St. Teresa of Avila, Founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order of Roman Catholic Nuns
To get the most from The Invisible Mentor Profiles, while you are reading it, answer the following questions:
- Are their similarities between St. Teresa of Avila and yourself?
- What are your five takeaways from the profile?
- When you think of the person profiled, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
- In what ways can you use the information in your work and life?
- Look at the process you use to get your job done, think of ways to improve the process and make it more efficient. Is there a way to eliminate a step or combine steps? Also, is there a way to do your work in a more cost-efficient manner?
- After reading the profile, what is one concrete action you can take?
Name: St. Teresa of Avila
Birth Date: March 1515 – October 1588
Job Functions: Nun
Known For: Founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order of Roman Catholic Nuns
St. Teresa of Avila was born Teresa de Alhumada on March 28, 1515 on a farm in Avila Spain, the third child and first daughter of Alonso de Capeda and Beatriz de Alhumada. In 1528, her mother Beatriz died in childbirth, leaving her father with 10 children from two marriages. As a child, Teresa was described as extroverted, buoyant and easy to adapt. After her mother died, she became interested in the worldly company of other young people and when she was 16 years old, she would sneak out of the house to meet a “man she loved.” When her father found out about her clandestine meetings he sent her to the convent Nuestra Señora de la Gracia (Our Lady of Grace).
Teresa settled into monastic life in the convent, until 18 months later in 1532 when she became ill with a weak heart, and rheumatoid arthritis which plagued her for the rest of her life. She returned home to regain her strength, and stayed with her sister who lived in a farmhouse in Castellanos. It took her three years to recover from her illness, and Teresa decided to enter the convent. Her father opposed the idea of her becoming a nun so Teresa ran away to the Carmelite Convent of the Encarnacion (Incarnation) in 1535. The following year, Teresa took her vows and became Teresa of Jesus, she is more popularly known as Teresa of Avila and both names are used here.
Our Lady of Grace convent was somewhat very secular, and offered the Carmelites much freedom such as wearing perfume, jewelry and colourful sashes. The nuns did not honor the rule of poverty, and came and went as they pleased, enjoying private incomes and luxurious personal belongings. Teresa of Jesus later called it “an inn just off the road of hell.” While she was there, Teresa of Jesus met a nobleman and fell in love, which was a deeply disturbing experience for her.
A year later, Teresa of Jesus became ill again and left to recover at her sister’s home. Doctors diagnosed her as being fatally ill with consumption, and Teresa of Jesus did not respond to treatment. As a last resort, her father took her to see a famous woman healer in Becedas, a small village, but her health did not improve. In the fall of 1538, Teresa of Jesus left Becedas and went to stay with her uncle Pedro de Cepeda. While there he gave her a copy of Tercer Abecedario (Spiritual Alphabet Francisco De Osuna: Third Spiritual Alphabet (Classics of Western Spirituality)) of Francis of Asuna to read.
Teresa of Jesus took great pleasure in reading Abecedario, and it introduced her to Devotio Moderna, a new movement for spiritual renewal in the church. “Advocates of the Devotio Moderna criticized the empty formality of ritual observances, such as vocal prayer, which were the staple of Western religious life. Instead, they urged private reflection and mental prayer with the purpose of achieving a mystical union between the individual worshipper and God.”
While staying with her uncle, Teresa of Jesus still hadn’t recover from her illness, and grew even more ill. Her father brought her back to Avila in July 1939 and on August 15, she fell into such a deep coma that they wondered if she was dead. Teresa of Jesus came out of the coma four days later but was paralyzed in her legs. She returned to the Carmelite convent recovering for three more years. Nothing remarkable happened in Teresa of Jesus’ life for a very long time. When her father died in 1943, she went into a long struggle of inner conflict. Teresa of Jesus very much cared what others thought about her, which hindered her spiritual development. She also agonized over her feelings for men, especially a nobleman and priest named Garcia de Toledo.
At age 39, in 1554, Teresa of Jesus started to feel God’s presence within her. She experienced spiritual renewal when she saw a statue of the wounded Jesus. When she described her experiences, many thought she was filled with the devil. Someone gave Teresa of Jesus a copy of The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Saint Augustine, an early church leader. She could relate to the spiritual suffering St. Augustine described. Teresa of Jesus also realized that she wasn’t damned, as others had made her feel. She then realized that she should focus her attention to important issues that threatened the church. In 1556, Teresa of Jesus asked for permission to leave the convent.
Teresa of Jesus believed that the rules at Carmelite convent were too lax, and participated in the sixteenth century movements to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within. After great resistance, in 1562, Pope Pius IV granted her permission to start the St Jose convent for the Reformed Discalced Carmelite Order.
“On 24 August 1562 a house in Avila was consecrated as the Convent of Saint Joseph under a constitution Teresa based on the 1247 formulation of Carmelite rule requiring strict asceticism and complete poverty.” They were labelled Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites. The community didn’t embrace her, but a visit in 1567 from Giovanni Battista Rossi, the Carmelite prior general from Rome, was very impressed with the Convent of Saint Joseph, that he gave Teresa of Avila permission to found monasteries across Spain with the exception of Andalusia. Teresa of Avila founded 15 convents and monasteries herself and authorized other Discalced Carmelites to found two more.
Teresa of Avila reformed not only the Carmelite convents for women but also Carmelite monasteries for men. She received help from the Carmelite monk John of the Cross to achieve her reformation goals. Teresa of Avila is credited with breathing new life into Catholicism at a time when German monk Martin Luther threatened to bring down the Catholic Church with Protestantism a new reform movement.
Shortly before her death, nuns reported that there was a delicious aroma in the infirmary where Teresa of Avila was. At age 67, Teresa of Avila died from uterine cancer. Nine months after Teresa of Avila’s death in 1582, her body was exhumed, and even though her burial clothing was rotting, her body had not deteriorated. Her body was exhumed many times and moved from place to place and there was always that delicious aroma. With each exhumation, a part of Teresa of Avila’s body was hacked off to use as a talisman.
In 1591, the bishop of Salamanca initiated the process for sainthood, Paul V beatified her in 1614, and in 1622, 40 years after her death, Teresa of Avila was made a saint by George XV. In 1970, Paul VI declared her the first female doctor in the Roman Catholic Church.
Teresa of Avila had many mystical experiences, and they grew in frequency. In one of St. Teresa of Avila’s most famous visions, “she saw an angel, who pierced her side with an arrow that was flaming with divine love. The experience left her ‘aflame with the love of God’.” Italian architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini immortalized St. Teresa of Avila in the painting Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
Teresa of Avila’s Main Published Works
- Book of Her Life, completed around 1565 but later revised
- Way of Perfection (1566)
- The Interior Castle (1577)
- The Foundations (Composed 1582 and published 1610)
- Numerous letters and several short works
St. Teresa of Avila’s Steps to Success
The rapid spread of reformed convents and monasteries is a tribute Teresa of Avila’s leadership and organization.
Why St. Teresa of Avila’s Contribution Matters
She breathed life into the Catholic Church at a time when change was needed.
Lessons from St. Teresa of Avila
Caring too much about what others think of you hinders your growth
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.
TERESA DE JESUS (TERESA OF AVILA) – EPISODE ONE (1) (English subtitle)
Europe 1450 – 1789
Women in World History
Renaissance and Reformation
New Catholic Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Encyclopedia of Religion
Arts and Humanities Through the Eras: Renaissance Europe (1300 – 1600)
Encyclopedia of European Social History
Book links are affiliate links.