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For those who came to see the writing desk of St. Thérèse of Lisieux during a visit to St. Louis earlier this month, it was more than an occasion to witness a historical artifact.
That small wooden lap desk, one of the few possessions of the sisters who lived at the monastery, the Carmel in Lisieux, was an instrument that opened a window to her heart, and revealed her joys, her sufferings and how she had a desire to serve as a missionary in bringing souls closer to Christ.
Without ever leaving her monastery in Lisieux, France, she did just that, reaching the ends of the earth through her prayers, correspondence and support for missions all over the world. It was what earned her the title patroness of missionaries and the missions by Pope Pius XI in the 1920s.
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The wooden writing desk made a stop at the Carmel of St. Joseph in Ladue Oct. 5 and 6. It was part of a tour of approximately 20 dioceses across the United States, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, in recognition of Mission Month in October. More than 200 people attended the opening prayer service Oct. 5 at the Chapel of St. Joseph. A Mass was celebrated on Oct. 6. Local arrangements were coordinated by the archdiocesan Missions Office.
This is the first time St. Thérèse 's writing case has been allowed outside the Carmelite monastery in France where she lived and died. She used the desk almost daily between 1894 and her death from tuberculosis in 1897.
Msgr. Robert Fuhrman, assistant national director for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, who brought the desk to St. Louis, said he has seen that it "elicits a surprising emotional level for people. People seem to be in love with Thérèse . A lot of people have read her work or know her and love her, so they're greeting this with love and emotion. It's drawn people who are burdened, as well as those who are very joyful; but people seem to be coming with heavy burdens and placing those burdens in her care, seeking her intercession."
At the suggestion of the nuns at the Carmel of Lisieux, those who view the writing desk have been asked to write their names or intentions down on a small piece of paper, to be inserted into the drawer of the desk. Those intentions -- which Msgr. Fuhrman estimates will be in the tens of thousands -- will be brought back to France and placed at St. Thérèse 's tomb.
The sisters at Carmel in Lisieux said, "if you sign your name and place it in the drawer, you have opened an account with Thérèse in heaven," Msgr. Fuhrman noted.
St. Thérèse wanted to serve directly in the missions, especially in Vietnam, but could not because of her poor health. It's unusual to some to think that a young nun, confined to the walls of a monastery, could be such a strong supporter of the missions, but St. Thérèse was just that, said Msgr. Fuhrman. In particular, she corresponded with missionary priests in China and in modern-day Malawi.
"You have united me forever with the works of a missionary, by the bonds of prayer, suffering and love," she wrote in a letter to a priest in China.
"Without ever leaving the Carmel, she went to the ends of the earth by her prayer and by her support -- spiritually and materially -- of missionaries," Msgr. Fuhrman said.
Carmelite local superior Mother Mary Joseph said, "people have read of her love for God, the fervor that she had to give her life to save souls, to spread the faith, and that she wanted to be a missionary." The writing desk and the works that came from it are significant because, "that was the Holy Spirit in her ... that she put that in writing. She must have had no idea what she was writing, but she was doing God's will. I think that's how she became a missionary."
Bridget Steinhart, a parishioner of St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres, waited in the long line with two friends from her parish to view the desk. She said, "I was very overwhelmed by the privilege to see her writing desk. I'm reading "Story of a Soul," and it's the most gorgeous, lyrical, eloquent and lovely story. I'm inspired by her finding a way to serve God."
Her friend, Therese Greene, who was named for the saint, displayed a small pouch she carries with her, containing a first-class relic and a small figurine of the saint. "I feel I have her close to my heart, and I wanted to experience her in a deeper way."
The Hodes family of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in south St. Louis brought four of their children and a family friend to see the desk, and they were not disappointed.
Mary Catherine Hodes explained that as a mother, she sees St. Thérèse as an inspiration to children through her simple, yet timeless messages. "She inspires us to love each other and God more. Her vocation was to love. When it comes down to it, for all of us, our vocation is to love and show God's love for others."
Give to the missions
There are several ways to support the missions. The Catholic Church will observe World Mission Sunday on Sunday, Oct. 20. During that time, the faithful are asked to pray and give generously to support missionary efforts worldwide.
The archdiocesan Mission Office also coordinates local outreach for several initiatives, both through the Pontifical Mission Societies and archdiocesan programs. They include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Pan y Amor, the Daily Worldmissionaires, the Latin America Apostolate, Holy Childhood Association, Mater Ecclesiae and the Society of St. Peter Apostle.
More Multimedia Slideshows
|October 09, 2013 Click to view »||July 24, 2013 Click to view »|
|February 08, 2013 Click to view »||December 19, 2012 Click to view »|
|November 28, 2012 Click to view »||October 31, 2012 Click to view »|
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