HER SCHOOL YEARS
In October, 1881, Louis enrolled his youngest daughter (Therese) as a day boarder at Lisieux's Benedictine Abbey school of Notre-Dame du Pre. Therese hated the place and stated "the five years (1881 - 1886) I spent there were the saddest of my life." Classes bored her. She worked hard, and loved catechism, history and science, but had trouble with spelling and mathematics. Because of her overall intelligence, the good nuns advanced the eight-year-old to classes for fourteen-year-olds. She was still bored. Her keenness aroused the envy of many fellow pupils, and Therese paid dearly for her academic successes. Genius has its price, and the youngest Martin girl was paying it. The ordinary games and dances of other children held little interest for her. She was uncomfortable with most children and seemed to be at ease only with her sisters and very few others. Of all the Martin girls, Pauline was closest to Therese.
Therese thought of her as her second mother. Pauline was the little one's first teacher and ideal. Then one day Therese's second mother told her she was leaving to enter the convent at the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux. Nine-year-old Therese was stunned. Again employing the exile theme, she described her sorrow: "....I was about to lose my second mother. Ah, how can I express the anguish of my heart! In one instant I understood what life was; until then I had never seen it so sad, but it appeared to me in all its reality and I saw it was nothing but a continual suffering and separation. I shed bitter tears...."
"OUR LADY OF THE SMILE"
During the winter following Pauline's entrance into the Carmelite monastery, Therese fell seriously ill. Experts have diagnosed her sickness as everything from a nervous breakdown to a kidney infection. She blamed it on the devil. Whatever it was, doctors of her time were unable to either diagnose or treat it. She suffered intensely during this time from constant headaches and insomnia. As the illness pursued its vile course, it racked poor little Therese's body. She took fits of fever and trembling and suffered cruel hallucinations. Writing of one bout of delirium, she explained: "I was absolutely terrified by everything: my bed seemed to be surrounded by frightful precipices; some nails in the wall of the room took on the appearance of big black charred fingers, making me cry out in fear. One day, while Papa was looking at me and smiling, the hat in his hand was suddenly transformed into some indescribable dreadful shape and I showed such great fear that poor Papa left the room sobbing." None of the treatments helped. Then, on May 13, 1883, Therese turned her head to a statue of the Virgin near her bed, and prayed for a cure. "Suddenly" Therese writes, "....Mary's face radiated kindness and love." Therese was cured. The statue has since been called "Our Lady of the Smile".
It was shortly after Pauline's departure that Therese decided to join her at Lisieux's Carmelite Convent. She approached the prioress of the monastery and sought entrance. Carefully little Therese explained she wished to enter, not for Pauline's sake, but for Jesus' sake. The prioress advised her to return when she grew up. Therese was only nine years old at the time.
During her long illness, her resolve to join the Carmelites grew even stronger. "I am convinced that the thought of one day becoming a Carmelite made me live," she later declared. After her illness, Therese was more than ever determined to do something great for God and for others. She thought of herself as a new Joan of Arc, dedicated to the rescue not only of France but of the whole world. With unbelievable boldness the ten-year-old stated, "I was born for glory." And thus another great theme of Therese's life manifested itself. She perceived her life's mission as one of salvation for all people. She was to accomplish this by becoming a saint. She understood that her glory would be hidden from the eyes of others until God wished to reveal it.
At ten years of age, then, she reaffirmed and clarified her life's goals. She was intelligent enough to realize she could not accomplish them without suffering. What was hidden from her eyes was just how much she would have to endure to win her glory.