St. Therese Visits the Bishop

I would like to begin by saying that all the victims of Superstorm Sandy that hit the East Coast of the USA are in our prayers during this difficult time. We are very grateful to all the first responders and those who are helping in the rescue and clean-up effort. It is great to witness the heroic and loving response of so many.

Therese made a heroic response of a different kind when she attempted to enter the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux at the age of 15. She had already been rebuffed by the ecclesiastical Superior of Carmel, Fr. Delatroette, and he had told her not to even think about entering until she was 21 years old. Therese was heartbroken by this news and traveled with her beloved Papa on Halloween 1887 to visit the Bishop of Bayeux, France, Bishop Hugonin, to implore him to allow her to enter the convent over the opposition of the Superior.

Therese described the experience of visiting the Bishop at length in her Autobiography and I will use excerpts of her own writing about the experience.

Therese wrote that, “October 31 was the day set for the trip to Bayeux. I left alone with Papa, my heart filled with hope, but also rather scared at the thought of meeting the Bishop. For the first time in my life, I was to make a visit unaccompanied by my sisters and this visit was to a Bishop! God had to give me a very special grace to overcome my timidity. It’s also very true that “love never finds impossibilities, because it believes everything is possible, everything is permitted.” It was surely only love of Jesus that could help me surmount these difficulties and the ones that followed, for it pleased Him to have me buy my vocation with very great trials.

Father Reverony (Bishop Hugonin’s Vicar General) was very friendly, but I believe the reason for our trip took him by surprise. After looking at me with a smile and asking me a few simple questions, he said: ‘I am going to introduce you to the Bishop; will you kindly follow me?’ Seeing the tears in my eyes, he added: ‘Ah! I see diamonds; you mustn’t show them to the Bishop!’

The Bishop was walking on the balcony with two priests. I saw Father Reverony say a few words to him and return with him to where we were waiting in his study. There, three enormous armchairs were set before the fireplace in which a bright fire was crackling away. When he saw his Excellency enter, Papa knelt down by my side to receive his blessing; the Bishop had Papa take one of the armchairs, and then he sat down facing him. Father Reverony wanted me to take the one in the middle; I excused myself politely, but he insisted, telling me to show if I knew how to obey. And so I took it without further reflection and was mortified to see him take a chair while I was buried in a huge armchair that could hold four like me comfortably (more comfortably, in fact, for I was far from being so!).

The bishop asked me if it had been a long time since I desired to enter Carmel. ‘Oh! yes, Bishop, a very long time.’ ‘Come, now,’ said Father Reverony with a smile, ‘you can’t say it is fifteen years since you’ve had the desire.’ Smiling, I said: ‘That’s true, but there aren’t too many years to subtract because I wanted to be a religious since the dawn of my reason, and I wanted Carmel as soon as I knew about it. I find all the aspirations of my soul are fulfilled in this Order.’

 The Bishop, believing he’d please Papa, tried to have me stay with him a few more years, and he was very much surprised and edified at seeing him take my part, interceding for me to obtain permission to fly away at fifteen. And still everything was futile. The Bishop said an interview with the Superior of Carmel was indispensable before making his decision. I couldn’t possibly have heard anything that would cause me more pain than this because I was aware of his formal opposition. Without taking into account Father Reverony’s advice, I did more than show my diamonds to the Bishop. I gave him some!

He was very much touched by this and putting his arm around my neck, he placed my head on his shoulder and caressed me as no one, it appears, was ever caressed by him before. He told me all was not lost, that he was very happy I was making the trip to Rome to strengthen my vocation, that instead of crying I should rejoice.

The Bishop brought us out as far as the garden. Papa amused him very much by telling him that in order to appear older I had put up my hair. (This wasn’t lost on the Bishop, for he never spoke about ‘his little daughter’ without telling the story of the hair.) Father Reverony wanted to accompany us to the end of the garden, and he told Papa that never had the like been seen before: ‘A father as eager to give his child to God as this child was to offer herself to Him’!” (Story of A Soul, pp. 114, 115, 116, 117)

Of course, nothing could keep our little Therese down. Less than a week after this interview she was off with her Papa to ask Pope Leo XIII for this same permission to enter the convent at age 15!

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