Sometimes we think of saints as people who lived a long time ago, dealing with problems of a different era. On August 9, however, the Catholic Church celebrates a very modern saint who became caught up in the horror of the Holocaust.
St. Edith Stein (Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) was born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany in 1891. The youngest of 11 children, her father died when she was two. Despite her mother’s devotion, Edith lost her faith in God. Edith excelled academically and pursued a special interest in philosophy and women’s issues. She had a series of small encounters that prepared her for her eventual conversion to Christianity. As she would later write, “Things were in God’s plan which I had not planned at all.”
One evening in 1921 she picked up the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and read it all night. When she finished, she said to herself, “This is the truth.” Edith was baptized on January 1, 1922. She held a series of teaching positions until she entered the Carmelite convent at Cologne in 1933. As Nazism spread across Germany, Edith was smuggled to a Carmelite convent in the Netherlands. There she was arrested by the Gestapo in August, 1942. She told her sister, who was also arrested, “Come, we are going for our people.”
The two were taken to a transit camp in retaliation for a letter of protest written by the Dutch Catholic bishops against the pogroms and deportations of Jews. On or about August 9, Edith, her sister and many others were gassed at Auschwitz. When Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1987 she was honored as “a daughter of Israel.”
You can read more about this remarkable saint on the Vatican website.