Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD was born on October 12th, 1891; she was a German Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Discalced Carmelite nun. She is canonized as a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church. She was born into an observant Jewish family, but was an atheist by her teenage years. Moved by the tragedies of World War I, in 1915 she took lessons to become a nursing assistant and worked in a hospital for the prevention of disease outbreaks. After completing her doctoral thesis in 1916 from the University of Göttingen, she obtained an assistantship at the University of Freiburg.
From reading the works of the reformer of the Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Jesus, OCD, she was drawn to the Catholic Faith. She was baptized on 1 January 1922 into the Roman Catholic Church. At that point she wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite nun, but was dissuaded by her spiritual mentors. She then taught at a Catholic school of education in Speyer. As a result of the requirement of an “Aryan certificate” for civil servants promulgated by the Nazi government in April 1933 as part of its Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, she had to quit her teaching position.
She was admitted to the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne the following October. She received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (“Teresa blessed by the Cross”). In 1938 she and her sister Rosa, by then also a convert and an extern Sister of the monastery, were sent to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands for their safety. Even prior to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Stein believed she would not survive the war, going as far to write the Prioress to request her permission to allow her to offer herself to the heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement for true peace” and created a will. Her fellow sisters would later recount how Stein began “quietly training herself for life in a concentration camp, by enduring cold and hunger” after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in May, 1940.
Despite the Nazi invasion of that state in 1940, they remained undisturbed until they were arrested by the Nazis on 2 August 1942 and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, A Dutch official at Westerbork was so impressed by her sense of faith and calm, he offered her an escape plan. Stein vehemently denied his assistance, stating, “If somebody intervened at this point and took away her chance to share in the fate of her brothers and sisters, that would be utter annihilation.” they died in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942. Edith Stein was beatified as a martyr on 1 May 1987 in Cologne, Germany by Pope John Paul II and then canonized by him 11 years later on 11 October 1998 in Vatican City.