Saint Teresa of Los Andes

Saint Teresa of Los Andes

The life of Saint Teresa of Los Andes, who died three months before her 20th birthday, offers proof that a Christian steward need not live a long life in order to reflect the light of Christ on others in a profoundly meaningful way.

Juanita Fernandez Solar was born on July 13, 1900 into a devout Catholic family in Santiago, Chile, the fourth of six children. She was educated by the French nuns of the Sacred Heart and led an active school life. She was known to have excelled at swimming and tennis and was gifted musically as well. She could sing, dance and play the piano. Juanita was also known for her vanity and hot-temper. It was said that she liked to have things her way.

At age 15, Juanita read The Story of a Soul, the spiritual autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux that had become a publishing phenomenon. It was to prove transforming. She had always attended daily Mass and even taught catechism classes to younger students. But after having read the words of the Little Flower, a desire to serve God began to grow. When Juanita read the biography of Saint Teresa of Avila her spiritual journey became clear as she decided to join the Carmelite community.

In May 1919, at age 19, Juanita entered the Carmelite convent in the town of Los Andes. The convent offered the simple lifestyle Teresa desired and the joy of living in a community of women completely devoted to God. Initially, she focused her time on prayer and daily acts of sacrifice and she took the name “Teresa of Jesus.”

After becoming accustomed to the daily rhythms of a cloistered life, Teresa embarked on a letter writing ministry to offer simple reflections on the spiritual life to a large number of people needing encouragement and inspiration.

Before her first year in the convent was completed, however, Teresa contracted typhus. Diagnosed as fatal on Good Friday of 1920, she was allowed to profess her final vows in the Carmelite community “in periculo mortis” (“in danger of death”) just a few days before she died on April 12, 1920.

Teresa was canonized by Saint John Paul II in 1993. She is a popular saint in Chile, where her shrine is visited by some 100,000 pilgrims each year. She is sometimes referred to as the “little saint” of America in imitation of the Little Flower. She is the first Chilean to be canonized.

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