As Veterans Day approaches, our country, cities and even churches honor those who have gone into harm’s way or paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom.   

Perhaps we should also include St. Therese of Lisieux during our Veterans Day celebration. St. Therese, also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus,” is believed to have played significant roles in protecting soldiers on both sides during World War I and World War II.   

When World War I broke out on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, devotions to St. Therese were already popular. In fact, shortly before the war commenced, Pope Pius X, in one of his last official acts of his papacy, had signed the introduction of her cause to sainthood.  

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St. Therese of Lisieux

 

Devotions to St. Therese quickly spread. Reportedly, French and German soldiers carried her photo on the battlefield; others wore a St. Therese relic and would later claim those relics had stopped bullets.  

In an unprecedented move, because of her popularity during the war, the Vatican permitted medals of St. Therese even before she was beatified.  

In the years following the war, legions of soldiers visited her tomb in prayer of thanksgiving. Some soldiers sent their military medals and other offerings of thanksgiving to the Carmel of Lisieux, which was besieged with letters from chaplains attesting to St. Therese stories.  

“The Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux website, in honor of the centennial of World War I, created the page in English “Therese and the First World War.”  

During World War II, the town of Lisieux, located in the Normandy region, experienced its first bomb attack on the evening of June 6, 1944 during the D-Day invasion. During the bombing, displaced residents prayed for the spiritual protection of St. Therese. Among the civilian victims were 21 Benedictine monks.  

At one point, the Carmelite nuns left the convent to go to the Basilica of St. Theresa. Eventually, the roof of the tower house of the Carmel convent was burned and the chapel containing the reliquary of St. Therese threatened. But a sudden change in wind direction, which some attribute to St. Therese, spared the chapel.  

Once again, her prayer cards were popular among the soldiers.  

On July 12, 1944, after three-quarters of the buildings of Lisieux had been destroyed, the priests and religious began a nine-day novena to St. Therese. On the novena’s last day, refugees crowded the basilica and vowed to St. Therese that if they were spared, each year they would process from St. Peter’s Cathedral to the Basilica. That tradition continues today.

St. Therese felt an early call to religious life and in 1888 entered the Carmelite community of Lisieux. Only nine years later, after serving in a number of offices and spending her last 18 months in Carmel.  

Her feast day is Oct. 1.