I am in Kirkwood, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, where I am in the middle of a retreat for the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. The Central Province is headquartered here and I gave the sisters a retreat back in December, 2005. I know this religious order which unites two of my loves--Carmel and the Sacred Heart--not only through this particular community but also because I've given retreats to the Sisters of the Northern Province in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and the Canadian Province in Missassauga, Ontario. Whenever I'm in the Milwaukee area for the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16), I celebrate it with the community in Wauwatosa and I was privileged to be there for special celebrations of the beatification of their foundress, Mother Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, in 2006 and for the 100th anniversary of their foundation in the U.S.A. in 2012.
Bl. Maria Teresa was an amazing woman. She was born in East Prussia in 1855, the daughter of a staunch Lutheran minister. She decided to become a Catholic on June 17, 1887 without knowing that this was the feast of the Sacred Heart that year and was received into the Church on October 30, 1888. Prior to this she had spent some time in a convent in Cologne where a deep love for the Eucharist grew. She wrote about this in her autobiography:
"During the first days of my stay at the convent, the Forty Hours' adoration was observed. It was the first exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the first nocturnal adoration I had ever attended. I cannot find words to describe my feelings. I was so filled with holy joy that I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament from nine o'clock in the evening until two o'clock in the morning without realizing the time. God inflamed my heart with such fervor that later on, all the sorrows sent to me, or allowed to happen to me by His grace, seemed to be only a drop of water on a glowing iron. They can only cause a momentary flare, a human twitch of nature, and nothing else. The real fervor stays like the real heat of the iron. When I awoke in the morning, my heart was filled with a burning love for God."
This love impelled her to follow God's will at all costs. One of my favorite stories of Bl. Maria Teresa is how shortly after this experience in adoration and before she had become a Catholic she, in her words, "desired to become a holocaust of love for God." She concluded all her prayers with the following words: "O Lord, send me wherever You will, to work for the salvation of souls. Fulfill the ardent longing of my soul, O God, to prove my love and gratitude to You. But if it is possible, do not send me to Berlin. However, Your will be done, not mine." And where did God send her? That's right. To Berlin, where she began her work of caring for abandoned children and also encountered much opposition.
Pope Pius XII said the following about her: "Never in the history of humanity have events required on the part of a woman so much initiative and daring, so much fidelity, moral strength, spirit of sacrifice and endurance of all kinds of suffering--in a word, so much heroism."
A Croatian Jesuit, Fr. Mihaly Szentmartoni, in his book Even Then Will I Trust, compared her to a locomotive: "As I read the autobiography of the Venerable Anna Maria Tauscher/Mother Mary Teresa of St. Joseph, the image of a hurtling locomotive appeared before my spiritual eyes. This fairly frail woman rumbled through this world like a hurtling locomotive, not only in the figurative sense. She actually crisscrossed old Europe who knows how many times, and also went to America. Travel became a symbol of her life. Like the good old steam locomotives of her time, she whizzed by, overcoming every obstacle in her path, pulling her train, i.e., her associates, candidates, nuns and thousands of impoverished children, old persons and others who suffered from spiritual or physical misery. Like a good old locomotive, she could fume at those who tried to block her path. No one and nothing could stop her until she reached her final destination, the last station on her journey."
The Eucharist was clearly the fuel for this locomotive of a woman. When she was finally able to establish her first convent and received permission to have the Blessed Sacrament there, she wrote about that first night in which the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord was in the building:
"Joy filled the hearts of all the guests.... At last they were gone, and I was alone. No, not alone, and as I believed, I would never again be alone. I was with Him whom I had longed for so ardently, and over whose absence I had shed so many tears since leaving the convent in Cologne twenty-five years ago. He was here now, the great King, hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Oh, I felt unutterable bliss; He was mine, and I was His!"
The locomotive kept racing along until September 20, 1938. Her last words to those gathered around her deathbed were: "All that God does is good! Always praise and glorify God!"
For more about Blessed Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, see the St. Agnes Home website.