‘Little Therese’ officially became St. Therese of Lisieux 87 years ago today on May 17, 1925. Pope Pius XI canonized Therese that day in front of 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Basilica with another half million people standing outside in St. Peter’s Square. There were also 33 cardinals, 250 bishops, and an untold number of priests present at the ceremony. All four of Therese’s blood sisters were still alive at the time and were invited to the Canonization, but all four opted instead to remain in the quiet atmosphere of their convents.
Two years later in 1927 Pope Pius XI declared St. Therese to be ‘Patroness of the Universal Missions’ on par with St. Francis Xavier and in 1944 Pope Pius XII proclaimed St. Therese ‘Co-Patroness of France’ with St. Joan of Arc. A mere month after this second decree Lisieux was partially destroyed during the D-Day Invasion, although the Carmel emerged unscathed.
The sisters of Therese continued to ponder the amazing journey that transformed the baby of the family into a canonized saint. Therese’s eldest sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, reminisced in 1939, “A short while ago as I was looking at the basilica I was thinking of Mama. When she used to come to Lisieux my aunt would always take her to the cemetery. It was a beautiful spot; and then when members of the family were buried there Mama loved to go there. If someone had said to her at that time: ‘Do you see this beautiful little hill where we are now? Well, in fifty years a magnificent basilica will be built here in honour of your little Therese.’ Poor little Mother! She would have said: ‘You are off your head!’ She who had so many sorrows would not have believed it. That’s for sure.” (The Story of A Life, p. 213-214)
Today is also the Solemnity of the Ascension, the day that the Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven 40 days after Easter. “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24: 50-53) Jesus is now seated at the Father’s right hand and reigns with Him. “Christ’s ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again; this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men. Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 665-666) Happy Solemnity of the Ascension!