On New Year's day, 1888, the prioress of the Lisieux Carmel advised Therese she would be received into the monastery, but that she had to be patient and wait a little bit longer. On April 9, 1888, an emotional and tearful, but determined Therese Martin said good-bye to her home and her family. She was going to live "for ever and ever" in the desert with Jesus and twenty-four enclosed companions: she was fifteen years and three months old. The only cloud on her horizon was the worsening condition of her father, Louis, who had developed cerebral arteriosclerosis. Celine remained at home to care for their father during his long and final illness. The good father was growing senile. Once in June of 1888, he wandered from his home at Lisieux and was lost for three days, eventually turning up at Le Havre. In August, after a series of strokes, Louis became paralyzed.
Many years earlier, when Therese was a little girl, she would peer out of an attic window. Therese loved reveling in the glory of the day. One day however, while her father was in Alencon on business, she suddenly saw in the garden below the stooped and twisted figure of a man. She froze in terror. "Papa, Papa" she cried out. Her sister, Marie, who was nearby, heard the unmistakable note of panic in Therese's cry and ran to her. The figure in the garden disappeared. Marie assured her it was nothing and told her to forget everything that had happened. But the vision continued to cling like a sad portent in the corner of Therese's mind for the next fourteen years. Now, with her father paralyzed, the meaning of Therese's vision in the garden so long ago had became apparent at last.
Louis however, rallied his strength, and managed to attend the ceremonies of Therese's clothing in the Carmelite habit on January 10, 1889. Shortly thereafter, on February 12th, Louis was taken to the hospital after an attack of dementia. Seeing her father's humiliation hurt Therese deeply. "Oh, I do not think I could have suffered more than I did on that Day!!!" With that, Therese began to understand the sufferings of the mocked Christ, the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah. Therese's father made one last visit to the Carmel in May, 1892. He died peacefully two years later, in 1894, with Celine at his side. Celine then joined her three sisters at Carmel in September of 1894.
Pictured above standing: Therese' sisters Celine and Pauline; seated are Mother Marie de Gonzague, Marie, and Therese. Photograph taken in the Courtyard at Carmel Lisieux, early 1895.
Therese spent the last nine years of her life at the Lisieux Carmel. Her fellow Sisters recognized her as a good nun, nothing more. She was conscientious and capable. Sister Therese worked in the sacristy, cleaned the dining room, painted pictures, composed short pious plays for the Sisters, wrote poems, and lived the intense community prayer life of the cloister. Superiors appointed her to instruct the novices of the community. Externally, there was nothing remarkable about this Carmelite nun.
Therese was affected by the spiritual atmosphere in the community, which was still tainted by Jansenism and the vision of an avenging God. Some of the sisters feared divine justice and suffered badly from scruples. Even after her general confession in May 1888 to Father Pichon, her Jesuit spiritual director, Therese was still uneasy. But a great peace came over her when she made her profession on September 8, 1890. It was the reading of St. John of the Cross, an unusual choice at the time, which brought her relief. In the "Spiritual Canticle" and the "Living Flame of Love", she discovered "the true Saint of Love." This, she felt, was the path she was meant to follow. During a community retreat in October, 1891, a Franciscan, Father Alexis Prou, launched her on those "waves of confidence and love", on which she had previously been afraid to venture.
The harsh winter of 1890-1891 and a severe influenza epidemic killed three of the sisters, as well as Mother Geneviere, the Lisieux Carmel's founder and "Saint". Therese was spared, and her true energy strength began to show themselves. Therese was delighted when her sister, Agnes of Jesus (Pauline) was elected prioress in succession to Mother Marie de Gonzague in February of 1893. Pauline asked Therese to write verses and theatrical entertainment for liturgical and community festivals. Included were two plays about Saint Joan of Arc, "her beloved sister", which she performed herself with great feeling and conviction. When Celine joined Therese at Lisieux Carmel in September of 1894, she brought her camera. Through this, they were able to enliven their recreation periods, and leave Therese's picture to posterity.