Her baptismal name is Juana Enriqueta Josefina de los Sacrados Corazones Fernandez Solar. In short, she was fondly called “Juanita.” She was born in Santiago, Chile, on July 13, 1900 of a wealthy, aristocratic family. In her diary, she wrote, “Jesus did not desire me to be born poor like Himself; I was born in the midst of riches, spoiled by all.” The fourth of seven children.
As usual, suffering appeared early. Her parents separated and she had to grow in a dysfunctional family with an invisible father and brothers who because of this family situation grew rebellious and defiant. She herself found herself struggling with temper and stubbornness.
Her brother Luis said this about her, “She was quite tall, well-shaped, had a certain majesty of movement, had white skin and blue eyes. Her head was small and her hair was light brown. She had a really pleasing voice. You could recognize great strength in her deep gaze…”
She was also very athletic. She played tennis very well; she was an excellent swimmer, loved horseback riding and rode like a skillful Amazon goddess. She had many friends. She also played the piano, violin and guitar and had a wonderful voice.
When she was eighteen, she entered the Carmel of Los Andes. She chose the Los Andes Carmel because of its poverty. It did not even have electricity or hot running water, but she was inspired by the joyful spirit of the sisters. In Carmel, she was given the name Sister Teresa of Jesus in honor of Saint Teresa of Jesus of Avila, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Order.
“The life of the Carmel is one of love. This is our profession.” Carmel was fun! “Blessed be God,” she wrote to her mother. “I am in my little convent. I am taking great care to walk in wooden shoes. I am overcome with uncontrollable laughter when I see how awkward I am. In short, I am happy, for even though I have nothing, I find all in God.” “Here we mend and darn a lot of clothes, for we are poor. Just imagine that the habit I am repairing has more than a hundred and fifty patches. There’s nothing left of the original tissue!” Eleven months later she died of typhus on April 12th, 1920. She was only 19, three months short of 20.
Strangely, this unknown hidden Carmelite sister acquired a popularity that is unbelievable. Pope John Paul II called her “a shining beacon for the young”, the bishops of Chile declared her the patroness of children, especially homeless children or youth in juvenile prisons. One million people visit the Sanctuary of Auco-Rinconada of Los Andes each year, where her remains lie. Santa Teresita de los Andes is the first Chilean declared a Saint, the first American Discalced Carmelite Saint, and the youngest canonized Saint of Carmel!
Her distinctive feature? Simple. Pope John Paul II summarized everything in two sentences. “This is the new hymn of Christian love that rises spontaneously from the soul of this young girl! God is infinite joy!” She herself said, “When Jesus is loved, everything is joy! The cross is not heavy; martyrdom is not felt. We live more in heaven than on earth.”
When you read her diary and her letters to her family and friends, you will find that the recurring theme of her thoughts and conversations are centered on the joy and happiness she experienced because of the love she felt for God and from God. “Jesus and I love each other. He, infinitely, and I, with all my soul’s strength.”
In a letter to a friend, she wrote, “I wish I could get you to know God and love God the way I do.” In another letter to another friend, she said, “I wish you could know Him that you might truly fall in love with Him.” And still in another letter to her cousin, she remarks, “How happy I’d be if you would fall in love with my Jesus! What a treasure you would find in that divine Heart! Day and night He stands knocking at the door of your heart asking for a little spot, a little love, and will you not open your heart to Him and receive Him warmly?”
Love and joy are interchangeable. She was so joyful because she felt loved. And when you feel loved, you cannot not love back. She was a woman madly in love! “I can’t do anything else than love Him. What do you expect when Jesus Christ, that mad lover of mine, made me fall madly in love with Himself?”
In her letter to her older sister, Lucia, she wrote “I want to tell you about my happiness. Yes, I want you to feel for just a moment, the happiness of belonging entirely to God, but there’s no human language that can express the divine feelings in which my soul finds itself submerged. I’ve given Him everything, it’s true, but I’ve also come to possess the one who is Everything.”
The inscription in her tombstone reads: “El Amor es Mas Fuerte,” which means, “Love is stronger.” Love is stronger, because love comes from God, who is, to use Teresa’s exquisite phrase, “Eternal Joy”.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.