International News

St. Therese’s Writing Desk on First US Tour

by Mark Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Mission Month of October has been an eventful one for St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of the missions and missionaries, as the small wooden writing case she used to compose her spiritual masterpiece, Story of a Soul, is on a 20-diocese tour in the U.S.

For the first time, the small desklike case has left the archives of the Carmelite convent in France where the saint lived from the time she entered the order at age 15 until her death at 24 in 1897.

A woman prays next to relics of St. Therese of Lisieux Oct. 3 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The beloved saint's small wooden writing case, along with her pen and inkwell, were in  America for the first time in a tour organized by the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States. St. Therese is patron of missionaries and missions. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
A woman prays next to relics of St. Therese of Lisieux Oct. 3 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The beloved saint’s small wooden writing case, along with her pen and inkwell, were in America for the first time in a tour organized by the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States. St. Therese is patron of missionaries and missions. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Oblate Father Andrew Small, the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States, was given permission to take the relic throughout the country, so in the Year of Faith, more people could become familiar with the writings of St. Therese.

In an interview at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., where the relic was venerated by hundreds of people after a Mass at its Crypt Church, Father Small noted one of many ironies in St. Therese’s life – that she had always dreamed of being a missionary, but poor health prevented her from leaving her convent.

Evangelizing Heart

Yet, through her writings, she would eventually touch the lives of millions of people around the world. Before she died of tuberculosis, she said to the sisters there, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.”

As he showed the relic to reporters, Father Small noted, “She was somebody who had an evangelizing heart, spreading the Good News to the ends of the earth.”

The writing desk, or case, measures 12 inches by 18 inches and was found by St. Therese after she had given her own writing case to her sister Celine when her sibling entered the convent.

Father Small said that the saint rooted around in the attic and found the old writing case, which has a small drawer. She then used it almost every day for the last three years of her life, holding it in her lap as she composed Story of a Soul, letters to missionary priests, prayers and poems.

“It’s the first laptop,” said the priest, who has carefully transported the relic on planes, trains and automobiles, first to Las Vegas and then to San Diego, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Antonio and New York, with stops in other cities planned after Washington.

Father Small said that the writing case, which includes an ink bottle and pen used by the saint, allows people to get a personal look at the saint, who is known for her simplicity. The desk even has some small ink smudges, presumably left by the saint.

On the relic’s tour throughout the U.S., he said he encountered how St. Therese continues to touch the lives of the faithful, including a mother of four in Seattle, a survivor of brain cancer who has a special devotion to the saint.

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