Today is the Feast Day of St. Teresa of the Andes

st teresa of the andes
St Teresa of the Andes

• Saints are God’s masterpieces. To discover Saint Teresa of the Andes is to discover a new marvel realized by God’s grace in a human person.

• Teresa of the Andes lived nearly her entire life in the world where the greatest part of her sanctification took place. She shows us how to sanctify ourselves in daily activities: family life, school, vacations, sports, etc.

• Dying at nineteen, Teresa of the Andes is a particularly attractive model of holiness for young people. She shows them where true happiness lies: God is infinite joy!

• Teresa of the Andes strongly stimulates us through her insatiable thirst for God and her absolute love for Christ.

st teresa of the andes juanita_as child
as a child

Juana Enriqueta Josefina Fernandez Solar was born in Santiago, Chile, on 13 July 1900., 1 of 6 children. Her family was well-off and faithful to their Christian faith. Her deep relationship with God began when she was young, but she had many difficult personality traits to overcome – she was proud, self-centred and stubborn and easily angered.  Her brothers took great joy in provoking her.  Very early Juanita felt attracted toward God. She liked to go to church with Ofelia (the servant girl who used to take care of her). One day, being in Chacabuco, she took the hand of a priest friend of the family and told him: “Father, let us go to heaven!” When they were out of the house the priest asked her: “Now, Juanita, where is the way leading to heaven?” Juanita answered: “This way”, pointing toward the Andes cordillera. The priest told her: “After climbing the high mountains heaven shall still be far, very far. No, Juanita, this is not the way leading to heaven. Jesus in the tabernacle is the royal way to reach there.”

In 1906 an earthquake shook the city of Santiago. In her Diary Juanita wrote that it was at this time that Jesus began to take possession of her heart.

Juana was educated in the college of the French nuns of the Sacred Heart.    Quickly Juanita felt a great desire to make her first communion. She would often ask when she would be able to do it but would be told that she was too young. Then she would ask to be taught to do communions of desire.  After insisting a lot Juanita was admitted to first communion. Understanding that God was going to dwell within her, she set about acquiring all the virtues that would prepare her for this great day and managed to transform her character completely.  She wanted to prepare herself through confession and prayer, offering many little sacrifices to Jesus. “I prepared myself for one year. During that time the Virgin helped me to purify my heart from all imperfections.” She made her first communion on September 11, 1910, in Santiago. In her Diary she wrote about this event which impressed her for life. She would try as much as possible to receive communion every day.  After her First Communion, she began to receive mystical graces and interior locutions from God.

st teresa of the andes1_commun
1st Communion

It was Lucho who taught Juanita how to pray the rosary. Both made the promise to pray it every day, a promise Juanita kept until her death (only one time, she writes, being very small, she forgot). “From that time on, one can say that Our Lord took me by hand with the most holy Virgin.”

In 1914 Juanita read Story of a Soul of Thérèse of Lisieux (who was not yet beatified).  She endured the pain of an appendectomy at this time and suffered poor health in general.  She began to hear the call of Christ inviting her to give herself totally to him and to become a Carmelite.

During the year 1915 Juanita began boarding with her sister Rebeca at the Sacred Heart high school. She suffered greatly leaving her family house but understood nonetheless that the Lord was preparing her for the great separation when she would enter the Carmel. She was to appreciate the school which enabled her to live a fervent Christian life.

At school, she began to write a Diary, and to nourish and strengthen her spiritual life through silent prayer, daily mass and sacrifice. Although not an exceptional student, she dedicated herself totally to her studies, including topics she did not like (such as physics and chemistry) in order to please Jesus and her parents. She liked also to help poor or less gifted students. Very early Juanita showed a great love for poor people and helped them as much as she could. It was in this same year (1915) that she met on the street a child in rags hungry and shivering with cold. She introduced him into her house, gave him to eat and asked him where he lived. She discovered that the child was living in a slum in Santiago’s suburb. She visited his family and until her entrance into Carmel in 1919, took care of him, calling him Juanito, having him eat in her family house and giving him clothes from her brothers. She went as far as organizing a raffle whose prize was her watch in order to earn money to buy shoes for Juanito. She took care of his human and Christian education.

andes 2

On December 1915 Juanita pronounced a private vow of chastity, promising not to have any other spouse than Jesus Christ. She would renew this vow several times.

Juanita spent her vacations in Chacabuco where she has a true apostolate among the farmer’s families, gathering people for the missions, doing catechism for the children, playing with them, organizing a choir, consecrating houses to the Sacred Heart. She had a gift to transmit to children the truths of faith. Due to bad management by Juanita’s father, the Chacabuco estate was sold in 1917 and Juanita’s family had to adopt a simpler way of life. While the family mourned the loss of Chacabuco, Juanita saw in this painful event a providential call to detach herself from earthly goods. On June 15, 1917, Juanita became a Child of Mary and during her entire life kept a strong spiritual bond with Mary to whom she entrusted everything. She read the spiritual writings of Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity (a French Carmelite who died in 1906 in Dijon and would be beatified in 1984) with whom she discovered a great spiritual affinity. She tried to live as much as possible in the presence of God whom she loved more and more. She told her brother Lucho: ““Christ so foolish in his love, has driven me madly in love “.  In September of 1917 she came in touch for the first time with the Carmel of Los Andes, having the interior conviction that it was the place where God was calling her.

In August of 1918 Juanita left Sacred Heart school to be a substitute in the family house for her elder sister Lucia who had just got married. She dedicated herself to her task and accepted any sacrifice for her family’s happiness: “I did not believe that family life was a life of sacrifices. This helped me to prepare myself for religious life.” Her brother Lucho would say that she was “the jewel of the house“. Juanita wrote in her Diary: “I must strive to look for the happiness of all. My resolution is to sacrifice myself for all.”

st teresa of the andes juanita_rebeca
Juanita with Rebeca, who became a Carmelite nun in the same Carmel as her sister after St. Teresa’s death.  See her picture as a Carmelite below.

While having a very intense spiritual life Juanita lived as a young girl of her time. She liked to be with her family and friends. She enjoyed sport very much, especially swimming and tennis. She enjoyed the beauty of the sea and of the mountains. She had a very deep contemplation of the mystery of God in silent prayer, while being natural, kind and joyful with her friends. Although she suffered often because of her poor health and of spiritual purifications in her heart coming from God’s grace, Juanita was joyful and liked to joke.

In January of 1919 she visited for the first time the Carmel of Los Andes. There she received the confirmation that this was the place where God was calling her.

On March 25, 1919, she wrote a magnificent letter to her father to ask for permission to enter the Carmel, telling him that since her childhood she had searched for happiness but understood that only God could make her completely happy for ever. She wished to belong totally to him in a life dedicated to prayer and penance. Deeply moved, her father in tears granted her permission. Then Juanita felt in her heart at the same time the greatest joy and the greatest suffering: joy because she would consecrate herself totally to Christ who attracted her so much, suffering because she would have to leave her family whom she loved so much and who would suffer a lot from the separation.

On May 7, 1919, she entered the Carmel of Los Andes and received the name of Teresa de Jesús (Teresa of Jesus).

Entering into the Carmel of Los Andes on May 7, 1919, Teresa began her postulancy, the first step of her religious life. She enjoyed in her heart a very deep joy for having given herself totally to God, renouncing what was dearest to her (her family) in order to follow Christ. From the beginning she strived to fulfil the Carmelite rule with perfection, great fidelity and love, offering herself for the humblest and most disagreeable works. She believed that Carmelite life consisted in three things: to love, to suffer and to pray for the conversion of sinners, the sanctification of priests and the Church.

andes 3
as a novice

With the permission of her prioress, who understood that the new postulant was an exceptional soul, Teresa kept up a busy correspondence. Her letters radiated the love of Christ and the joy to fully belong to him. Touched by her witness, several of her friends would enter religious life.

On September 8, 1919, Teresa was accepted to the novitiate and the reception of the habit. She received it on October 14, 1919, in the presence of her family and of many friends. All the witness were impressed by her radiating joy.

Teresa received in her monastery many graces of union to God, although she was not exempt from spiritual trials, especially temptations and spiritual dryness. She had a privileged relationship with her prioress, but the prioress’ assistant made her suffer a lot by constantly correcting her.

In the first days of March, 1920, Teresa told her confessor that she had only one month more to live on earth. She asked him for permission to do extraordinary penances. The confessor did not believe her (how could she know the time of her death?) and told her to be satisfied with observing the Carmelite rule with perfection.
Teresa was stricken by an illness which she knew would lead her to death. Nonetheless she participated in all the spiritual exercises of Lent that year, including the rigorous fasting.

On Good Friday, April 2, 1920, Teresa began her way of the cross following Christ. She spent many hours in prayer in the choir. The sisters noticed that she had a burning fever and told her to go to bed.  Several physicians examined her without managing to diminish the fever which devoured her. Their diagnosis was an advanced typhus.
On April 7, Teresa had the joy of pronouncing her religious vows in articulo mortis: according to the custom, a novice in danger of death could pronounce her vows (however, if she recovered, she had to return to the novitiate).

After great physical and spiritual sufferings, Teresa surrendered her soul to God and died on April 12, 1920, at 7:15 pm. She was going to enter true life, to fall into the arms of the one whom she had loved above everything on earth, to be eternally immersed in love.”

st teresa of the andes mortuary
in the mortuary

The burial took place on April 14. The sisters and the family were surprised to see the convent’s chapel flooded by people who, although they had not known Teresa, come to venerate the little saint who just died, as they say. Thus Teresa’s fame of holiness was immediate and would grow in the following years. The sisters received very quickly many testimonies coming from people who received graces through Teresa’s intercession.

rebeca sister of st teresa of the andes
Rebecca as a Carmelite

On November 23, 1920, the younger sister of Teresa, Rebeca, entered the Carmel of Los Andes, convinced that God was calling her to substitute her sister in the community. She valiantly followed in the footsteps of Teresa until her own holy death in 1942.

Teresa possessed an enormous capacity to love and to be loved, joined with extraordinary intelligence. God allowed her to experience his presence. Knowing him, she loved him; and loving him, she bound herself totally to him, even through many interior trials.  She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Santiago de Chile on 3 April 1987 and canonised by him on March 21st 1993 in Rome. She is the first Chilean to be declared a Saint. She is the first Discalced Carmelite Nun to become a Saint outside of Europe and the fifth Saint Teresa in Carmel (together with Saints Teresa of Avila, of Florence and of Lisieux, Edith Stein).  Feast day – 13th July

Text abridged from the Community of St John


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