St. Teresa of Avila Biography

Saint Teresa experienced many noteworthy challenges in her personal and spiritual life.  Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515.  She died in Alba, October 4, 1582.  Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant.  Early in life when Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children. Teresa was the “most beloved of them all.” She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years.  Teresa’s personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances.

Spiritual and Physical Journey

Teresa struggled to maintain her religious piety throughout her life, a cross to which many of us can relate.  Physically, Teresa experienced severe health issues in her adult life. On Nov. 2, 1535, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila.  The following year, Teresa received the habit and began wholeheartedly to give herself to prayer and penance.  Shortly after, Teresa became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment and fell into a coma so profound that she was thought to be dead. After 4 days she revived.  After her cure, which she attributed to St. Joseph, Teresa entered a period of mediocrity in her spiritual life, but she did not at any time give up praying. During this stage, which lasted 18 years, she experienced a series of transitory mystical experiences.

A Reformer and Writer

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.  St. Teresa’s great work of reform began with herself.  She made a vow always to follow the more perfect course, and resolved to keep the rule as perfectly as she could.  Teresa received permission from Rome to establish a reformed convent (she went on to found over a half-dozen new monasteries,) even thought her efforts at reform were oftentimes misunderstood, misjudged and opposed.  Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition.   And in the midst of all this she clung to God in life and in prayer.  Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: “Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value.”  Teresa’s writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers.  Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical and graceful.

Canonization and a Modern Day Inspiration

Pope Paul V declared Teresa a blessed April 24, 1614, and in 1617 the Spanish parliament proclaimed her the Patroness of Spain.  Pope Gregory XV canonized her in 1622 together with SS. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Isidore, and Philip Neri.  In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honored.  As St. Teresa of Avila parishioners, we can take pride in citing Teresa’s many accomplishments, while also taking pains to follow her example, and taking comfort in the knowledge that Teresa, like us, faced her share of doubts and challenges along the way.

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