St. Teresa of the Andes: A Saint for Young People

· Religious Saint,Chilean Saint,Carmelite
Saint Teresa of the Andes: A Saint for Young People from Letters from the Saints Blog with an image of Saint Teresa of the Andes

One of the Five Carmelite Saints Named Teresa

Did you know that there are five Carmelite nuns named Teresa who are saints? Of course, you know about St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Avila, and you might know St. Teresa Benedicta who is better known as Edith Stein. Well, there are two others, St. Theresa Margaret and St. Teresa of the Andes. (There is also a blessed, Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine.) This account is about the brief, holy life of St. Teresa of Jesus (1900 - 1920) of Jesus of the Andes.

Early Influences

Teresa was born in Santiago, Chile on July 13, 1900 and named Juanita Fernandez Solar by her parents Miguel Fernandez and Lucia Solar de Fernandez. Foreshadowing her eventual entry into the Carmel, her parents baptized Juanita on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel which also happens to be the titular feast of Chile.Juanita was the fourth of six children--three boys and three girls. The family was well off and pious. Starting at the age of six, young Juanita joined her mother and aunt for daily mass. She would receive confirmation at the age of nine. And with much anticipation on her part, Juanita received Jesus in her first Holy Communion at the age of ten. The young girl wrote in her diary that, "It was on that day that I heard the sweet voice of my Jesus for the first time." Later, she would indicate that truly Jesus had stolen her heart on that date and she never really looked back.

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A Pious Student

In accord with her parents desire to provide her a faith-filled education, Miguel and Lucia enrolled Juanita in schools which were run by the sisters of the Order of the Sacred Heart where she proved to be an excellent student. In school, she also grew spiritually such that although considered a normal girl by her peers, she was respected for her piety. Her cousin, Anita Rucker, who also attended the same school, put her finger on the difference when she noted that when Juanita prayed in chapel it was not the same as most other students. Anita could tell that Juanita had a profound relationship with God that, "showed the all-absorbing place God held in her heart."Growing up in her family and among her friends, Juanita learned to play the piano, sang, danced, and enjoyed swimming and playing tennis and croquet. She also taught catechism to younger children and was close to her parents and brothers and sisters.

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Struggles to Overcome Sin

As a young girl, Juanita read St. Therese's Story of a Soul which made a deep impression on her and helped her to resolve to imitate the saint and to live completely for God. However, her life was not without struggles to overcome faults. In particular, Juanita could have a temper and selfishly want to be first. She worked on overcoming her anger and irritability that would come out at various times when she did not get her way. Despite her efforts, it would not be until she resolved to enter the Carmel that she would be able to master her outbursts of anger.

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The Call to Carmel

First, however, at the age of fifteen, Juanita made a vow of virginity. When she wrote her sister Rebecca about this, she described her great joy at offering this to God and penned, "I have been caught in the loving nets of the Divine Fisherman." Soon, it became clear to her that she had a vocation to the religious life and the Carmelites in particular. Not long after her seventeenth birthday, Juanita wrote a letter to the prioress of the nearest monastery of the Discalced Carmelites expressing her interest in becoming a nun. When, Juanita shared her call with her mother, Lucia indicated that she would need to ask her father for permission. Juanita did ask for his permission through a letter written to him while he was away on the business. Her father Miguel did not answer the letter and did not immediately speak to it on his return. However, after he had returned home, and before she returned to school, he gave his permission when Juanita asked him in person. It would remain a difficult decision for her father, and after Juanita entered religious life, Miguel would only visit her once.

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A Brief Life in the Carmel

With his permission and the acceptance of the prioress, at the age of eighteen, Juanita was received into the Carmel of Los Andes in May of 1919. Juanita was given the religious name Sr. Teresa of Jesus in honor of the great Spanish saint who had reformed the Carmelite order in the sixteenth century. She was humbled by this name and immediately embraced it.All of the letters, she wrote from the Carmel, including ones to her family members, were signed using her new name. Teresa also was grateful and in awe of her call to the religious life. She wrote to a friend, "What has God seen in us, that He loves us to the point of wanting us to be His friends and brides of His heart."Her religious life would be short-lived, only eleven months. After five months, she was given the habit. Soon afterward, she became ill with typhus. Although she had not completed all of the necessary preparations to be a professed sister, she was allowed to make her vows on April 7, 1920 in light of the danger of death. Five days later, at the age of nineteen as a fully professed Carmelite nun, she passed away.

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