Teresa of Avila was born in Avila, Spain on March 28, 1515 as a daughter of a merchant. As a child Teresa and her brother Rodrigo loved to read the lives of the saints and martyrs. They felt that the martyrs got to heaven an easy way. The two children set out secretly to go to the land of the Moors. As they walked along, they prayed that they might die for Christ. But they had not gotten far when they met an uncle. He took them back to their worried mother. Next the children decided to be hermits in their garden.
This didn’t work out either. They could not get enough stones together to build their huts. St. Teresa herself wrote down these amusing stories of her childhood. But when she grew to be a teenager, however, she changed. Teresa read so many novels and foolish romances that she lost much of her love for prayer. She began to think more of dressing up to look pretty. She was known as being very beautiful. Teresa was only twelve when her mother died, leaving behind ten children.
After loosing her own mother, Teresa looked to the Blessed Virgin Mary as her mother. In 1531, Teresa was sent to the Augustinian nuns of Avila for her education. She started reading the Letters of Jerome and they led her to pursue religious life. So at age 20, Teresa joined the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila. Teresa fell ill with malaria and was paralyzed for three years and was never completely well. Instead of helping her spirituality, her sickness became an excuse to stop her prayer.
But eventually her prayer life deepened and she began to have visions and a vivid sense of the presence of God, and was converted into a life of complete devotion. Teresa decided to undertake the establishment of a reformed convent that would be restored to the devotion of earlier times. In 1562, Teresa received approval for a new foundation, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of Saint Joseph, at Avila, which she began with her niece and three other nuns. She also made a foundation for men while working with St. John of the Cross.
Teresa spent the last fifteen years of her life on journeys all over Spain visiting her seventeen new converts of nuns and fifteen new monasteries of the men’s order. She also wrote several books about her personal experiences at different stages of her spiritual life Teresa died October 4, 1582 at the age of 67. Her body was exhumed several times after her death, and each time it was found sweet-smelling, firm, and incorupt. Her heart, hands, right foot, left eye, and part of her jaw are on display in various sites throughout the world.
Teresa was beatified in 1614 by Pope Paul V and in 1617 the Spanish parliament proclaimed her the Patroness of Spain. Teresa was canonized a Saint on March 12, 1622 by Pope George XV. It never occurred to anyone to declare any woman Saint a Doctor until, on September 27, 1970, Pope Paul VI added both Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Catherine of Siena as Doctors of the Church. In 1997, Pope John Paul II named Teresa of Lisieux the third woman Doctor of the Church. Saint Teresa of Avila is the Patron of lace makers, the religious, headaches, sickness, and Spain.
Her symbol is a heart, an arrow, and a book. Saint Teresa of Avila was a normal girl as a child and had problems with praying and with making God the most important thing in her life just like anyone else. Saint Teresa shows us that anyone can work on being holy and anyone can enjoy prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila found that she was happy when she was praying and when she was living out her faith. She always tried to stay joyful and she said, “May God protect me from gloomy saints. ”