On Monday (March 7), Maryknoll’s Father John Moran will speak at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers about the fascinating life of St. Edith Stein — also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Stein’s story is well know. She was born in 1891 to a large Jewish family in Germany (an area that is now part of Poland) and became a prominent philosopher by her 20s. She converted to Catholicism, inspired in part by the mystic teachings of St. Theresa of Avila. She eventually left academia for the Discalced Carmelite Order.
The Nazis had no interest in Stein’s conversion and sent her to Auschwitz, where she had to wear the yellow star of the Jews. Stein died in the gas chambers in 1942.
Stein’s writings grew in prominence throughout the Catholic world, especially her major work, “Finite and Eternal Being,” which attempted to synthesize the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas with modern thought.
Stein was beatified as a martyr in 1987 and canonized in 1998. Her canonization caused a stir among Jewish leaders, some of whom questioned how Stein could be a Catholic martyr when she was killed for being Jewish. Things have quieted down since then, but Stein’s identity and death will likely remain a subject of discussion for some time.
In 2003, the Vatican released an intriguing letter that Stein wrote in 1933 to Pope Pius XI, asking that the Catholic Church condemn the Nazis and their persecution of Jews.
She wrote, in part:
Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself “Christian.” For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn’t the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? And isn’t this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation?
Moran, the president of the Edith Stein Guild of America, has given retreats and workshops in Asia, Latin America and East Africa on everything from the Carmelite saints to priestly and missionary spirituality. He served in Taiwan from 1966 to 1985.
His 7:30 p.m. lecture, “St. Edith Stein: A New Doctor of the Church? — An Introduction to her Life and Teachings,” is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the John Cardinal O’Connor Chair in Hebrew and Sacred Scripture at St. Joseph’s.