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 She continued to write books with deep spiritual reflections, but because she was a woman and a Jew, her works could not be published.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.