Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 25, 2006
Texas rose festival honours St. Thérèse
Little Flower's statue adorns basilica's golden dome
St. Thérèse of Lisieux – October 1
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
A replica of St. Thérèse of Lisieux's tomb rests in the tomb chapel.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
San Antonio, Texas
Those who seek to venerate the memory of St. Thérèse of Lisieux will find abundant evidence of this holy woman's life and influence in the impressive church dedicated to her in San Antonio.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower (Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Thérèse Parish) acts as a focus for devotion to this widely admired French religious.
Each year the shrine attracts thousands who come to pay homage to the nun who left a great devotion to God through her writings and the promotion of her Little Way to follow the teachings of Christ.
Thérèse, called the Little Flower because of her promise to "let fall a shower of roses" of favours after her death, was born in Alencon, France, in 1873, entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux at age 15 and after a deeply contemplative life, succumbed to tuberculosis at 24.
She is best known for her autobiography, written under obedience, The Story of a Soul, and her belief in simplicity in her faith.
This obscure, ordinary woman who promised to pray for religious vocations in heaven was canonized in 1925 and declared a doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
Patron saint of missionaries
She is recognized as a patron of missionaries and of France.
Her close-in northwest San Antonio shrine is on city transit route 82, Culebra at the intersection of colourfully named Culebra and Zarzamora streets. It's an attractive, Indiana limestone building, with three golden domes, one crowned by a larger-than-life statue of St. Thérèse.
It was built by the Discalced Carmelite Friars and dedicated to the rose saint in 1931. Named a basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1998, it is also listed as a national historic place.
Entering the church, visitors can be overwhelmed by the cascade of angels and figures in the huge Gloria behind the altar. Meant to portray heaven, it's centred on a tableau showing, beneath the cross, Our Lady of Mount Carmel with the Christ Child passing roses to St. Thérèse.
Flanking the altar are statues of the co-founders of the Discalced Carmelites, a splinter group that was established in Spain in about 1562 by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
A prized possession of the shrine is a portrait from the life of the saint by her sister Celine in Lisieux. It was used at Thérèse's canonization in Rome and is now permanently exhibited in the church baptistery.
Focal point for veneration of the Little Flower is the tomb chapel with its life-size, hand carved wooden replica of the saint as displayed in the tomb chapel at Lisieux.
It rests on an altar of Carrara marble and is protected by an ornate grill comprised of hundreds of life-size, individually forged iron roses.
As might be expected from a parish boasting some 4,600 families and an associated school and convent of Discalced Carmelite nuns, Little Flower is an extremely active place. In addition to two daily Masses and four on weekends, a weekly evening St. Thérèse Novena is held.
The shrine is administered by the Friars (OCD) publishers of the bi-monthly Apostolate of the Little Flower magazine.
Profusion of roses
The saint's early autumn feast day is an important time of celebration at the church, a rose festival with a profusion of flowers brought by the people.
The parish is also noted for its annual December hosting of La Gran Posada, an evening Mass followed by an enthusiastic re-enactment through litanies, readings and song of the Holy Family's search for accommodation on the first Christmas.