One evening, while at the home of some Catholic friends, Edith read the Life of St. Teresa of Avila, and when she finished it she said: "This is truth." Edith was baptized in 1922, and for the next decade was a dedicated teacher in Catholic schools, as well as a lecturer on women's issues. The confusion of today concerning the role of women in the home, in the Church, and in public life was also rampant in the Europe of the 1920's and 30's. Dr. Stein gave a series of lectures on such topics as "Ethos of Women's Professions" and "Vocations of Man and Woman," in which she discussed the controversy in the light of Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
At a convention of Catholic Academics in 1930, Dr. Stein said:
Many of the best women are almost overwhelmed by the double burden of family duties and professional life-- or often simply of gainful employment. Always on the go, they are harassed, nervous, and irritable. Where are they to get the needed inner peace and cheerfulness in order to offer stability, support, and guidance to others?...To have divine love as its inner form, a woman's life must be a Eucharistic life. Only in daily confidential relationship with the Lord in the tabernacle can one forget self, become free of all one's wishes and pretensions, and have a heart open to all the needs of others. ( The Collected works of Edith Stein, Vol 2, ICS Publications, 1987)Edith presented the Blessed Virgin Mary as being the role model for all women.
Whether she is a mother in the home, or occupies a place in the limelight of public life, or lives behind quiet cloister walls, she must be the handmaid of the Lord everywhere. So had the Mother of God been in all the circumstances of her life....Were each woman an image of the Mother of God, a Spouse of Christ, an apostle of the Divine Heart, then would each fulfill her feminine vocation no matter what conditions she lived in and what worldly activity absorbed her life. (Collected Works, Vol 2)At the age of forty-two, Edith Stein entered the Carmel of Cologne, where she made her first profession on Easter Sunday, 1935 and her final vows in April of 1938. Due to the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany, Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, as she was known in the cloister, was transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt on December 31, 1938. On Passion Sunday, 1939, she asked her superior for permission to "offer herself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement for the peace of the world" and the conversion of the Jewish people. (J. Fabrerues, "The Science of the Cross," Carmelite Digest, 1994)
Soon afterwards, Holland ceased to be a refuge; it was invaded by the Germans. In July of 1942, the Dutch bishops protested the Nazi mistreatment and deportation of the Jews. The Nazis retaliated. On August 2, all Catholics of Jewish descent were arrested, including Sr. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa Stein. Beaten and half-starved, the sisters were deported first to Westerbork prison prison camp in Northern Holland. Sr. Teresa was able to send a message to her superior that she was still wearing her Carmelite habit, and planned to keep wearing it as long as she could. (Fabrerues)
At the camp, St. Teresa Benedicta comforted and cared for frightened mothers and their little children. Before her arrival in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, she managed to smuggle one last message to her mother prioress: "I am content now. One can only learn the Scientia Crucis if one truly suffers under the weight of the Cross. I was entirely convinced of this from the very first and I have said with all my heart: Hail, Cross, our only hope." (Fabrerues)
After disappearing into the hell of the death camp, it is assumed that the brave Carmelites were gassed almost immediately, but the exact date and hour of the death of St. Teresa Benedicta has never been known for certain. She was beatified as a martyr of the Catholic faith on May 1, 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
Pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Teresa Benedicta.