it was difficult to tell her mother about her conversion to Catholicism.

Edith Stein was a Jewish born Catholic. Explain to the children (according to their age) that being a Jew means coming from a Jewish family with ‘roots’ in Israel. Jesus was a Jew, and so were all the members of His family. Jewish Faith refers to Judaism, a belief that is based on the Old Testament only, believing in God, worshipping in a synagogue, and not believing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Not all Jews practise Judaism.

Depending on the age of the children, give simple information about the Jewish persecution by the German Nazi Party during the Second World War, explaining the reason why Edith and her sister Rosa escaped from Germany to Holland.

Just point out that Auschwitz, where many Jews were taken, was not an ordinary prison. It was a number of huts surrounded by high barbed wire, where prisoners were treated harshly. Many Jews were killed in the gas chambers, where they were locked and died breathing deadly gas.For Family Prayer Time, dedicate a time to let the children handle The Bible not just a Children’s Bible.

–  Identify for them the division between the Old and the New Testament. In Judaism the belief stops with the Old Testament because the New Testament deals with the coming of the Messiah, and the beginning of Christianity. Give thanks to God the Father for sending His Son to save us.

The motto of St. Edith Stein / St.Teresa Benedetta of the Cross was “Hail to the Cross, our only hope.”

Encourage the children to spend a brief quiet time in front of the Crucifix and express their personal prayer to Him.

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.