I was drawn to the face in the black framed picture on the wall of the antique shop. It was a picture of a nun holding a crucifix adorned with roses. Gentleness, compassion, yet strong character were reflected in her expression.
Peter, the shopkeeper, took the picture down from the wall for me to look closer.
“Who do you think it is? Mary Magdalene?” He asked.
“I don’t know, but her face reminds me of my mother when she was a girl.”
At that moment a man entered the shop.
“Hullo, Tony. Come and look at this picture. Do you think she is Mary Magdalene?” Peter said, knowing the man was a Catholic.
“No, No. She is St. Therese, known as The Little Flower. See the roses on the cross she is holding. They say, when people pray to her, unexpectedly, they are often given a rose.
Turning to me, Peter laughed, “There you see, a picture of a real saint.”
“How much is it?” I asked tentatively.
“It’s twenty five dollars, but I’ll tell you what, you can have it in return for free lunches for a week.”
I ran a takeaway food business next door, so this idea appealed to me as ready money was a problem.
“I’ll take it.” I said and eagerly grasped the picture.
I was fascinated with my new possession. It appeared to be a print of a painting of St. Therese. I wondered if it was an artist’s impression or an actual painting of her.
Later in the afternoon, I questioned one of my catholic customers.
“Can you tell me anything about St. Therese, the Little Flower?”
“Yes, my wife has a book about her life. I’ll give it to you. St. Therese was a French Carmelite nun. She was a writer and poet. Her autobiography, “A Journey of a Soul” has been claimed as a masterpiece of spiritual literature.
I was instantly intrigued to find a saint who was a writer, as I had aspirations to the muse myself.
The next day he brought me the book and I read it from cover to cover finishing at midnight. I was saddened to read that Therese had died at twenty-four years of age, yet in that short time she had perfected herself in humility, goodness and oneness with God. I thirsted to read her words in the autobiography.
To my amazement the very next day three nuns wearing black habits came into my shop. After they were seated I excitedly approached them and before giving them time to order their meal, I engaged them in conversation.
“Would you know anything about St. Therese of Lisieux, in France?” I asked, and then explained my interest in the picture.
“I have been to France and seen her relics,” one of them replied with an angelic smile. “If you give me your address, I will post you her actual photograph so you will be able to compare it with your picture.” I was elated and gave the nun my address.
A week later, on my birthday, the photograph arrived as promised. I was instantly impressed and thought ‘what a perfect gift.’ Therese had a pretty face with serious eyes which seemed to express a deep inner knowledge.
To my surprise, that evening a friend gave me a birthday present. When I opened the package I found a gold picture frame which exactly fitted the photograph of Therese as if it had been made for it.
Our Parish Priest had a copy of Therese’s autobiography which he lent me. It was a profound work, and I marvelled at one young girl’s wholehearted love of Jesus. From the book I found out that Celine, Therese’s sister, was the artist who had painted my picture.
Our priest then suggested I contact the Carmelite Monastery, which I did, and was rewarded by speaking to a nun there who had worked on Therese’s book, translating it from French to English. And after an animated conversation with her she invited me to the monastery for a special Mass on St. Therese’s feast day when the roses are blessed. I was enthralled to have such a direct contact with St. Therese.
Then an amazing number of coincidences happened, or perhaps they were God instances. My journey began.
The Carmelite nun I had met at the Monastery suddenly appeared in my shop with her friends. I was surprised to see a nun from a Carmelite enclosed order at large in the world. She told me she hadn’t been well and was staying for a time with her friends who were customers of mine. Every week she then came to have coffee and often brought her large family of brothers and sisters.
As the months passed business worries increased with the recession and I prayed to Therese for help. One Sunday evening after an arduous day in the shop I picked up the newspaper and prayed. “Please God, let there be a job for me to take me away from this hard work.” I looked down the classifieds and my eyes became riveted on a two line advertisement, “Housekeeper, own unit, one priest, and the phone number.” Despite my better judgement, as I had never worked as a housekeeper, I telephoned the next day.
So my life began at St. Benedict’s Presbytery on the 30th September which happened to be the anniversary of St. Therese’s death. My small unit was appropriately furnished with roses on the carpet and bedspread. I went to help for two weeks and ended up staying three years.
During that time I had the pleasure of meeting some of the finest people I have known. My spirituality grew, and just like Therese, (her special vocation was to write encouragingly to missionary priests) I wrote to priests around the world whom I had looked after at the Presbytery.
Then by some miracle, I had the opportunity to go to France. I visited Lisieux, and actually stood in St. Therese’s home, church and Carmel, an experience I will never forget.
In London, the night before I returned to Australia. I attended a Mass at the Oratory Cathedral. After the mass, I prayed to Therese to send me a flower if she was still with me. Then I went to look at the huge altar dedicated to Mary which was decorated with flowers. Not one rose to be seen! I walked around the vast church looking at all the side altars which were bare. Then I noticed a lady praying. She was kneeling before a crucifix on a side wall. I was just about to pass when she got up and left. I went over to the crucifix and there placed between the feet of Jesus was one red rose.