A Swastika on Church Grounds?
On the wall of the Assembly Room in our parish hall, there was a poster made by a student telling the story of St. Edith Stein. The Nazi swastika on the poster caught my eye. I wanted to understand why this symbol, obviously drawn by a student, was allowed on church grounds. After some research, I learned of the amazing story of this great saint.
St. Edith was a German Jew born in 1891. She was academically gifted, but most importantly, she was curious and unafraid to search for answers. She rebelled against her Jewish roots and became an atheist early in her teenage years. She studied nursing to support the injured in World War I. She then continued her studies in philosophy and received a doctorate in 1916. In the beginning, her gender was a deterrent in her field of education. Later, due to the Nazi regime, her Jewish roots prevented her from sharing her knowledge in the classroom.
One Saint Influences Another
During St. Edith’s study of philosophy, she had the opportunity to read the works of St. Teresa of Avila. This provided a turning point for her. We all look for truth, and St. Edith found truth in the writings of St. Teresa, so much so that she converted to Catholicism and was baptized in 1922 at the age of 31. Shortly after her conversion, most of her family immigrated to America except her mother and sister. By this time, her father was deceased. Her mother, however, was devastated to learn of her daughter’s conversion and considered this to be a betrayal of her family. In addition to conversion, St. Edith was determined to enter the Carmelite Order. This was misunderstood as a way to avoid German persecution. However, St. Edith did not once consider the convent as a hiding place. Her goal was to move closer to God, not knowing where He would take her.
A New Name is Given
As a novice in the Carmelite Order in 1934, she received her religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Shortly after her mother’s death, her sister also converted and joined her at the convent. While in the convent, St. Edith was given permission to continue her research and writings. Previously she had translated a document from St. Thomas Aquinas into German. The document written while in the convent was a metaphysical book that combined the philosophies of St. Thomas Aquinas and other prominent philosophers.
As the Nazi regime progressed in its hatred of Jews, the Carmelite Order decided to move St. Edith and her sister to a convent in the Netherlands. During her time in the Netherlands, St. Edith wrote The Studies of John of the Cross: the Science of the Cross. In her testament written in 1939, St. Edith wrote, “I beg the Lord to take my life and my death…as atonement for the unbelief of the Jewish people…for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world, at last for my loved ones, living and dead, and for all God gave to me: that none of them shall go astray.” Despite her devotion to our Lord and her Christian faith, conversion did not deter the hatred of the Nazi regime. In 1942, the Nazi order was to arrest all Jewish converts. St. Edith did not refuse arrest, although an opportunity for escape presented itself shortly thereafter. St. Edith, her sister, and over 900 other Jews were deported in August 1942 to Auschwitz, where they died in mass gas chambers.
St. Edith was canonized in 1998 by St. Pope John Paul II and is considered one of the six patron saints of Europe along with St. Benedict of Nursia, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Bridget of Sweden, and St. Catherine of Siena.
Never too old to live for God
I am very intrigued by St. Edith’s courage to search outside the realm of her roots. I believe that truth is important and in order to find it we must be unafraid to explore all that God has for us. St. Edith did not let obstacles get in her way. The first obstacle was her gender. Then it was her Jewish roots and, finally, her age. She was a convert at age 31 and entered the convent shortly after. Most novices were in their late teens, but St. Edith was closer to age 40 when she made this commitment.
The feast day for St. Edith Stein is celebrated on August 9.