St. Thérèse Institute of Faith and Mission's philosophy is based on St. Thérèse's spirituality.

St. Thérèse Institute of Faith and Mission's philosophy is based on St. Thérèse's spirituality.

November 5, 2012

Five years ago, Jim Anderson knew little about St. Thérèse of Lisieux when he applied for a post directing a formation program based in her spirituality.

A priest friend had recommended he go for an interview. Within about six weeks, Anderson and his family had moved from Ontario to tiny Bruno, Sask., to join the brand-new St. Thérèse Institute of Faith and Mission.

Today, Anderson is convinced the institute's nine-month program of intellectual and spiritual discipleship for young people who live in community and who practise the saint's "little way" offers a key to new evangelization and the hopes Pope Benedict has for the Year of Faith.

It did not take Anderson long to catch on to St. Thérèse's spirituality, because, before moving to Bruno, he had become steeped in Catherine Doherty's spirituality after living for 12 years near the Madonna House, the lay apostolate she founded in Combermere, Ont.

"If you know Catherine, you know St. Thérèse," he said.

"The 'little way' (of St. Thérèse) gives us the way; the 'little mandate' (of Catherine Doherty) gives us the how," he said. "Catherine Doherty is just St. Thérèse with workboots on."

More than that, Doherty gives a contemporary and Canadian witness to St Thérèse's little way, he said.

In the Year of Faith, the pope is calling Catholics to rediscover the content of their Catholic faith and to draw closer to Jesus by living it, Anderson said. Living that experience of faith makes our relationship with Jesus Christ increasingly firm.


Jesus Christ came into the world to share the poverty of human experience, to be with the poor, Anderson said, referring to ideas in a talk Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave to teachers and catechists in 2000 on building a civilization of love.

"Ratzinger said the deepest poverty is the lack of joy, and the lack of joy is precipitated by and in turn causes the inability to experience love," Anderson said. He called his reading of the text of that talk "an Emmaus moment" for him.

To experience love - real, deep self-sacrificing love - one must experience the cross, he said Ratzinger stressed.

Sometimes the way we perceive new evangelization is a way of serving the Church, Anderson said. "You have to be banging on a guitar or preaching the Bible to youth. What God wants is for us to follow him, to engage in holiness, often in the humdrum way of life."

This means pursuing holiness in the world, as a lay person working as a teacher, a doctor, a plumber, a nurse or as a parent, he said.

The little way means being like a little child, a spiritual child fully dependent on God, Anderson said. Thérèse had a deep love for her father which carried over into her attitude toward God. "She recognized she is little; it's not about doing little things."

The little way is about an unsophisticated, completely humble surrender to God in the moment, to do the duty of the moment, though "just the simplicity of that is very difficult," he said.

"We are always wanting to do more, to be out there, to do more ministry," he said. "This is the trap of the elder brother desperately trying to earn the father's love."

The prodigal son had no way to earn the love, but the Father loves him anyway. What we have to do is be receptive, Anderson said.

Catherine Doherty said once that what you do matters, "but not much," said Anderson. "She said 'What you are matters tremendously.'"

Anderson reminds the young people in the program St. Thérèse is their peer, not his. Entering a convent at 15, she died at age 24 of tuberculosis.

While she lay sick, she overheard her sisters saying, "What shall we say about Thérèse? She hasn't done anything." She left behind one book and some letters, said Anderson. Yet, she is a doctor of the Church.

"She is your peer and don't let anyone tell you that you cannot reach the heights of sanctity," he tells the students.


The nine-month formation program provides a lived experience of the little way, in community. "To know the little way you have to walk the little way," he said. "A pilgrimage is not arriving at the place; it's the journeying to the place."

In addition to the intellectual formation, living in community "provides us with opportunities to do very small things, very hidden things relying on the grace of God." The fruit is deep peace, deep joy, and the capacity to love, he said.

Almost 75 young men and women have passed through the institute in the past five years.