The National Shrine and Museum of St. Therese is situated on the Carmelite Campus in Darien, Illinois, a 40-acre property that is home to the Carmelite Spiritual Center, the Carmelite Meditation Garden, and the Carmelite Gift Shop as well as the Shrine and Museum. The Museum is open every day of the week from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
The National Shrine is where people come to learn about St. Therese and her life, to honor her, and to pray to her and be with her. The Museum is a rich treasury of relics and memorabilia of St. Therese. The collection is the largest of her personal effects outside Lisieux, France, the home of her Carmelite convent.
Highlights of the National Shrine Museum include several first-class relics of St. Therese, photographs of her, paintings of scenes from her life, a special Prayer Gazebo, and a full-sized exact replica of her convent cell which includes several second-class relics. Video screens explain everything in the museum.
As part of the National Shrine Museum is a huge stain-glass window that beautifully and artistically depicts the journey of the soul to God, modeled on St. John of the Cross’ Ascent of Mount Carmel. St. Therese’s spiritual journey is very parallel to St. John of the Cross’ teachings.
On the side of the National Shrine Museum is a massive wood carving of the life of St. Therese. It tells her whole life story in a visual and beautiful way. It is the largest wood carving of a religious nature in the United States.
As St. Therese was a Carmelite contemplative cloistered Nun, she was dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patroness of the Carmelites. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of Contemplatives and teaches us as “our sister in faith” to be present to our life where God reveals His great, ever-present love and presence. The National Shrine Museum features a large collection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel statues from around the world.
The original and first National Shrine to St. Therese began at St. Cyril’s Church in Chicago in 1923, as devotion to the Little Flower was growing. Because of her great popularity, it was moved to the larger St. Clara’s Church in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. The Tuesday novenas drew thousands of devoted friends. During this time, relics and personal effects of this new Saint (she was canonized in 1925) were received from the Carmelites Nuns of Lisieux in gratitude for the support the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure of Mary gave for her beatification and canonization.
With changing demographics, the crowds lessened. In 1975, a massive fire destroyed St. Clara’s Carmelite Church in the south side of Chicago, and effectively destroyed the National Shrine of St. Therese. Gratefully most of the relics and personal effects were saved. It seemed like an end of an era. Some thought it was the end of the devotion. But like the Phoenix bird, from fire winged forth new opportunities for life.
The Shrine items were moved from St. Clara’s to the Aylesford Carmelite Priory in Darien for a period of time. A devoted Lay Carmelite woman left the Carmelites a bequest in her will to build a Shrine to the Little Flower. The multi-million dollar gift was used to build a new Shrine to the Little Flower in Darien, Illinois, on the Aylesford Carmelite campus. Fr. Terry Sempowski, then Director of the Little Flower Society, oversaw the design and construction, trying to be faithful to Carmelite spirituality and her “little way.” The Shrine building was dedicated on November 1, 1987.
In 1999-2000, the Carmelites sponsored the tour of the Relics of St. Therese throughout North America, with the leadership of Fr. Bob Colaresi, O. Carm. Tremendous crowds met her everywhere, and especially at the National Shrine in Darien. This amazing experience opened the doors to more and more people coming to daily Mass and other events on campus. A decision was made to expand the Shrine and double its capacity, to meet the needs of the people coming. The expanded Shrine was blessed in February 2002.
The Little Flower has so many friends. At special events and daily Mass at times, the building was filled beyond capacity. Having helped the Carmelite Nuns with the renovation of their Lisieux Convent, they continued to share precious relics and gifts of St. Therese, including the original door to her room and her tiles, etc. This led to the extensive renovation and updating of the Shrine Museum in 2014-15.
A New National Shrine
Still, people came. We started dreaming of a larger facility to house her many friends. With her heavenly help, we received an extremely generous gift from the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation, because Margie Petersen had been so devoted to the Little Flower.
This began the four-year planning and development of the new National Shrine which was dedicated on October 1, 2018 – it is three times the size of the former chapel and highlights our heavenly patroness with her smile and welcoming arms.
Around the new National Shrine are smaller prayer stations to Carmelite Saints.
Every week day, Monday through Friday, the Eucharist is celebrated at 11:30 AM. During the year there are large prayer experiences including St. Therese’s Feast Day (October 1st), Christmas at the Crib, The Station of the Cross and the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Pilgrimage groups of 20 or more can arrange a special guided day or overnight of prayer and communion with St. Therese, by calling 800-647-1430.
Canadian Shrine at Niagara Falls, ON
The Mount Carmel Monastery at Niagara Falls, Ontario also features a Shrine to St. Therese. The Shrine is located in the Chapel at the Monastery. You can learn more about the Canadian Shrine on their website.