Emily M. DeArdo


An accidental patron: St. Therese and Me

Catholicism, women saints seriesEmily DeArdoComment

Some people have riveting stories about how they found their confirmation saint. It was a sign from God, a message from above, a huge thunderclap of recognition. 

Mine was....sort of random. 

When I started my eighth grade year, I knew I'd be confirmed at the end of it. So I started reading books about the saints, in the hope that I'd find one I liked enough to be my confirmation saint. In the Catholic church, you pick a confirmation name--the name of a saint you admire and want to imitate. This saint becomes one of your patron saints, along with any saints you might be named after, or have particular attachment to. (For example, there is a saint Emily--although I'm not named after her--and my middle name is a derivative of Michael, so St. Michael the archangel has always been one of my patrons.) You're not "supposed" to choose a saint you're named after, though--at least you weren't at my school. You were supposed to pick a different saint. 

Some people pick saints based on their patronages; in my family, a lot of people chose St. Cecilia, because she's the patron saint of music. (St. Gregory the Great is the patron saint of singers.) St. Christopher is the patron of athletes. My mom had chosen St. Bernadette, and my dad St. Francis of Assisi (although not because he was a big nature/animal fan.) I didn't feel particularly drawn to St. Cecilia (Not that she's not cool!). I was also supposed to choose a girl. If I was a boy, I would've chosen St. John the Evangelist. 

So I didn't have any hard and fast winners. I started reading saint biographies that I picked up here and there. (When in doubt, go to books, that's what I say.) 

Eventually, I stumbled on a biography of St. Therese that was written for kids. (I didn't know then about the incredibly large amount of books written about her and her family. If I'd picked a saint based on how many books I could read about them, she would've won pretty quickly.) Her life seemed sort of like mine. She grew up with her parents and her sisters. She played with her cousins. She liked going to church. She didn't have visions or die a virgin martyr. She was relatable. And she hadn't died all that long ago, which I thought was sort of interesting. I had thought that saints lived ages ago. The book also mentioned that she entered Carmel on my birthday. 

So I finished the book and that was that. St. Therese was my confirmation saint. 

As I grew up, I began to realize how intensely popular she was. I learned about the 'Little Way', and read more books about her. I didn't read Story of a Soul until after college, though. When I was diagnosed with a type of TB in high school, I remembered that St. Therese had died of it, and hoped not to imitate her that way. She might have died young (she was 24), but I was only 16! 

I liked the Little Way a lot. A lot of people probably say that, but Therese and I grew up in similar circumstances. We were both middle class girls and neither of us was Joan of Arc. I wasn't going to join the army or become a missionary. I didn't think I was capable of great deeds (like Merry in Return of the King). 

The year after my confirmation, St. Therese was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. John Paul II. 'The Little Way' was right up there with St. Thomas Aquinas!  I didn't fully grasp the implications of that at the time, but I liked how many people were drawn to this French girl who only left her part of France once in her life. 

At the time, I didn't realize how powerful St. Therese is. Sometimes she's called Our Lady's First Lieutenant. She's an incredible intercessor for us. But most of all, she's human. Really. She did have ecstatic moments, like St. Teresa of Avila, her predecessor in Carmel. She didn't save France on the field of battle, like St. Joan of Arc, one of her favorite saints. But she realized she didn't have to--that in God's garden, there are all sorts of flowers. 

That image, as well as another, resonate powerfully with me. The other is the story of a young Therese:

At the age of twelve, Therese’s sister Leonie felt she had no further use for her doll dressmaking kit, and stuffed a basket full of materials for making new dresses. Leonie then offered it to her six year old sister, Celine, and her two year old sister, Therese. “Choose what you wish, little sisters,” invited Leonie. Celine took a little ball of wool that pleased her. Therese simply said, “I choose all.” She accepted the basket and all its goods without ceremony. This incident revealed Therese’s attitude toward life. She never did anything by halves; for her it was always all or nothing.

I'm a lot like that. I want to choose everything and have everything. St. Therese wrote in A Story of A Soul that she "could not be a saint by halves." And that, more than anything else from her, has been instrumental in my life. She refused God nothing; she took whatever He gave her, and she did it willingly. That might not have mean she liked it. But she did it. 

(Mother Teresa, who chose St. Therese as her name in religious--although spelled differently--had much the same attitude, saying she took from God whatever He gave her.) 

So while my 13 year old self didn't think too hard about her confirmation saint, twenty years later, I'm pretty glad she didn't, because she might have missed the treasure that is St. Therese. 

This post is part of a weeklong series on Women Saints.