By Amy Burke
How did a young Jewish girl from Poland become one of the most exemplary Catholic saints? Good question, let’s find out!
Edith Stein. A girl who had eleven brothers and sisters, of which she was the youngest. Her mother, widowed when Edith was two, worked hard to care for the children and keep the family business afloat. The Jewish faith was close to her mother’s heart, but she had a hard time keeping it alive in her children because of all her duties as a single mother. Edith ended up falling away from the Jewish faith on her own, proclaiming herself an atheist, saying, “I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying.”
Soon after she lost her faith, she went to college. She studied German and history, although her interest was in philosophy. Despite her heart being elsewhere, she gave her all to her studies and got her degree.
Afterwards, she took a nursing course with the intention of nursing injured men in World War I. She was placed at an Austrian field hospital where she worked in the typhus ward. “I no longer have a life of my own,” she wrote, as she saw people her age die. Everything changed when she realized her life was for much more than just herself; it was for serving others. Edith could see the scope of suffering in the world, and understood that life was a gift, a fleeting gift, which made it precious.
Her understanding of what her life was supposed to be helped set her up for her conversion to Catholicism. What Edith describes as her moment of conversion was when she visited one of her recently widowed friends. She had never before witnessed someone truly “carrying her cross” until she saw this friend. This woman had just experienced one of the most painful experiences of this life—losing her husband—yet she carried this warm joy that only Christ could emanate through her. “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me—Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”
Edith was soon baptized. When she went home to tell her mother about her conversion to Catholicism, her mother wept with sadness. Years later, Edith became a Carmelite nun, despite her mother’s heartache.
In this time of joy of giving her life to the Lord, World War II was raging on. Edith did not escape the Nazis’ hunt for innocent lives and was captured in 1942. As she starved and suffered in the concentration camps, she cared for the orphaned children, never ceasing her love for God and, therefore, never ceasing her love for His children. She was later gassed in Auschwitz, where she died.
Edith teaches the Church that the further we explore truth, the closer we get to God; that the more we love and search for God, the more we will want to change our lives, even if it is against everything we know. And finally, she shows us that if God is truly rooted within us, suffering will not mean the ceasing of God’s divine light through us, but will ever increase it.
Additional Reading/Source: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19981011_edith_stein_en.html
Amy Burke is a freshman looking to attain a degree in writing. You can always find her singing Christian Contemporary music, baking, or writing 🙂