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The Death of a Saint

But tuberculosis was gaining ground undetected. Her pain was so great that she said that if she had not had faith she would have taken her own life without hesitation. But she tried to remain smiling and cheerful-----and succeeded so well that some thought she was only pretending to be ill. Early in 1897, Thérèse began to feel that "her course would not be a long one." In April, worn out, she was forced to abandon community life, remaining either in her cell or in the garden. In June, Pauline realized that her death was imminent. In a panic, she implored Mother Marie de Gonzague to let Thérèse finish putting down her recollections. Burning with fever, Thérèse wrote a further 36 pages in a little black notebook. Exhausted, she went to the infirmary on July 8. For a month, she coughed blood, slept little and was unable to eat, while the tuberculosis began to affect her intestines. Doctor de Cornières treated her with the methods of the time, but they could do nothing to help her.

Her sisters took turns keeping vigil at her bedside. Since April, Pauline had been writing down everything she said. More than 850 recorded utterances were later to be published as the Last Conversations. In this short work, Thérèse suffers, prays, weeps, makes jokes to distract her sisters, and speaks of her own short life.  A prey to constant darkness, she came to understand the temptations of suicide to very end. She identified herself with the suffering Jesus and offered everything "for sinners." She felt an overwhelming desire "to do good after her death." "I will return," she said. "My Heaven will be spent on earth." With great difficulty, she wrote last letters to her spiritual brothers, Fathers Bellière and Roulland.

Final Sufferings

The appalling pain she suffered wore her out, but she never lost her smile or her deep-seated serenity. A brief remission was followed by a 48-hour agony. She died at the age of 24 years, on Thursday, September 30 1897, whispering: "My God, I love You!" Her face was radiant.

She died unknown, just as she had lived unknown in a provincial Carmel—of tuberculosis, but also of "Love," as she herself had wanted. She wrote to Father Bellière: "I  am not dying, I am entering into Life." This was just the beginning. After she died, everything at the convent went back to normal. One nun commented that there was nothing to say about Thérèse. But Pauline put together Thérèse's writings [and heavily edited them, unfortunately] and sent 2,000 copies to other convents. Within two years, the Martin family had to move because her notoriety was so great and on May 17, 1925 she was canonized by Pope Pius XI.  Pope Pius XII declared her to be an official Saint of the Missions:

Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the patron Saints of the missions, not because she ever went anywhere, but because of her special love of the missions, and the prayers and letters she gave in support of missionaries. This is reminder to all of us who feel we can do nothing, that it is the little things that keep God's Kingdom growing.