During the winter following Pauline's entrance into the Carmelite monastery, Thérèse fell seriously ill. Experts have diagnosed her sickness as everything from a nervous breakdown to a kidney infection. She blamed it on the devil. Whatever it was, doctors of her time were unable to either diagnose or treat it. She suffered intensely during this time from constant headaches and insomnia. As the illness pursued its vile course, it racked poor little Thérèse's body. She took fits of fever and trembling and suffered cruel hallucinations. Writing of one bout of delirium, she explained, "I was absolutely terrified by everything. My bed seemed to be surrounded by frightful precipices; some nails in the wall of the room took on the appearance of big black charred fingers, making me cry out in fear. One day, while Papa was looking at me and smiling, the hat in his hand was suddenly transformed into some indescribable dreadful shape and I showed such great fear that poor Papa left the room sobbing." None of the treatments helped. Then, on May 13, 1883, Thérèse turned her head to a statue of the Virgin near her bed, and prayed for a cure. "Suddenly" Thérèse writes, ".Mary's face radiated kindness and love." Thérèse was cured. The statue has since been called "Our Lady of the Smile."

It was shortly after Pauline's departure that Thérèse decided to join her at Lisieux's Carmelite convent. She approached the prioress of the monastery and sought entrance. Carefully little Thérèse explained she wished to enter, not for Pauline's sake, but for Jesus' sake. The prioress advised her to return when she grew up. Thérèse was only nine years old at the time.

During her long illness, her resolve to join the Carmelites grew even stronger. "I am convinced that the thought of one day becoming a Carmelite made me live," she later declared. After her illness, Thérèse was more than ever determined to do something great for God and for others. She thought of herself as a new Joan of Arc, dedicated to the rescue not only of France but of the whole world. With unbelievable boldness the ten year old stated, "I was born for glory." And thus another great theme of Thérèse's life manifested itself. She perceived her life's mission as one of salvation for all people. She was to accomplish this by becoming a saint. She understood that her glory would be hidden from the eyes of others until God wished to reveal it.

At ten years of age, she reaffirmed and clarified her life's goals. She was intelligent enough to realize she could not accomplish them without suffering. What was hidden from her eyes was just how much she would have to endure to win her glory.


Return to Important Dates in the Life of St. Therese