A spiritual and psychological study into the “greatest saint of modern times” underpinned research by PhD graduate, Dr Judith Schneider, from The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle campus.
Dr Schneider, also an academic in the university’s School of Philosophy & Theology, graduated with a PhD in Philosophy at Notre Dame’s Fremantle graduation ceremony in July.
In her thesis topic, Filial Relationship, Mercy and Limitation in Thérèse of Lisieux: Towards a Thérèsian Theological Anthropology and its Implications, Dr Schneider explored St Thérèse of Lisieux’s sense of God’s grace toward her as expressing mercy toward limitation.
St Thérèse, a French Carmelite nun, was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925 for her simple yet bold dedication to her faith in the face of encroaching secularism.
At a time when people were discarding their religious beliefs, she was seen as a role model of resistance against modernity, representing honesty and purity in the Catholic faith.
Delving into what might have attracted so many to St Thérèse, beyond concerns over modernity, Dr Schneider focused on Thérèse’s unique self-sense, a kind of “audacity” before God.
Despite only living until the age of 24, St Thérèse is considered one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church – and one of its greatest – for her approach to the spiritual life, including discovering sainthood amidst life’s daily and small tasks.
Dr Schneider said she was “captivated” by St Thérèse’s life story after reading her spiritual autobiography Story of a Soul.
“In my paper, I attempted to use the progresses made by ‘modern’ science (developmental psychology) to uncover who St Thérèse was, what lay behind her strong sense of ‘self’, how deep her relationship was with God, and the theological importance of her work in contemporary society,” the Notre Dame academic said.
“My overall aim was to draw a ‘theology of grace’ from St Thérèse’s writing. In her time, ‘grace’ was thought to be a substance that one could have ‘more’ or ‘less’ of, and this quantitative entity as something which influenced one’s destiny.”
“However, St Thérèse experienced grace in an overtly interpersonal way – she felt God lift her up, protect her and rescue her from life’s difficulties.”
Despite taking over four years to complete her research, Dr Schneider believes there is still more to uncover about the life and spirituality of St Thérèse.
“Having felt such a close personal connection to her throughout my research, I hope to gain a further appreciation of St Thérèse’s intuition and contribution to theology with additional research into her writings within the context of 19th century France,” Dr Schneider said.
“It felt wonderful to be able to explore the life and history of St Thérèse – a prominent figure in the history of the Catholic Church.”