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Mother Therese of Jesus
Foundress of the Allentown Carmelite
“I would not miss Holy Communion for anything in the world.”
Words spoken by Mother Therese while very ill,
In August 2001, the remains of Mother Therese of Jesus, O. Carm., Foundress of the Carmelite Monastery of Allentown, were exhumed during an expansion of the Monastery's mausoleum. During this process, Mother Therese's body was found to be intact, 63 years after her burial. This unusual occurrence was reported in the news and has led many people to want to learn more about this beautiful Carmelite foundress.
AS OUR STORY unfolds, it will be readily understood that Mother Therese was indeed a very remarkable character and it is likewise true that once you met and spoke with her you could not easily forget either her or the winning charm of her personality. She was in truth the soul of her community. Beneath her modest reserve there was a simplicity and a gentleness of disposition that was evident in all she said or did. She knew how to be firm when the occasion demanded, but she was over-merciful rather than severe. Despite her mild temperament, she possessed a heart that was all on fire with zeal for God and her Order, so that she could truthfully say: "With zeal am I consumed for the Lord God of Hosts."
~ "SERVITE DOMINO IN LAETITIA" ~
Her expression was kindly and peaceful. It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul and from out the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh! There was the sweetest reflections of peace in the eyes of Mother Therese and since she had learned to keep her interior in order from tender childhood, her deep spirituality could not but reveal itself even in her very countenance and she showed, unknowingly however, that her heart was immersed in Him Whom she loved above all. The refinement of her person, her extreme modesty, and the gentle dignity with which she treated persons and affairs, together with her extraordinary business capacities, gave her all that one would wish to find in a Foundress and an exemplary religious.
The purity of her gaze and the peacefulness which she constantly endeavored to maintain around her, gave a sweet and heavenly expression to her features, which were not beautiful but singularly attractive, so that one felt instinctively drawn to her. Her eyes were grey-blue, rather deep-set and penetrating, but clear and innocent as those of a child. They would sparkle merrily and light up with pleasure, and she could make her nuns laugh gayly too.
She liked her nuns to be always happy, always ready to smile, and if anyone of them would sadden over some trifling occurrences, she would remind her sweetly: "No long faces, Sister. We cannot stand long faces." And it never took long for the culprit to be wreathed in smiles even though her cheeks were still wet with the dew of tears, because Mother Therese never hesitated to portray on her own dear countenance the picture of the "long face" before her.
Great was her delight when with her nuns in recreation, especially on some of the major feasts or on days when her anniversaries were celebrated. On these occasions the Sisters would prepare "surprises" and enact scenes, both pious and amusing, from the lives of the Saints. Mother Therese enjoyed these little festivities and entered into them with a simplicity and a joyfulness that delighted her spiritual children. Unfailingly she had "surprise" for them too on such occasions, when she would herself prepare beforehand some little dainties or extra refreshments, different from the routine food, so that these happy events were sought after and eagerly looked forward to by all with child-like anticipation.
An exemplary Prioress, she was a real Mother in the highest and dearest sense of the term. She rejoiced with the joyful and she knew how to comfort and to sympathize with those in affliction. Loaded down with the multiplicity of her important and ever increasing duties, she would lay aside everything in order to pour upon some saddened heart words of cheer and solace. Always bearing in mind that her first duty was to her nuns, she looked after everyone in such a manner that each Sister thought herself the special object of her maternal solicitude.
God was her changeless Friend. Frequently she would say: “God Alone suffices; God never changes.” And she was changeless in her lover of Him. Trials would come and almost unbearable crosses; thorns, too, whose sharpness would have depressed a less valiant soul than hers; even the necessity of scaling Calvary—all this were her portions. In fact, we are forced to admit that in the course of her long career, innumerable were the crosses laid on the holy Foundress, but some of them are too intimate and too bitter to be revealed here below. However, God's grace, like refreshing dew to a little flower, came down upon her soul, in torrents.
Mother Therese, just about medium height, looked smaller than she really was, especially in the last years of her life when her shoulders seemed bent beneath the many burdens of her great undertaking. Her powers of endurance were very great and no one will ever know the secret martyrdom she underwent owing to ill health. She was not given to speaking of her aches and pains, and never did ill health prove an obstacle to any of her work. Towards the end of her life, when her heart-attacks became a little more frequent, and her gentle countenance paled more and more, her nuns dreaded what actually took place on the morning of April 11th, 1939, the day of Mother Therese's death.
"God fits the back for the burden," Mother Therese would fondly declare both by speech and in the countless letters she had to write, which letters kept her sitting at her desk till way into the night. Truly wonderful it was how she managed to fulfill her busy days, week after week, month after month. She was on the go constantly, interviewing business men, the different contractors and builders; overseeing the workmen and the work being done; looking after each and every detail of the building no matter how trifling, with a keenness of mind and an enthusiasm of energy that only God could have inspired. Then too, she looked after and attended the spiritual exercises of her community with the same exactness and fervor as always. This spirit was heightened by grace as is revealed in the beautiful incidents that took place on the last few days prior to her death and which we will treat of in another chapter.
We do not exaggerate when we say that she practiced the golden virtue of charity in an eminent degree. Enduring bodily pain herself for so many years, she was quick to observe the little ills and pains of everybody else and would go herself to seek a soothing remedy for others, never stopping to think of her own fatigues nor the multiplicity of her ever-increasing duties. Then with her usual smile and a few encouraging words, she solaced their bodily as well as their spiritual infirmities. Should the occasion prove an appropriate one, she would even remind them of Purgatory, and that it was far better to suffer a little here than to make expiation in the next life.
As has been said, all the nuns without exception found her easy of approach when seeking corporal relief or spiritual solace. A little incident typical of this occurred a day or so before her death. One of the nuns showed signs of weakness while at work; this did not escape the notice of Mother Therese, who presented the nun with a tiny glass of wine. Looking at the pale, care-worn face of her beloved Prioress, the nun hesitated to take the medicinal relief, saying: "Mother, won't you take it instead? You need it more than I."
Sacrifice was a most sweet food to her. She chose to escape all unnecessary alleviations; she was not eager to seek relief from pain. But with her spiritual daughters, she outdid herself to grant them every comfort whether temporal or spiritual.
Her charity extended far beyond the walls of her dear Carmel. On the very evening before her death, although suffering with acute pains in her chest, she went from room to room in the offices, in search of an appropriate gift for a poor young man who had assisted at the carpentry work in the new building. She herself arranged the gift in a small box together with a Rosary to present to the poor boy.
Meanwhile the heart of her faithful assistant, Mother Clement Mary, was growing very sad. She, as the constant companion of Mother Therese, was keenly aware, more than anyone else in the community, that the venerable Mother's failing health could not endure much longer under the awful pressure of her work. Often did she plead with Mother to take some relaxation, but her entreaties went unheeded. God's loving Providence had enabled Mother Therese to make great strides in the work assigned to her, and if He wished her to complete the vast undertaking, He would certainly proportion His grace to the work and give her the strength and health necessary to carry on. Should health fail her, well ... He was free to accomplish His holy Will in her regard!
Unless we forget this body of ours we will never make any progress in perfection – wrote the great mystic of Carmel, Saint Teresa of Avila. And Mother Therese lived according to the maxim that "we must forget self." And, like her fond Patroness, she never preached anything that she did not first practice herself.
Her marvelous trust in God's providence that "GOD WILL PROVIDE" (which was constantly on her lips), brought many a frown of disapproval from some of the superiors who naturally preferred that her material backing, in view of so great a building project, would be a little more visible and secure.
God has His own way of bringing about the accomplishment of His designs. On one occasion, in face of opposition, she had responded very gently as was her custom, saying: "Well, it is not surprising that we have to encounter obstacles of every kind. I share the same in this as did the holy Mother Saint Teresa."
"What," she was asked, "do you compare yourself to the great
Saint Teresa?" The humble Mother was not in the least disturbed by
the inquiry which was intended to humiliate her. In fact, she
possessed an amazing fund of wit and therefore would more likely try
to see the bright side of any dark situation. Although amused at the
outbreak, she made no response. She smiled.
MOTHER THERESE, known in the world as Anna Marie Lindenberg, was born of Joseph and Marianna Lindenberg, in Muenster, Westphalia, on May 20, 1877, the youngest of four children. Four days later, on May 24, she was brought to the Cathedral of Muenster for baptism.
A victim of the dread disease cancer, Mrs. Lindenberg had but one desire she wished fulfilled before her death and prayed earnestly that Our Lord would see fit II l grant it. She nourished the hope that little Anna Marie might have her First Holy Communion advanced one year because her mother felt death approaching and yearned for this consolation. She felt urged to take the matter up with the pastor. It looked rather hopeless but she prayed on, and her request was granted, for Anna Marie was permitted to receive Holy Communion on April 13, 1890. She was well prepared for the great event, and it was indeed with a fond mother's pride that Mrs. Lindenberg arrayed her little one in the lily-white dress and veil in which she was to be, for the first time, the little bride of Jesus.
Years later, when she recounted this memorable occasion, Mother Therese's eyes shone with a wistful light and there were tears of joy and of gratitude when she remembered her pain-stricken mother whose last act on earth was to prepare the heart of her youngest child for the first reception of Jesus.
From this good mother, indeed, little Anna Marie, who was destined by the Almighty to become a nun, and a foundress of a Carmel, surely must have gleaned her marvelous spirit of self-sacrifice. She seemed always to be permeated, as it were, with the fact that "God sees it" and that sufficed for her.
She loved to remind her nuns that she had been born on Pentecost Sunday. At birth she was so very weak, so very small, almost too frail to give hope of any future career. To save the failing infant, the doctors prescribed goats' milk on which the little one throve and waxed strong.
When about four or five years of age, little Anna Marie and her group of playmates were interrupted at play by a Gypsy troupe which was passing by in a strange-looking wagon. The children were attracted to the wagon by some toys and playthings that happened to catch their eyes and approaching nearer were cordially received by the Gypsies and invited to play with the toys. As soon as the last child entered, the wagon sped out of the town. In a neighboring city, the wagon stopped for a few moments before a hotel at which point little Anna Marie caught sight of a familiar figure, and recognized her elder brother Henry. "Heinrich, Heinrich!'" she called pleadingly, and the young man, amazed to find at last that the familiar little voice of his own sister came from the strange-looking wagon, approached the van hastily and was about to snatch little Anna Marie away when one of the Gypsies, with knife in hand, slashed him across the face. Nevertheless Henry held on to his little charge and with face bleeding, safely rescued his little sister from the would-be kidnappers.
A more amusing incident in her life took place when, some of her
little companions, she delighted in playing at being "a Sister";
and, at other times, she, with one particular chum, would run off to
the woods and play at being "a hermit." Once, when she and her
little friends were garbed as "Sisters," they decided to "build
their convent" alongside the theatrical house. No sooner had the
"holy nuns" pitched their tent when a group of players alighted from
the theatre for a stroll on the grounds. The players were dressed in
worldly fashion. The "little Sisters," who had been rigidly
instructed in modesty of dress, became actively zealous, and
approached the group, calling to them in a loud voice: "Vanity,
vanity, and all is vanity."
Anna Marie loved Sundays when she went with her mother to the Capuchin Monastery in Muenster to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This was her greatest delight!
At eight years of age, she accompanied her mother to the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. Here she witnessed her cousin's reception into the Congregation of the Good Shepherd Sisters. The Clothing Ceremony made a deep impression on the little girl and from that moment she conceived an ardent desire to give her' self as a consecrated bride to the Saviour.
Little did the innocent child realize that long years would pass before she would see the fulfillment of her young heart's cherished desire. But time and travail only served to strengthen her resolution of soul, and never for a moment did she depart from her determination to give herself wholly to Jesus. The seed was planted and it would require the Divine Gardener Himself to bring to flower that precious vocation, which sorely needed the life-giving rays of an effulgent Sun for its transplanting to the Mystical Garden of Carmel.
Anna Marie was an excellent pupil. Even at an early age, she possessed an extraordinary skill for memorizing. And we would like to mention here that after fifty years or more, she could recite with ease a very long poem which she had been called upon to deliver before the Emperor of Germany upon his visit to her childhood school.
Although younger in years, Anna Marie excelled her companions in almost every subject, but she ranked highest in mathematics and proved an expert with the needle. These two remarkable natural talents would be most valuable assets to her and presaged her subsequent outstanding executive ability. To her school mistress, she owed her first lessons in meditation. This worthy teacher, marked by a fixed exterior rigidity, possessed nevertheless a sterling character and deep spirituality. She it was who taught her apt pupil the art of meditating and how to fix her thoughts and heart upon God so as to commune with Him interiorly. These "first lessons" left a lasting impression on the young contemplative, who never forgot the precious instructions nor the dear teacher who was so worthy of her noble profession.
The good God was laying a deep bed in the soul of Anna Marie and
He prepared her well, as is His wont. Later events proved, without
doubt, that Our Lord was pleased to lay a solid foundation in the
spiritual up-bringing of His future spouse.
AS HAS BEEN mentioned, Anna Marie was barely thirteen years old when God called her beloved mother to Himself. She had always been a sweet consolation to her mother and now especially, in the last hours as her mother lingered on, she was a heavenly solace to her and never left her side. All through the dreary night Anna Marie watched and prayed beside her mother, her one desire being to give all she could to the mother who was about to leave her, and whom she loved most on earth.
Thus we see that even in the very flower of her girlhood, the saintly Mother Therese practiced self-forgetfulness and loyal perseverance. No wonder that in later years, she would with seeming ease, deny herself the necessary sleep and rest that should have been hers. When business or charity prevented her from taking her meals at the proper time, she would go without them completely, so as not to cause any extra work for any her nuns.
After her dear Mother's death, Anna Marie wanted no outside help in the things that had to be done because they were the last she could do before the body of her cherished parent would be laid away forever.
She herself took complete charge of the funeral arrangements; looked after everything and faced the situation with a foresight and a courage that was far beyond her years. Well could she say, however, as did the Virgin of Lisieux, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, that her path, from the very outset, was strewn with thorns rather than with roses.
Henceforward, difficulties, one after the other, were to confront her; however, she had by this time mastered the art of total dependence on God so that no obstacle proved too great for her. She faced all obstacles and took hold of every situation with an adaptability that was simply second nature to her.
"The Lord is my shepherd; how can I lack anything?" (Ps. 22.)
At this period of her life, Anna Marie felt that it was the proper time to make known to her legal guardian her desire to become a religious. Her disclosure met with an unsympathetic response and instant refusal, and there was no change of attitude to be hoped for before she would reach her twenty-first year. God's loving Providence would not abandon His trusting child for whom He had special designs.
Anna Marie maintained a filial correspondence with her uncle, her mother's brother, the Reverend Albert M. Horck, S.J., who had come to America many years before and was a pastor in Saint Louis, Missouri. Gentle and refined by nature, endowed with a deep spirituality, Father Horck filled his letters with wise and prudent counsels. It was through the influence of this zealous missionary that Anna Marie made preparations to leave her Fatherland and come to America.
Anna Marie had little natural desire to leave her native soil, her friends, and relatives, and all the memories of the years passed in her native town. However, trained from earliest years in obedience, she felt that her Priest uncle's advice was to be obeyed. So, with the beautiful simplicity which was always so characteristic of her, Anna Marie accomplished her sacrifice.
After her arrival in the United States, she lost no time in learning the English language, and, remarkable to relate, in a very short time, she could write and speak it fluently. Trained in fine music and organ, Anna Marie Vilas installed as organist in the parish church, and was charged with the direction of the choir. Endowed with good health, she found joy in manual labor. She took care of the household. An expert in home-economics, she was simply nonpareil in maintaining the household, and in the art of cooking. Circumstances unfailingly proved how gifted she was with great common sense.
Reverend Father Horck was fully aware of his niece's ardent desire for the deep, interior life of the cloister. He promised to help her, but on account of his rapidly declining health, he was compelled at this time to transfer to Verboort, in Oregon. This change of plans meant a fresh sacrifice for Anna Marie, whose courage and determination were put to additional test. However, in the same spirit as her own dear mother had practiced the virtue of self-sacrifice, so too, this valiant soul, thirsting ardently for the waters of a deeper spiritual life, away from the world, was willing to sacrifice longing for duty. For such she deemed it, a sacred duty to care for this aged missionary whose days were now numbered and whose health was utterly spent after many years of faithful service in the vineyard of the Lord.
my life thy loving favour pursues me; through the long years,
It is next to impossible to describe the pain of longing when Our Divine Lord is the tender Object of such ardent desire. God's watchful Providence continued to exercise vigilance over this privileged soul whose yearning to fly to her Beloved, would, in His own good time, be realized; when at last, she would bid adieu to the world in which she had gone about doing good.
Our Lord soon showed His faithful servant the special designs He had in bringing her to Verboort. Here she met the saintly and venerable priest, the Reverend Father H. J. McDevitt, D.D., former Rector of the North American College in Rome, Italy. Destined by the Almighty, Reverend Father McDevitt, distinguished for his zeal as well as for his learning, was to play a very important role in the life of this heroic child. His devoted and paternal guidance would prove a significant factor in her spiritual destiny.
About this time also, Anna Marie had the good fortune to have as
her spiritual director, an eminent ascetic, in person of the
Reverend Father Henry A. Gabriel, S.J., who according to the wise
decree of Providence, was to exercise a special influence on her
inner life. Hence, her prolonged delay in the world was not without
its recompense from Him for Whom she so lovingly so submissively
bore this heavy trial. On May 26, 1912, Our Lord was pleased to call
to Himself the soul of her dear uncle, Father Albert M. Horck, at
Saint Mary's in Oregon.
NOW THAT Anna Marie's obligations were over, she was free to follow the call of the Divine Master after long years of patient, heroic waiting. It was the zealous Father Gabriel, S.J., who directed her steps to the ark of sacred Carmel which she entered on the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, October 15, 1913, taking the name of Sister Therese of Jesus.
The Reverend Mother of the Carmel, herself a humble soul, distinguished for unalterable meekness and kindness, before long recognized in her new daughter, Sister Therese, a soul of solid virtue and singular holiness. Thus, under the personal guidance of this worthy Prioress and true spiritual Mother, Sister Therese of Jesus commenced a new era of increased fervour, of interior peace, and of greater joy in God's service.
On May 6, 1914, the Feast of Saint John before the Latin Gate,
she had the ineffable joy of receiving the Holy Habit of Carmel from
the Bishop of the diocese. About a year later, on July 16, 1915, the
Feast of the Incomparable Patroness of the Order, Our Lady of Mount
Carmel, Sister Therese of Jesus was permitted to pronounce her Holy
Even after the great day of her religious Profession, Sister Therese of Jesus continued to apply herself unceasingly to the work of her sanctification, happy and contented in her humble, hidden life.
In addition to her extraordinary spiritual assets, Sister Therese of Jesus possessed, as has been hinted at heretofore, great practical abilities and great talents. She was chosen to write letters for the aged Prioress who appreciated her facile, refined style of composition and her edifying message of gratitude to the benefactors of the Monastery. Excelling in choir work, Sister Therese performed each and every duty in a most admirable manner. No matter to what task she was assigned, be it ever so lowly or otherwise, whether in the kitchen, laundry, or at housework, she was ever most reliable and fulfilled even the smallest duty with a perfection that seemed second nature to her.
The venerable Prioress regarded her as a treasure, and when the Prioress became bedfast, about two years prior to her death, the saintly old Mother appointed Sister Therese of Jesus to be Infirmarian. Sister Therese, she well knew, was remarkable for sweetness of disposition, and indeed fraternal charity had impressed its beautiful seal upon her soul long before she entered the portals of her dear Carmel.
God called the venerable Mother to her Eternal Reward. Previous to this she had cast a look of affectionate gratitude upon her devoted Infirmarian and said to her, most prophetically, as if peering into the future: "You poor child!" But it was only the beginning of new trials for this true daughter of Carmel, who humbly acquiesced to the Divine Will and continued her trust in the Saviour. Her simplicity of heart and her deep, abiding faith did not allow her to be guided by mere sentiment at any time.
Ten years of close intimacy with the Master, in the silence of
the cloister, had sped rapidly by.
depths of the riches of the wisdom and of the Knowledge of God!
EVER SINCE her memorable pilgrimage to Italy, Sister Therese of Jesus maintained a friendly correspondence with the Carmelites of Holland, and of Freiburg. At that time, the latter were forming a new community and were very much in need of material help. Sister Therese had, at the time, assisted them most generously with the aid of some of her friends to the extent that the Sisters managed to purchase a house and land for a suitable Monastery. It may be noted here that, years later, this same Convent was taken over by the nuns from the Monastery of Dueren, and became a very flourishing Carmel. The Sisters at Freiburg never forgot their kind benefactress. Strangely enough, it was to their nascent community that Sister Therese of Jesus, with the proper Apostolic authority, was transferred, and where she was to do the work of a "foundress."
A painful trial was connected with this incident in her life. She bore it valiantly. Indeed for a soul of ordinary spirituality such a cross would have been a most severe trial. But God knows His "timber," and as He seemingly smote with one Hand, so with the other He upheld His faithful spouse and strengthened her with the Divine Seal of the Cross.
Sister Therese of Jesus took over her new duties at that Carmel with the same devotedness and care that she had always manifested. Here, it seems, her special work was to foster vocations by means of correspondence. Gifted with the pen and conversant with several languages, it seems that she was charged particularly with the handling of American correspondence.
Outwardly all went well. But we must not suppose that matters arranged themselves smoothly for God's faithful "mendicant" whose new title of "Mother" only added fresh responsibilities and increased cares, plus the burden of helping with the direction of souls. Concomitantly with His yoke, here at Freiburg, Mother Therese's courage and equanimity were put to many a hard test and trying circumstance, most of which history need not go down in print. Let it suffice that all is inscribed in the book of eternity!
"O magnify the Lord with me; and let us extol His Name together." (Ps. 33, 4.)
The Almighty, Who directs all things, inspired Marie Elizabeth Roessler, of Belfield, North Dakota, to seek admission, at this time, into the Carmel of Porta Coeli, Wuerzburg, Bavaria, where her aunt and cousin were, many years, members of that fervent community. Their quota being completed at the time, her petition was forwarded to the Sisters at Freiburg, where it was received by Mother Therese of Jesus, who, as noted heretofore, was made responsible for American correspondence.
Encouraged by the gracious and edifying communications of Mother Therese, Marie Elizabeth left American shores and embarked for Europe, with the intention of joining the community at Freiburg.
In this manner, Divine Providence sent to the intrepid Mother Therese her first spiritual daughter, the future Sister Clement Mary of the Guardian Angel. And, indeed, to the very end, she would prove a veritable "guardian angel" to the beloved Foundress, both of whom would accomplish God's holy Will, although their life-work was not destined to flower on foreign soil.
joy of my life consists in my intimacy with the Guest Who resides
within my soul."
As things were at Freiburg, it seemed that no immediate steps would be taken to make it a monastery of strict enclosure. But what weighed on Mother Therese more heavily was the responsibility she had assumed to have encouraged the young Marie Elizabeth's long ocean voyage, for the purpose of entering a community that did not promise positively a Garden Enclosed for the glory of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and Her Divine Son. But then she reminded herself that all was in the Hands of the Divine Gardener Who had arranged for the transplanting. She was merely His poor handmaid ...
Persevering soul that she was, Mother Therese lost none of her confidence in the God of Love. Indeed, trials, sufferings of body and soul, augmented her blind trust and her immutable hope in the good God. Nevertheless her heart was not entirely at rest, and she felt that, in her new mission, she was not giving herself completely to her Divine Spouse. In order that her contemplative soul might find that "cleft in the rock" which she earnestly longed for, she wrote to her friend, the Mother Abbess of the Trappistines, at "Maria Altbronn" in Alsace-Lorraine, revealing her inmost sentiments and confiding to her the secret yearnings of her soul. Like the holy Cure d' Ars, Mother Therese was tempted to reach out for the solitude and silence of La Trappe.
But man proposes and God disposes! He it was Who wished this choice flower to bloom in no other but in MARY'S Garden of CARMEL, so redolent of a hidden spiritual beauty, the sweet fruit of trial borne patiently lovingly, like the flowers of the field, submissive to sun and rain, under the watchful Eye of the Divine Gardener Who seemingly desired to prune and to prune, whilst with the left Hand, He upheld and tenderly embraced ...
FATHER BRAUCHLE'S visit to Freiburg brought about a vital turn in the history of our two Carmel-mendicants. His consultation with the Carmelite Superiors in Italy moved the latter to direct Mother Therese and her companion to the Carmel of Saint Bridget in Rome. In reality, they were destined for the Carmel of Naples but to facilitate matters for procuring the necessary permissions from the Holy See, they were to remain for a time in the Roman Carmel. Their stay in this exemplary community, although short-lived, was ever a memorable and edifying experience.
By this time, however, Mother Therese's health had undergone a vast change, and it was easily to be seen that the hot Roman climate was not at all suited to her now greatly-weakened physical condition. Actually, she became so seriously ill, that her life was despaired of. In addition to her increased bodily sufferings, there were other crosses, too. In truth, God tried His trusting child to the very utmost, but His uplifting promise, “My grace is sufficient for thee," like a melody of hope, vibrated unceasingly in the depths of her submissive soul, as the limpid strings of the harmonious lyre respond to the expert touch of the master musician.
She belonged entirely to God, and not for one instant did she ever lose sight of this consoling fact. "Deus salus sufficit," (God Alone suffices) was her symbol of light and of guidance to the very end. Always Divine Providence intervened, and most signally, when black clouds of anxiety and failure seemed to envelop the very destiny of our two "pilgrims."
Among those who venerated the "little Mother Therese" even at this time, was the Carmelite ascetic, the Very Reverend Father Clement Mary of the Guardian Angel, O.C.D., esteemed in the Order for holiness of life, profound learning, and able leadership.
His spiritual direction of our two Carmelites left a special impress upon their souls, and was invaluable. In truth, his kindness and goodness were indescribable, and God sent him to them at a time when they needed him most. Father Clement Mary remained a loyal friend of the foundresses until his saintly death on December 3, 1941.
In the Divine Plan, however, it was the zealous General of the Carmelites, the Most Reverend Father Elias P. Magennis, O. Carm., who was destined to undertake the leadership in the vast enterprise of expanding the vine of the Carmelite nuns of the Ancient Observance to the West.
We cannot help, in the course of our narrative, referring frequently, and with filial affection, to this outstanding Carmelite, Father Magennis, who succeeded so admirably in imparting to others the spirit of zeal that burned so strongly in his heart.
In his zeal for the glory of his Order, and out of love for the Queen of Carmel, Father Magennis had long envisioned the idea of founding a Calced Carmel for cloistered nuns in America. He knew for a certainty that America's young womanhood, those inspired by the Almighty, would be drawn irresistibly to the Marian cloisters, where they would dedicate their youth, and their entire lives, to the holy service of Mary's Son, Our Lord and Saviour, JESUS CHRIST, by fervent prayer, penance, and hidden sacrifice. And so, his choice for the responsibility of such an undertaking fell upon the little Mother Therese of Jesus, and her companion, Sister Clement Mary of the Guardian Angel.
Father Magennis, assigned to special work at the Vatican, likewise enjoyed the personal friendship of the beloved Pontiff, Pius XI. It was Father Magennis who was largely instrumental in hastening the permissions from the Holy See, to transfer our two "pilgrims" to the Carmel in Naples, to the ancient Monastery of “Santa Croce di Lucca," located in the charming Coast-city, overlooking the colorful Bay of Naples.
Here, in the healthy, vibrant, Neapolitan air, Mother Therese's health was sufficiently restored to enable her, with her young companion, to share in the full-blooming ascetic life of this venerable community. However she was never to regain her former state of good health but like her valiant Patroness, Saint Teresa of Avila, she did not allow her weakened constitution, nor the constant ill-health to deter her in her apostolic life and great labors for Christ.
And so, in the revered Carmel of Naples, in the sacred cloister of the old monastery named in honor of the "Holy Cross of Lucca," Mother Therese of Jesus and Sister Clement Mary were prepared to be the instruments of God, to bring a new Garden of MARY to the soil of America.
STRANGE AS it may seem, Divine Providence used the earthquake of July 23, 1930, to hasten further the inception of the great enterprise. The fearful eruptions Mount Vesuvius wrought great havoc in the surrounding towns and ports. The old Monastery of the Carmelites, dating back to 1536, as we have noted, had to be vacated during the volcanic disturbances, which threatened to demolish the ancient edifice of Carmel.
Meanwhile, the nuns were compelled to seek safety and shelter in a small villa near the sea. In these cramped quarters, that would scarcely accommodate a family of six, the thirty "refugees" from Carmel huddled together. Indeed, they were provided with splendid opportunities for the practice of self-renunciation and limitless sacrifice. Mother Therese and her companion likewise manifested true heroism during these trying times. In truth, their edifying examples proved that penance was simply second nature to them, so well did they make the best of every inconvenience and painful circumstance, for love of Him Who is pleased to give ... and to take away!
It was at this very point that the distinguished Carmelite General, the Most Reverend Father Elias Magennis, O. Carm., completed the necessary arrangements for the founding of the first Monastery of the cloistered Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance, in the United States. Father Magennis would brook no further delay, and urged Mother Therese and her companion to start out immediately on the long ocean voyage that would bring them to Western shores.
It was on October 15, 1930, the feast of the seraphic virgin of Carmel, Saint Teresa of Avila, that permission was granted by the Sacred Congregation of Religious, whereby the Reverend Mother Therese of Jesus and Sister Clement Mary of the Guardian Angel were canonically commissioned to found a Calced Carmelite Monastery of Papal Enclosure in America. And the two apparently insignificant nuns, relying entirely on the mercy of Divine Providence, did not hesitate to commence their enormous task. Unafraid of the cross-laden future, with twelve heavy trunks that contained "everything but a monastery building," they embarked in Naples, on the steamer "Providence," to sail for the fair land of America.
On NOVEMBER 13, the sturdy "Providence" reached Providence, Rhode Island, the first landing-point, of our two "pilgrims" in the New World. However, it was on the Feast of ALL SAINTS of the CARMELITE ORDER, November 14, 1930, that the actual place of disembarkation was reached at the New York pier.
Here they were met, and warmly welcomed by the Carmelite Fathers, who represented the North American and the New York Provinces. The three who took the lead in welcoming the newcomers were: the Very Reverend Lawrence D. Flanagan, O. Carm., Provincial of the Saint Elias Province, New York City; the Very Reverend Silverius J. Quigley, O. Carm., Assistant Provincial of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, Englewood, New Jersey; and the Reverend Michael J. Christie, O. Carm., also of New York.
One of the Fathers, when asked to arrange for the shipment of the
twelve heavy trunks belonging to the foundresses, could not conceal
his utter amazement, and he replied: "Two little nuns, and twelve
heavy trunks!" And he gave them a broad smile.
At last they were on American soil! And their hearts were filled with gratitude, when, after being escorted to Englewood by the Carmelite Fathers, they were offered sisterly hospitality by the Reverend Mother Mary Agatha of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Newark, at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
These excellent and fervent religious were the first to open their convent and their hearts' generosity to the two daughters of Carmel. And it is well to mention here that the twelve heavy trunks followed the "pilgrims," slowly but surely, to their proper destination, through the noble kindness of a Jewish friend of the Carmelites. The Sisters of Saint Joseph remained devoted and generous benefactors of Carmel, presenting the Sisters with their first Ostensorium, candlesticks, and other beautiful furnishings for their future sanctuary.
The fervent Discalced Sisters of Carmel had long been in operation in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. However, His Eminence, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, known for his outstanding missionary zeal, and for his singular devotion to the "Little Flower" of Carmel, could not fail to welcome a foundation of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance into his Archdiocese. And this welcome was made all the more certain, since the Calced Carmelites intended to dedicate their new Monastery to this glorious daughter of Carmel, SAINT THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS
On December 17, 1930, Mother Therese of Jesus, and Sister Clement Mary, were granted an audience with His Eminence, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, the truly zealous and gracious Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Little Therese, who faithfully looked after her two devoted proteges, was not slow in revealing her consoling proximity on this very memorable occasion, and really, her "roses," upon her two valiant sisters in Carmel she let fall in torrents. Wonderful, indeed, and most significant, too, that on the eve of the Birthday of the Little King, December 24, 1930, the required document was signed by His Eminence, Cardinal Dougherty, permitting Mother Therese and Sister Clement Mary to establish, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a Carmel of the Ancient Observance.
The Cardinal Archbishop commissioned the Right Reverend Monsignor Leo Gregory Fink, V.F., Rector of the Sacred Heart Church, Allentown, to assist the nuns in the selection of a suitable site for the new Monastery. Eventually, both His Eminence and Monsignor Fink named LANARK MANOR, a charming, picturesque suburb of Allentown, as the choice site and ideal location for a Monastery, dedicated to the contemplative life of Carmel. Thus directed by Monsignor Fink, Mother Therese purchased the Weibel Estate, at Lanark Manor, which comprised about five acres of land, a spacious residence containing seventeen rooms, a large four-car stone garage, and an artesian well to provide an excellent water-supply.
On May 22, 1931, the two Carmelites motored to Allentown. Even at this crucial point, Mother Therese's humor was at hand, and she remarked to her dear companion, that it was quite fitting that an undertaker, from Allentown, should have the pleasure of bringing the Sisters to their new home.
There was nothing remarkable about the trip, but the heat on that
day was so intense that halfway to Allentown, the car would not move
anymore. After the necessary cooling, and re-oiling, the car resumed
its course. Arrived at Allentown, the Sisters called on Monsignor
Fink, the Vicar Forane, at the Sacred Heart Rectory. Monsignor
appointed the Reverend John P. N. Fries, Rector of Saint Joseph's
Church, Limeport, to conduct the nuns to Lanark Manor.
LANARK MANOR is situated about four and one-half miles from the city of ALLENTOWN, and lies, snugly and tranquilly, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which encircle part of the valley, like a friendly enclosure wall.
It was MARY'S Month of MAY. Plants of various kinds, flowers of indescribable beauty, trees, graceful and stately, shrubbery, varied and unique, presented an almost ethereal sight. Even the terrific heat was tempered to moderation in this serene spot. A refreshing breeze seemed to play about the trees, causing them, especially the tall poplars, to sway gently, and to throw tantalizing shadows, here and there. Sweet-smelling flowers, too, nodded their heads in undisturbed contentment.
Undoubtedly, LANARK MANOR, at first sight, presented an enchanting picture, and Mother Therese said: "It is SAINT THERESE'S VALLEY!" And the nuns were immediately impressed with the majestic silence that prevailed in the scenic valley, a silence broken only by the joyous notes of little birds, welcoming the "pioneers," and warbling their sweet melody to the skies, as a grateful homage to their Adorable Creator. Their perpetual song intensified the sacred stillness, and enhanced the charm of the utter peacefulness and placid serenity that greeted our zealous Carmelites upon their advent into the sylvan valley.
"At all times I will bless the Lord; His praise shall he on my lips continually." (Ps. 33, 2.)
The large, quiet Manor had a stately appearance, and presented an admirable picture to the nuns, as they approached the driveway. There was no one to greet them, besides the birds, and flowers, and trees, as mentioned heretofore. No one was there to welcome them!
Mother Therese and Sister Clement Mary entered the Manor together. The house was absolutely empty, possessing nothing but its bare walls, vacant rooms, still corridors, and its profound silence! The foundresses enjoyed its utter emptiness, reminding them, as it did, of the Little King's Bethlehem, where even the necessaries were lacking. This was holy Poverty indeed! But Poverty was always a source of real delight to them who knew how to drink deeply at the fount of privation, and to taste the ineffable joy which always accompanies trials and crosses generously accepted. Indeed, the foundresses took care that Poverty should be the touchstone of their glorious undertaking.
They toured the whole house. Ah, here was something! The keen eye of Mother Therese sighted a can of ashes in the basement. With a merry twinkle in her eyes and in her voice, she exclaimed to her wondering companion: "Now, Sister, we can do penance in sack, cloth and ashes!"
More information about the ensuing days of this historic foundation can be found on this website at the link Allentown Carmel History.
"Veni, Sponsa Christi"
IT WAS Holy Week, in April, of 1939. The increased spiritual functions necessitated freedom from all that was not absolutely necessary to be done. And in the calm, silent atmosphere of the cloister, Mother Therese was better able to apply herself at this time to the unceasing mental work and to the Easter correspondence which she continued to do at night, since this work was not to be laid aside.
It was the evening of Holy Thursday. Twilight hovered over the serene valley. The refreshing quietude that reigned within the Carmel, filled the soul with a restful peace. Mother Therese was about to give to her community one of the most beautiful lessons we find exemplified in the very life of our dear Master Himself, which He enacted on the eve of His sad departure from His Apostles. Was no one aware of the not-too-distant murmur of another farewell that was to follow shortly?
Fulfilling the sacred custom of Maundy Thursday, Mother Therese, with a white towel shielding her holy Scapular, proceeded with her humble task. Kneeling before her daughters, she washed their feet, then, inclining to the floor, she pressed her lips to the foot of each. This constant bending over, this great exertion, surely must have intensified the pain that was already afflicting her generous heart, but she suffered in silence!
Later in the same evening, on reaching her office room, the cheery greeting of her "little secretary" brought a smile to her lips. At the same moment, however, involuntarily, she pressed her hand to her heart, as if to relieve a pressure, and she gasped for breath. "You shouldn't have gone through with that long exercise, Mother. It was too much for you," remonstrated her secretary. Mother Therese seemed to smile at the tender admonition, and seating herself before her desk, she responded simply: "It had to be done." Before her “little helper" could say anything else, Mother's tone became even gay as she remarked, in her unfailing humor: "But I saw all kinds of feet today, Sister!"
Afterwards, whilst preparing Easter "souvenirs" for the friends of the community, the saintly Mother expressed herself thus: "The Divine Office is so beautiful. I so love to chant it. I could sing all the Lessons myself."
On the eve of Good Friday, the nuns took turns, hour by hour, to pray at the Sepulchre of Our Lord in the Chapel. It was a cold, damp night. Mother Therese, kneeling alone in the pew, kept her vigil from nine to ten o'clock, in the evening. The chilly atmosphere was not at all inviting, and she surely must have felt it, although she seemed to take no notice of it. Indeed, in every circumstance, she sought, first and foremost, the Presence of God.
Her peaceful, prayerful mien mirrored this truth, that she had mastered the art of intimacy with the Master. It was the very essence of her interior life, and she never left off practicing this mystical doctrine, so characteristic of Carmelite spirituality. It was inspiring to look upon her kneeling figure. There was always something very irresistible about Mother Therese. Especially, when she was immersed in prayer, united to her Suffering Saviour, or contemplating her King in the Blessed Sacrament, one felt it difficult to withdraw one's eyes from her celestial countenance. Her love for the Holy Rosary of the Mother of God and for the Way of the Cross was profound and these two exercises of piety were paramount devotions throughout her whole life. And she was especially devoted to Saint Joseph.
“After a half hour, I was becoming a little restless in the cold Chapel," relates one of the nuns, who was present on that same Good Friday eve. “And I cast my gaze more and more upon our Mother. The flickering candlelight showed me her face, pale and tired, the lips moving in prayer. Her eyes were fixed upon the Tabernacle. I continued to look upon her; and I couldn't help saying to myself (as Little Therese said of her venerable father): ‘when I look at her, I know how the saints prayed!' "
Was this, then, the hour when she offered to Him, her humble Fiat, or, was her prayer, like His own: "Father, not my will, but Thine be done"? Only God knew this; and that was enough!
Mother Therese performed each and every exercise of that last Holy Week, as always, with edifying fervor and exactness. She simply went on – self was forgotten despite the increased bodily pains. On Holy Saturday, after the long services in the Chapel, taking the Easter Water, Mother Therese, together with her Assistant, journeyed from building to building, blessing the cells, the rooms, and every department of the Monastery. Surely all this must have caused the poor sufferer over' whelming fatigue.
Mother Therese looked for no earthly reward for her incessant labors. She labored for GOD. Everything else was passing. And, she labored in peace! She seemed to consider herself a mere "nothing," God's poor, little handmaid, and so, He Alone, sufficed for her. He would be her Reward.
art my champion and my refuge; do not linger,
Easter Sunday dawned! It would have been a great joy to Mother to be able to spend the day with her dear nuns. But sacrifice is never to be laid aside. Affairs, inside and outside of the house, compelled her to "keep on the go," even on the great Feast of Easter. And this, despite the fact that she was really on the point of complete exhaustion.
On Easter Monday she prepared the coffee for the Sisters' breakfast. This was a part of her daily "ritual." The conventual Mass was as usual at seven o'clock. After the Holy Sacrifice, she had a slight heart attack. This did not prevent Mother from making her Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, and so, she retired to a little room, next to the choir, and remained, seated in a chair, to finish her prayers, and to regain her strength. In a short time, she resumed her duties. The nuns remonstrated with her, lovingly, and with filial affection, saying: “You ought to rest, dear Mother." And on this day, she replied, almost prophetically: "Tomorrow, I will rest all day." And really, as she had foretold, it was on the following day that she entered into Eternal Rest.
On that memorable morning, she was almost too ill to rise for the Community exercises. In fact, an acute attack of pain in her chest made it difficult for her even to move from her bed. One of the nuns feelingly tried to persuade her to remain in bed, and not to come to the choir for Mass. The intrepid Mother, valiant and self, effacing to the last, seemed quite taken back at the mere hint of such a deprivation. Without hesitation, gently, but with a firm conviction, she replied simply: "Sister, I would not miss Holy Communion for anything in the world."
Having faithfully concurred with the Divine during the course of her entire life, in these last remaining hours she would depend directly on her unfailing Lord. Ah, she too, like Saint Mary Magdalen di Pazzi, and the intimate friends of the Saviour, hungered after Holy Communion.
the hart panteth after the fountains of water,
Guided unceasingly by the valiant maxim, which she strove faithfully to follow for her own soul's sanctification, Mother Therese practiced self-forgetfulness so completely that she hardly realized her poor, frail body was utterly worn out, under the constant strain of her endless spiritual and material labors. Moreover she had undergone two major operations shortly after the founding of the new Carmel, each of which had brought her to the very threshold of eternity. It was her "intimate friend," Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, who cured her after the second operation, when Mother Therese lay in a coma for three days, consumed by fever.
The General of the Carmelites, the Most Reverend Father Elias Magennis, O. Carm., inspecting the American Carmels at the time, visited Mother Therese at the hospital, and took occasion to bless her with a First Class Relic of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. Instantly, her fever subsided, and she experienced a return of strength and of life. She was profoundly grateful to God, and to His "Little Therese," for this favor. Nevertheless, it was an effort for her, as she herself told afterwards, to return to life after her consoling proximity to Life Eternal.
It was as though His dear persuasion, gently but forcibly, increased her hunger and thirst for the Beloved of her soul! The "dove" in exile, sighed continually for its Divine Mate, in Paradise, and she would not be wholly at rest, nor would her sweet yearnings abate, until, in His Dear Presence, she would be safe and at rest in the very Heart of Eternal Love. The magnanimous soul of the humble Foundress would fly to its True Home! And, indeed, Mother Therese gave her very life for the new Carmel.
~ "ECCE, VENIO!" ~
On Easter Tuesday morning, April 11, 1939, at about ten-fifteen o'clock, barely three hours after Mother's reception of Holy Communion during the conventual Mass, a heart attack broke the frail ties that bound to earth this zealous spouse of the Most Blessed Trinity. Her death was hastened, perhaps, by her untiring zeal in the holy service of her Lord and Master, Whose greater honor and glory were the mainspring of her entire spiritual life.
Wise virgin that she was, she kept her lamp trimmed . . . Her Mystical Bridegroom, as the Divine Eagle, swooped down into the little room that served as her office and her humble cell, and bore her blessed, merit, laden soul to the realms of the Heavenly Carmel. A moment before, sitting at her desk, she had fixed her gaze on a picture of our cherished Saint Therese, which hung over her bed. During that gaze of love, she went Home!
Her faithful "Guardian Angel" and her "little secretary" were with her at this supreme moment. She, whose motto was: "Souls for Jesus and Mary through Little Therese," was greeted, we may believe, at the threshold of Eternity, by her loving and intimate friend, the "Little Flower" of Jesus and Mary.
After her gentle passing, her body remained so supple, and so life-like, that it appeared that she had merely fallen asleep. A soft smile played about the lips, and her dear countenance, just as in life, radiated peace and rest. However, her "little secretary" noticing a single tear glistening on the eyelid, took a linen handkerchief, and tenderly preserved the "sparkling gem." Now the Sisters of Carmel have the happiness of possessing their saintly Mother's last tear.
Loving hands placed the dear body in the casket prepared for her, and she lay in state, behind the cloister grille, in the Monastery choir, facing the Main Altar. Hundreds of friends and benefactors, men, women, children, priests, and religious, filed past the grille window to pay a last farewell to Mother Therese. Without any ado, those who knew her during life, were inspired to pass through the grating rosaries, crosses, medals, pictures, and other items, to be touched to her venerable body, that they might be kept by them as precious souvenirs.
The following news article concerning the unusual condition of Mother Therese's body when it was exhumed in August of 2001, was published by Spirit Daily on their Internet news site:
Cloistered U.S. Nun Who Died In 1939
The spokesman for a monastery in Pennsylvania has confirmed that the body of a nun who died 63 years ago -- in 1939 -- appears to be "intact" and holding a palm that remains green.
The discovery was made last August during renovation of a mausoleum in Coopersburg, about seven miles southeast of Allentown, where the nun, Mother Therese of Jesus, founded the Carmelite Monastery of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. While there are a number of instances in Europe, the phenomenon of incorrupt, supernaturally preserved bodies is extremely rare in the U.S. If verified by Church authorities it will be a huge development for the American Church, which has only a handful of saints and of those just a few, St. John Neumann, Mother Cabrini, and St. Rose Duchesne, who were found at least partially incorrupt.
Among the pantheon of incorrupt saints is St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi -- after whom the monastery was in part named.
"We were reconfiguring the burial site for the sisters and during the placement of tombs, we had to relocate her tomb," the spokesman, Sam Miranda, who saw the body himself, told Spirit Daily. Miranda said that the monastery is strictly following the protocol for canonization of Mother Therese and thus is not using the term "incorrupt" until the official Church recognizes it as such.
But the body, he said, was in "human form."
"We don't want to violate the process in initiation of the cause [of official approval]," he said. "I will tell you that her body maintained its human form." The diocesan newspaper, The A.D. Times, reported that "the condition of Mother Therese's body became known when workers renovating the mausoleum noticed her state -- vastly different from the other deceased sisters -- causing nuns residing at the monastery to appeal to their superior to examine the matter."
That led the general delegate to the Carmelite nuns and hermits in North America, Rev. John Benedict-Weber, to begin an investigation of Mother Therese's life as told through her letters and personal records in order to determine if a formal request should be made to begin the canonization process.
"One of the fathers has just returned from Rome, and we are being cautious," said Miranda. "In no way, shape, or form do we want to violate the Vatican's process. So I'm only validating that during the process of reconstruction of the mausoleum, the foundress, who is Mother Therese of Jesus, was found in a humanlike state. I was there."
The strictly cloistered Coopersburg Carmelites have no communication with the outside and so there was not the opportunity to interview other witnesses. However, Miranda confirmed that the palm branch was still green. He said all Carmelites sisters are buried with a palm. According to the diocesan newspaper, the ten Carmelites at the large, spare monastery have been praying for Mother Therese's cause. Baptized Maria Anna Lindenberg, the nun was born in Muenster, Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1901 after the death of her parents. She later returned to Europe to establish a monastery in the Black Forest and also spent time at monasteries in Rome and Naples. Mother Therese died at age 62 and the palm she held was from the recent Easter celebration, according to the diocese.
The order to which Mother Therese belonged is called "Carmelites of the Ancient Observance." It was greatly influenced by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross -- whose body was also incorrupt -- and was also the order (centuries later) of St. Therese the Little Flower. As for St. Magdalene de Pazzi: she was a mystic known for her visions and ecstasies. She was born in Florence on April 2, 1566. Like Mother Therese she led a hidden life and had a dedication to Pentecost.
Novena to Mother Therese of Jesus, O. Carm.
OF MOTHER THERESE OF JESUS,
"MYLORD JESUS CHRIST, deign to make known Thy gentle spouse, Mother Therese of Jesus; to extend the Reign of the Most Holy Trinity in the souls of men; to increase the Glory of Thy Immaculate Mother Mary. Grant to Mother Therese, we beseech Thee, according to Thy Holy Will, the honors of the altar. Amen
Pray three (3) times the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be in Honor of the Most Holy Trinity.
IMPRIMATUR: + Cardinal O'Hara, C.S.C.
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