St. Teresa of Ávila is a Carmelite nun, Catholic mystic, and doctor of the Church. She is also the namesake of St. Therese of Lisieux. This extraordinary woman has a beautiful history that we celebrate.
Teresa was born Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada on March 28th, 1515 in Ávila, Spain. She was born to pious Christian parents; her mother was a romantic and her father was a disciplinarian. Growing up, she was intrigued by the lives of saints and martyrs. She was so infatuated with martyrdom that at the age of seven she went to offer her life for Christ. But her uncle found her down the road and brought her back home.
As a teenager, Teresa became rebellious and more concerned with boys than anything else. Her strict father did not like this and sent her to a convent at the age of 16 as an attempt to tame her. Teresa grew to like religious life because it enabled her love for God to flourish.
Once of age, Teresa was given the choice of marriage or religious life. She chose to continue living in the Carmelite Convent. While she ran away from her home life, her spiritual life was barren until she arrived at her conversion at age 39. This conversion made her realize the importance of prayer.
She came to realize her fellow sisters were not following the Carmelite spirituality as closely as they should. Teresa developed a desire in her heart to revert Carmel back to its original purpose: to live for God.
Teresa led the difficult task of reforming the Carmelites. From 1562 until her death, Teresa labored, along with her friend, St. John of the Cross, to bring her vision of reform to fruition by establishing seventeen convents and as many men’s cloisters. Her actions were politically divisive and her health suffered as a result of her long labors and the stress of her work.
Together, Teresa and John formed the order of Discalced Carmelites. Ultimately, there was peace between the old order of Carmelites and the new Discalced Carmelite order.
Teresa was one of the great mystics of the Catholic faith and her writings describe the ascension of the soul through four stages. Her definition of mental prayer was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” Her writings include The Life, The Way of Perfection, The Mansions and The Foundations.
Teresa entered into heaven on October 4th, 1582 and was canonized in 1622. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church. St. Teresa of Ávila and St. Catherine of Sienna were the first women doctors of the Church.