HER LIFE AT LISIEUX CARMEL
Marie Martin, the oldest daughter of the family, joined her sister Pauline at the Lisieux Carmel in 1886. Leonie Martin entered the Visitation Convent at Caen the following year. Therese then sought permission from her father to join Marie and Pauline at the Lisieux Convent. Louis was probably expecting the request, but it saddened him nevertheless. Three of his girls had already entered religious life. But, characteristically generous, he not only granted Therese's request, but worked zealously to help her realize it.
She was not yet fifteen when she approached the Carmelite authorities again for permission to enter. Again she was refused. The priest-director advised her to return when she was twenty-one. "Of course," he added, "you can always see the bishop. I am only his delegate." The priest did not realize what kind of girl he was dealing with.
To his dying day, Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux never forgot her. She came to his office with her father one rainy day and put her surprising request before him. "You are not yet fifteen and you wish this?" the bishop questioned. "I wished it since the dawn of reason," young Therese declared. Louis' support of her request amazed the bishop. His Excellency had never seen this type of support before. "A father as eager to give his child to God," he remarked, "as this child was eager to offer herself to him." Just before the interview, Therese had put up her hair, thinking this would make her look older. This amused the bishop, and he never spoke about Therese in later years without recounting her ploy. Although charmed by her, Bishop Hugonin did not immediately grant Therese's request. He wanted time to consider it, and advised Therese and her father that he would write them regarding his decision.
Therese had planned that, should the Bayeux trip fail, she would go to the Pope himself. Thus in November, 1887, Louis took his daughters, Therese and Celine, to Italy with a group of French pilgrims. Catholics from all over the world were journeying to the Eternal City, to celebrate Leo XIII's Golden Jubilee as a priest. In her autobiography, Therese sketched a charming picture of her travels through Southern Europe. In Rome she was enamored of the Coliseum. Its history of Christian martyrdom stirred the very roots of her being. Once inside the Coliseum, the two sisters ignored regulations prohibiting visitors from descending through the ruined structure to the arena floor, sneaked away from the tour group, climbed across barriers and down the ruins to kneel and pray on the Coliseum floor. Gathering up a few stones as relics, they slipped back to the tour. No one, except their father, noted their absence.
The great day of the audience with Pope Leo XIII came at the end of their week in Rome. On Sunday, November 20, 1887, "they told us on the Pope's behalf that it was forbidden to speak as this would prolong the audience too much. I turned toward my dear Celine for advice: 'Speak!' she said. A moment later I was at the Holy Father's feet....Lifting tear-filled eyes to his face I cried out: 'Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!....Holy Father, in honor of your jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen.'"
Father Reverony, the leader of the French pilgrimage, stared stonily at this bold little girl, in surprise and displeasure. "Most Holy Father," the priest said coldly, "this is a child who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen. The superiors are considering the matter at the moment." "Well, my child," the Holy Father replied, "do what the superiors tell you." "Resting my hands on his knees," Therese continued, "I made a final effort, saying, 'Oh, Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!' He gazed at me speaking these words and stressing each syllable: 'Go - go - you will enter if God wills it.'"
Therese did not want to leave the Holy Father's presence, so the papal guards had to lift her up and carry the tearful young girl to the door. There they gave her a medal of Leo XIII. Her old nurse, Victoire, probably could have told the Pope he should not have been surprised. Victoire had seen Therese in some rare displays of determination.