The Jewish Saint
Edith Stein (October 12, 1891 – August 9, 1942) was a German-Jewish philosopher, a Carmelite nun, martyr, and saint of the Catholic Church, who died at Auschwitz. In 1922, she converted to Christianity, was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church and was received into the Discalced Carmelite Order in 1934. She was canonized as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (her Carmelite monastic name) by Pope John Paul II in 1998; however, she is still often referred to, and churches named for her as, "Saint Edith Stein."
Stein was born in Breslau (Wrocław), in the German Empire's Prussian Province of Silesia, into an observant Jewish family. She was born on the date of October 12, 1891. She was a very gifted child who enjoyed learning. She greatly admired her mother's strong faith; however, by the time of her teenage years Stein had become an atheist.
In 1916, she received a doctorate (summa cum laude)of philosophy from the University of Freiburg, with a dissertation under Edmund Husserl, "On The Problem of Empathy. "She then became a member of the faculty in Freiburg.
While Stein had earlier contacts with Catholicism, it was her reading of the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila on a holiday in Göttingen in 1921 that caused her conversion. Baptized on January 1, 1922, she gave up her assistantship with Husserl to teach at a Dominican girls' school in Speyer from 1922 to 1932. While there, she translated Thomas Aquinas' De Veritate (On Truth) into German and familiarized herself with Catholic philosophy in general.
In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Münster, but anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazi government forced her to resign the post in 1933: the same year in which her former colleague Martin Heidegger became Rector at Freiburg and stated that "The Führer, and he alone, is the present and future law of Germany. "In a letter to Pope Pius XI, she denounced the Nazi regime and asked the Pope to openly denounce the regime "to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name."
Stein's letter received no answer, and it is not known for sure whether Pius XI even read it.
She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery at Cologne in 1933 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. There she wrote her metaphysical book "Endliches und ewiges Sein," which tries to combine the philosophies of Aquinas and Husserl.
To avoid the growing Nazi threat, her order transferred Stein to the Carmelite monastery at Echt in the Netherlands. However, Stein was not safe in the Netherlands—the Dutch Bishops' Conference had a public statement read in all the churches of the country on July 20, 1942, condemning Nazi racism. In a retaliatory response on July 26, 1942, the Reichskomissar of the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared. Stein and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were gassed on August 9, 1942.
Stein was beatified as a martyr on May 1, 1987, in Cologne, Germany, by Pope John Paul II, and canonized by him on October 11, 1998, under the name Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. The miracle which was the basis for her canonization was the cure of Teresa Benedicta McCarthy, a little girl who had swallowed a large amount of paracetamol which causes hepatic necrosis in small children. Her father, Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a Melkite Catholic, immediately rounded up relatives and prayed for Edith Stein's intercession. Shortly thereafter the nurses in the intensive care unit saw her sit up completely healthy. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, a pediatric specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who treated Teresa Benedicta, testified Church tribunals on her recovery, stating "I was willing to say that it was miraculous.” Teresa Benedicta would later attend Stein's canonization ceremony in the Vatican.