St Thérèse of Lisieux – Doctor of the Universal Church

It was at Alençon France on 2 January 1873, that Zélie Martin gave birth to her youngest child Marie Françoise-Thérèse. It was a difficult birth, and the baby almost died. As a witness for the process of beatification (the stage prior to canonisation) for Thérèse, Sister Geneviève (Thérèse’s sister Céline) testified: “a most serious decline in health put … [Therese’s] life in danger; so, after two months, mother was obliged to entrust her to the care of a more robust wet-nurse, a very good woman with whom she stayed for one year. Mother took her back in March 1874” (Christopher O’Mahony, 1975:110; Cameron, 2012a:182).

The Church has honoured Thérèse with sainthood and elevated her to the ecclesial ranks. However, the process leading to Thérèse being proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church, was not without controversy. According to Cameron (2012a:67): “The Proclamation had its detractors. One such critic was William Graham (1995), who in the article, ‘Is there a case against Saint Thérèse as Doctor of the Church?’, argues strongly that there is such a case, and that Thérèse did not possess the ‘right stuff of which doctors are made.’” Another critic John McGee (1997:21), also maintains that “Spiritual attitude does not a doctor make.” Payne (2002:91) notes, “the undue haste of promoting the cause for the doctorate of Thérèse” and states that: “One presumes that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was ‘acting on higher orders’ … [those of] Pope John Paul II” (Cameron, 2012a:68). For Pope St John Paul II did have a special devotion to the saint!