"July 13, 2000, was the centenary year of the birth of St. Teresa of the Andes (Juanita Fernández Solar). This centenary year fell within the great jubilee, which gives greater enhancement to the anniversary of the birth of the Chilean Carmelite. There have already been articles about Teresa of the Andes, so I limit myself by way of introduction to some following brief biographical notes for the benefit of those readers less familiar with Teresa of the Andes.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Juanita Fernandez Solar was born in Santiago, Chile, on July 13, 1900, to a family of Santiagan lineage. Her parents were Don Miguel Fernández Jaraquemada and Doña Lucía Solar Armstrong. The children of this marriage were Lucía, Miguel, Luis, Juana (who died a few hours after birth), Juanita (St Teresa of the Andes), Rebeca, and Ignacio. From her earliest years, she knew the suffering that came to the family due to her father’s bankruptcy. This came about perhaps from his poor administration of the great patrimony that the Fernandez Solar family had inherited. One after another, he lost all their properties. This situation caused a gradual distancing between Don Miguel and Doña Lucía. He lived in the countryside attempting to administer the inherited properties while Doña Lucía lived in Santiago with her six children, trying to give them an education corresponding to their high position in society and trying to survive on the little money the father was able to provide. The most painful thing for Juanita was not the lack of money but the tension this caused between her parents. She herself was very caring and sensitive and a veritable angel of peace in the bosom of the family.
For eleven years, she was a student at the College of the Sacred Heart, or of “the English nuns,” as the sisters who ran the place were called. Of these eleven years, she spent three as an internal student. Especially at the beginning, it was a real martyrdom for her to be separated from her family, even though her sister Rebeca shared this internship with her. At the age of eighteen, she entered the Carmel of the Holy Spirit in Los Andes, where she spent only eleven months. A brief sickness ended her life on April 13, 1920. On April 3, 1987, his Holiness John Paul II beatified her during his apostolic visit to Chile; and on March 21, 1993, he canonized her in Rome.
Today her mortal remains lie in the Sanctuary of Auco, a veritable citadel that has been built in honor of the saint and for the thousands of pilgrims who come there every month.
Another Carmelite Mystic
The Carmelite Order is clearly contemplative. It has its origins in Israel in the twelfth century and was reformed by St Teresa of Avila. It has been a seed-bed of saints and mystics who have been nourished by the charisma of St Teresa and St John of the Cross. But within this charisma, there is great diversity. In fact, each Carmelite lives it in the light of his or her own personal vocation. Numbered among the saints and mystics have been Teresa Margaret Redi, the little Florentine saint of the eighteenth century; Thérèse of the Child Jesus and Elizabeth of the Trinity, French women of the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries; St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), a German Jewess martyred in 1942 and recently canonized by his Holiness John Paul II. This is just to mention a few of the more well-known ones and without reference to the Carmelite friars. All these lived the charisma of the Order completely, but each one lived it according to their own time and according to their own personal temperament; moreover, each one had his or her own concrete mission within the Church.
Different from St Thérèse and Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity, who arrived at the highest degrees of union with God by a simple path, with few mystical phenomena, Teresa of the Andes had a rather extraordinary spirituality from her earliest years. She did not write her autobiography and so, to be able to understand her experience of God, all we have is her diary, sometimes interrupted by long time lapses; her letters, particularly those written to her spiritual directors Fathers José Blanch, CMF; Artemio Colom, SJ; some testimonies from those who knew her better like Mother Angélica, prioress of Los Andes and her mistress of novices; Father Avertano of the Most Holy Sacrament, OCD, her confessor in Carmel; and an extract from a letter of Father Fauvert, which tells of an ecstasy and levitation of Juanita described by Father Félix Henle, a Redemporist and eye witness of the event. Nevertheless, these few facts are sufficient to approach a little into the mystical phenomenology of Teresa of the Andes. But it is important to keep in mind that what interests a person approaching a mystic is not a kind of phenomena that has been experienced, but the experience of God, the acceptance of God’s will, and the work brought about by God in this person.
Let us not imagine that Juanita was born a saint. Like every human being, she had defects and limitations of which she was aware. She had a strong character, a great sensitivity; she had tantrums that at times she could not control; but none of this prevented her from modeling her personality according to the rhythm of God’s demands. Neither let us believe that her life was boring; on the contrary, she was a joyful young person with many friends, given the leadership in her temperament. She was very much into sports and enjoyed horseback riding, swimming, and tennis. She played the piano and had a beautiful voice. She was admired by many young people; but even though she accepted friendship, she never wanted to be enamored of anyone because from her childhood, she was enamored of God. This young woman whom we might call “modern” had nevertheless from her earliest years begun to perceive special graces that God bestowed on her. In a letter to Father Falgueras, she says: “From the age of seven, more or less, a great devotion to my Mother, the Most Holy Virgin, was born in my soul. I told her everything that happened to me, and she would speak to me …” (Letter of April 24, 1919). From her tenth year and from the day of her first Communion, it is Jesus himself to whom she speaks and whom she is allowed to see. But Juanita didn’t see these things as exceptional, because she believed that everyone experienced the same thing. It was only when she told Mother Ríos, a religious of the Sacred Heart, about it that she was made to see that she was dealing with extraordinary graces; and on that account, she would have to be very generous in her response.
These mystical graces were building up the personality of this youth, and the work of God in her was not made to wait. She quickly began to struggle with her strong temperament—to make an effort with her studies and to avoid any friction with her siblings and her cousins. She was becoming gentler and was a sewer of peace."
-- Originally published in Spanish in Teresa de Jesús and reprinted in Carmelite Digest by Sr Helena Esquerra, ocd
** This is the only photo of St Teresa as a novice in the monastery.