The life of saints is not something “medieval”. Some of our fellow human beings from more recent generations have given impressive testimonies of conversion and faith in their lives. So did Edith Stein, intellectual, university lecturer, convert and Carmelite.
Life, history and work:
Edith Stein was born into a wealthy Jewish family on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, West Prussia (now Wroclaw in Poland) and probably died on August 9, 1942, in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was born into an Orthodox Jewish family, the youngest of eleven children. Despite the experience at home of Jewish worship, Edith became an atheist in 1905.
She studied at various German universities in Göttingen, Breslau, Freiburg im Breisgau. She studied philosophy, psychology and history. In 1916 she obtained her doctorate cum laude with Prof. Edmund Husserl as supervisor and with the thesis “Zum Problem der Einfühlung”. Despite her atheism, while staying with friends, she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, which made her decide to become a Catholic. She was baptized on January 1, 1922, gave up her assistantship at the university and went on to teach at a girls’ school of the Dominican sisters in Speyer.
In 1932 she continued her studies at the University of Münster, where she studied St. Thomas Aquinas. In 1934 she joined the Carmelites in Cologne and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her sister Rosa was also baptized during that period. Shortly after the Nazis took power, Sister Teresa Benedicta, who was then teaching at the University of Münster, fell under the Berufsverbot and had to leave her chair. From this seizure of power, in her correspondence with the Holy See and with the nuncio in Germany (Eugenio Pacelli, later Pius XII), she insisted on condemning Nazism, which actually happened in 1936 (Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge by Pius XI, drafted by Kard. Eugenio Pacelli).
In 1938 she fled to Echt in the Netherlands, but after the occupation of the Netherlands by the German troops, raids against Jews were regularly organized. In 1942, large groups of Jews were arrested by the occupying forces, in response to a pastoral letter published by the Dutch bishops condemning the deportation of the Jews. Edith Stein was arrested with her sister and interned in a transit camp. This was irrevocably followed by deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was killed in the gas chambers on 8 or 9 August, and cremated.
Her beatification was done by Pope John Paul II on May 1, 1987, and her canonization followed on October 11, 1998, as “daughter of Israel and faithful daughter of the Church”.
Because of her publications (Potenz und Akt from 1931, Endliches und Ewiges Sein from 1937 and Kreuzeswissenschaft, eine Studie über Johannes vom Kreuz, published posthumously in 2003) it is considered to award her the title of “Doctor of the Church”.
Together with Saint Brigitta of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena, she is venerated as a patron saint of Europe.
Several schools in different dioceses (including in Ghent and in Dutch and German dioceses) were named after her.
Edith Stein can be regarded as a shining example of a searching person, who, from her education, through the detour of atheism, thanks to her research and science has experienced that there is “more” outside empirical reality: a spiritual reality that implies the explanation of the universe, of creation, of God. This led to her conversion, her entry into the Church, and ultimately her decision to live as a Carmelite.
Let us pray to her for intercession with God for the conversion of Europe, or more generally, the wealthy West.
From her life history we can deduce that Edith Stein has been searching for the truth since her early childhood. Not cheap or theoretical truth, but The Truth. That search culminated in her conversion to Catholicism. She continued on this new path, without compromise. She had found her happiness and security in Christ, and nothing or no one could take this away from her. The following account of her last days of life testifies to this.
(Source: http://www.heiligen.net/heiligen/08/09/08-09-1942-edith.php )
The last week
The next day they were in the concentration camp of Westerbork in Drente. From there the trains left for the concentration and extermination camps in Germany and Poland. On August 6, she wrote a short note to Echt: she asks for a few small things and adds: “Believe it or not, but I can pray here in peace.” Eyewitnesses say she herself was at peace in the midst of all the chaos: “ Crying was heard everywhere in the concentration camp, and among those who had just arrived there was indescribable chaos. Sister Benedicta was concerned with the women: she helped and comforted wherever she could. She was a paragon of calm, she almost looked like an angel. Many mothers were close to madness, staring straight ahead so apathetically that they even forgot their children. Sister Benedicta took care of those little ones, she helped them wash and combed their hair; made sure they got something to eat and that they were looked after. The days she was in the camp, you could see her busy with caring and cleaning; the people were amazed by it”. So far, a survivor. And then to think that this woman was once the awkwardness itself!
On the morning of 7 August at half past four the train started moving eastwards. The prisoners were squeezed together in cattle wagons. Two days later the transport arrived at Auschwitz extermination camp. It is known that the prisoners were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Among them sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, Edith Stein, aged 50. In 1939 she had written that she wanted to “make sacrifices of pain, sorrow and suffering with love, if this could preserve world peace”. She has made these sacrifices…