Edith Stein was born October 12, 1891, to Jewish parents in Breslau, Germany and was the youngest of eleven children. Her father, Siegried Stein passed away when she was two years old and left her mother to run their timber business and raise their children. By the time Edith was a teenager, she considered herself an athiest and gave up her prayer life.
Her mother, Auguste, was adamant about sending her children to school. Edith went to the University of Breslau to study German and History. While at the University, Edith became interested in philosophy and women’s issues. Eventually, Edith transferred to Gottingen University to study under Edmund Husserl, a premier phenomenologist. She became his teaching assistant, and eventually, he became her tutor as she went on to her doctorate.
Husserl’s teaching led Edith and many of his pupils to Christianity. While she was visiting a recently converted friend, Edith picked up St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography and read it all night. When she finished the book, she realized she found the truth in the Catholic Church. Looking back on her life, this is when Edith realized that her “longing for truth was a single prayer.”
After this conversion, Edith was baptized on January 1, 1922, and was later confirmed. While she knew she belonged to God, Edith never forgot her Jewish roots. After her conversion, she knew she wanted to become a Carmelite, but her spiritual directors encouraged her to wait.
Empowered by her new faith, Edith started to give talks and continue her academic writings on Faith and truth. Edith taught until it was her time to enter Carmel. In 1933, Edith took her vows and became a Carmelite nun right as Nazi Germany started to rise.
She took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross because she understood what it meant to be in union with God through the cross. In 1938, it became even more evident that Nazi Germany was gaining strength. They began to burn synagogues. To protect Teresa Benedicta and her Jewish roots, her convent smuggled her across the border to another convent in the Netherlands.
It was at the convent that Sr. Teresa and her recently converted sister, Rosa, were arrested by the Gestapo. Her last words in the convent were to summon her sister: “Come, we are going for our people.”
The Stein sisters were put in a transit camp and transferred to Auschwitz on August 7, 1942, and on August 9, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died in a gas chamber.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross joined the communion of Saints on October 11, 1998. She is one of six patron saints of Europe and has many schools named after her because of her passion for academics.