St. Edith Stein was a gutsy lady. She was a very well-educated, uncompromising seeker of truth who left everything to follow Christ, after leaving her Jewish roots.
Philosophy & Education
St. Edith Stein was born in 1891 in Western Poland. Edith’s father died when she was young, and although her mother was a devout Jew, Edith’s faith diminished as she grew. She had a real interest in philosophy, but left for university to study German and history.
Later, she transferred to a university in Germany and began to study under Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology (this was also JPII’s area of expertise). Husserl’s view of philosophy influenced many and inadvertently led some to explore the Christian faith (and yet, he was not even a Christian! God surely works in mysterious ways!). Edith was no different, especially after encountering Max Scheler, who encouraged her to look at Catholicism.
After serving as a nurse in the First World War, finishing her dissertation, and receiving her doctorate (this is what I mean by gutsy lady! Whew!), she had several divine encounters that made her begin to consider faith more seriously. A woman with grocery bags walking into a cathedral one day caught her eye and a meeting with the widow of a Protestant friend also moved her. In describing the meeting she said, “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.”
Then, Edith found the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She read it in one night and after she had finished, she said, “This is the truth.” She was baptized in 1922 and later confirmed in the Catholic faith. Edith remarked that she began to feel the weight of her Jewish roots as soon as she entered the Church, feeling connected to Christ by her conversion and by her ancestry.
St. Edith Stein continued to work in academics for the next 10 years, while also reading Cardinal Newman and St. Thomas Aquinas, and keeping religious life in the back of her mind. She worked at Catholic schools and eventually became a lecturer at the University of Munster.
A Carmelite & In Hiding
At this same time, things were changing rapidly in Germany. The Nazis had begun their rise and the Jews had begun to fall. Edith then felt confident about entering religious life, so she went home to say goodbye to her mother, then boarded a train for Cologne. She entered the Carmelite Convent in 1934 as Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, believing that she should take the cross upon herself. She took final vows in 1938, but soon after the sisters smuggled her across the border to the Netherlands to escape the antisemitism that was, by that time, widespread.
During her time there, she studied and wrote extensively about St. John of the Cross (she was a Carmelite through and through!) and the knowledge and science of Christ’s cross. She was fairly safe in the Netherlands until the Dutch Bishops wrote a scathing letter in protest against the Nazis. The gestapo arrested Edith and her sister, who had also converted, in 1942 while they were in the chapel, and they were later taken to Aushwitz. It was there that Edith Stein, now known as Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was murdered in the gas chamber. Her incredible faith, conversion, and devotion to Christ’s cross continually inspire all of us to search for the Truth. Pope St. John Paul II canonized Edith Stein in 1998.
Read more about St. Edith Stein’s incredible life story here. Several movies have also been made about her life.
Why a star of David?
Edith Stein was born into a Jewish family at the end of the 19th century, but had become an atheist by her teen years. A biography of Teresa of Avila drew her to the church however, and she ultimately became a Carmelite nun. She was murdered in a gas chamber at Auschwitz in 1942.
Who would be friends with St. Edith Stein?
- Jewish converts
- Women philosophers
- People with Jewish ancestry
- Carmelite fans!
“If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.”St. Edith Stein
Shop the St. Edith Stein collection in our store to remind you of her unending search for truth.