Dear Editor: As we remember this week the bravery and the ultimate sacrifices that “our boys” made on the Normandy beaches now 75 years ago, there is a definite Catholic “angle” to that story, one about which I don’t think too many Americans are aware. It concerns one of the Church’s most popular saints, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face – the famous “Little Flower” who once wrote that “I wish to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.”
The connection with D-Day concerns her home town of Lisieux in France. It seems that Lisieux had the misfortune of being situated just too far to the east of the easternmost of the five Allied invasion beaches-east of the British beaches, in fact. Perhaps that is why Americans don’t know a lot about the city’s fate in those early days of the invasion, because it was not in “our” sector. By being beyond the British beaches and near the Normandy coast, it was an important route that the Germans used as they tried to bring reinforcements to the assault beaches.
For the same reason, it was one of the targets for Allied bombing on the evening of June 6, 1944. We hit the railway station, a legitimate transportation target, but we also struck buildings near St. Therese’s Carmel or convent. The bombing resumed the next day, during which it is said that much of the city was destroyed in just 45 minutes of devastation.
It was during the night of the seventh that the roof of one of the Carmel buildings was burned, and that the chapel containing the reliquary of the saint was in danger of being lost to the flames. However, just at that time the wind changed-some residents believe that St. Therese had a hand in that occurrence-and the chapel was saved. After the fire was put out, the saint’s relics were removed to the nearby Basilica for safety.
It wasn’t until the evening of August 23 that the city was finally liberated from German occupation by British troops.