130 years ago today, St. Therese of Lisieux had her famous audience with Pope Leo XIII. During this audience, she was given permission to enter the Carmel.
From the young age of nine, St. Therese knew she was called to be a Carmelite nun. When she first sought permission at age 14 she was not granted entrance into the Convent. The priest-director did not want her to enter until she was twenty-one.
St. Therese then asked Bishop Hugonin, the bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, to let her enter when she was fifteen. She even tried to appear more mature by putting her hair up. Her effort was once again unsuccessful. Therese’s father strongly believed in her calling that he decided to take her on a pilgrimage to Rome in hope of asking the pope for permission to pursue her calling.
In her book, Story of a Soul, St. Therese shares her memory of this day:
We entered the Vatican through the sovereign Pontiff’s chapel. Our emotion was profound when we saw him [Pope Leo XIII] enter to celebrate the Holy Mass
After the Mass, the audience began… We passed in front of him in procession; each pilgrim knelt in turn, kissed the foot and hand of Leo XIII received his blessing, and two guards touched [the pilgrims] as a sign to rise.
Before entering the pontifical apartment, I was really determined to speak, but I felt my courage weaken when I saw Father Reverony [leader of the pilgrimage] standing by the Holy Father’s right side. Almost at the same instant, they told us on the Pope’s behalf that is was forbidden to speak, as this would prolong the audience too much. I turned toward my dear Celine for advice: “Speak!” She said. A moment later I was at the Holy Father’s feet. I kissed his slipper and he presented his hand, but instead of kissing it I joined my own lifting my tear-filled eyes to his face, I cried out: “Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!”
The Sovereign Pontiff lowered his head toward me and I saw his eyes… fixed on me and they seemed to
penetrate to the depths of my soul. “Holy Father, in honor of your Jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen!”
Emotion undoubtedly made my voice tremble. He turned to Father Reverony who was staring at me with surprise and displeasure and said: “I don’t understand very well.”
“Most Holy Father,” answered the Vicar General, “this is a child who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, but the Superiors are considering the matter at the moment.” “Well, my child,” the Holy Father replied, looking kindly, “do what the Superiors tell you!” I made a final effort, stating in a suppliant voice: “Oh! Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!” He gazed at me steadily, speaking these words and stressing each syllable: “Go… go… You will enter if God wills it!”
The two guards touched me politely to make me rise. As this was not enough they took me by the arms and Father Reverony helped them lift me, for I stayed there with joined hands resting on the knees of Leo XIII. It was with force they dragged me from his feet. At that moment I was thus lifted, the Holy Father place his hands on my lips then raised it to bless me. The two guards literally carried me to the door.
On January 1, 1888, Bishop Hugonin gave St. Therese the answer she was waiting for. She was granted permission to enter Le Carmel but had to wait three until after her sixteenth birthday. On April 9th, 1888 she began her life as a novice and lived as a religious sister in the convent for nine years, until her death at age twenty-four.
A prayer from Fr. Bob:
You really are determined, tender Therese. At the papal audience this day in 1887, you break protocol and directly address the Pope and ask him for the privilege to enter the Carmel early. When he puts you off with a pious exhortation, you continue to plead with him to intervene, until you are dragged away. Your tenacity is such a great gift, St. Therese – help us to strongly and passionately pursue goals and divine calls. Share with us your tenacious spirit, Little Flower of Jesus.