On Thursday, October 15, Catholics will celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, the first woman to be proclaimed Doctor of the Church.
Born in Avila, Spain on March 28, 1515, Teresa’s mother died when she was the young age of 14 and the saint was raised by her father, a holy, intellectual man.
Teresa decided to enter the religious life at the age of 20 after reading the works of St. Jerome, believing the vocation to be the safest path to salvation for herself.
For her first 20 years in the convent, Teresa, in her own words, lived a mediocre prayer life. She said she had tried mental prayer but discontinued it because she could not tear herself away from the pettiness and worldliness of her conversations and desires, such as her longing to be held in good esteem by others.
However, an intense prayer experience before an image of Christ crucified helped her renounce her worldly attachments and soon, God began visiting her through visions.
The visions were so numerous and intense that it was though they were the work of the devil. But on being examined by St. Francis Borgia and St. Peter of Alcantara, they were discerned to be God’s mystical action in her soul.
Her account of her own spiritual life in her autobiography is extraordinary, even for a mystic. She describes intimate union with God through “spiritual espousals,” “mystical marriage,” and the “transverberation of her heart” (her heart was pierced as if by a surgeon’s knife while she was in prayer; upon her death it was discovered to have a scar – in an age when open heart surgery did not exist – thus confirming what she recounted).
On August 24, 1562 she founded the convent of Discalced Carmelite Nuns, a reform of the Carmelite order so radical and strict that it caused much violent opposition. However, with the grace of God she prevailed and founded many other similar convents.
She befriended St. John of the Cross and with him undertook similar reforms with the Carmelite friars.
After suffering to the end with painful illnesses and the exhaustion from carrying out God’s work, she died on October 4, 1582. Her body and transverberated heart are still incorrupt in Alba, Spain where she died.
On September 27, 1970 she was proclaimed the first ever woman Doctor in the history of the Church by Pope Paul VI.