In founding  her monasteries, our Holy Mother Saint Teresa ardently endeavored to form houses of prayer where intimate friendship with Christ would be sought and valued above all else, and where He would be served with fidelity born of  a burning love by a community whom she designated as "the little college of Christ".

Overview of the Life of St. Teresa

1515 - Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain, on March 28th.
- Teresa's mother dies and she calls upon the Virgin Mary to be her mother
- She entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation in Avila on November 2nd.
- She founded St. Joseph's convent on August 24th - the first "Discalced" or reformed convent- in Avila, under the Primitive Rule of St. Albert.
- Teresa begins her "Life" , "The way of Perfection" begun.
- She received authorization from the Carmelite General for the foundation of additional discalced (reformed) convents.
- St. Teresa began to write the "Foundations".
- "The Interior Castle" written.
- St. Teresa died at Alba de Tormes, Spain, on October 4.

Saint Teresa of Jesus was born in Avila, in province of Old Castile on March 28, 1515. She was born during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and her later years were lived during the time of Spain's economic prosperity under Charles V and Philip II. Her grandfather was a merchant in Toledo and was a Christianized Jew called "converso." Later he moved to Avila with his son Alonso, the future father of St. Teresa. Her mother was Beatrice de Ahumada, whose name she adopted. Alonso was a devout Catholic.

Teresa was considered very attractive, possessing white skin, dark slightly reddish eyebrows, black and lively eyes, a small nose and delicate chin, very even and white teeth. Her hair was shiny black and slightly curled. Teresa was something of an extravert, having a happy disposition and in general, a very attractive personality. She had unusual natural courage and seemed inclined to piety from her early age. As a little girl about 7-8 years, she got the idea to run off and become a martyr and so have a quick and early entrance into heaven. She persuaded her little brother to accompany her on this quest for martyrdom. When an uncle discovered and brought them home, she then turned to playing hermit. As a teenager, her piety began to lessen and she started to read tales of chivalry which became a consuming pastime.

Soon the feminine interests of clothes and marriage absorbed her. After her mother's death in 1528, Teresa, then about 13 years old, had an infatuation with an unidentified relative. Because of her great affection for some cousins, the sons of he aunt Dona Elvira de Cepeda she wasted a lot of time in frivolity. Teresa was always regretful of these months when her piety became diminished.

About 1530, her older sister Maria married and as now there was no chaperone in the house, her father, Don Alonso, sent Teresa to a convent boarding school with the Augustinian Nuns. The girls were given a household education but also basic religious instructions. Teresa formed a friendship with one of the nuns, a woman of deep prayer, Dona Maria Brizno. She then thought of being a nun herself, but the inner turmoil of the pros and cons of "religious life" undermine her health and she went home. During this time she made a visit to her uncle Don Pedro de Cepeda who was a very religious man and lived as a hermit. He had a profound influence on her.

Although her father opposed her becoming a nun (after reading the Letter of St. Jerome she resolved to do so) Teresa at the age of 20 ran away from home to the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation. She said of this moment, "When I left my father's house, I felt the separation so keenly that I think when I die it will not be greater. It seemed to me that every bone in my body was wracked". Don Alonso then accepted his daughter's decision and gave her a generous dowry which enabled her to have her own private room in the monastery.

The Incarnation was a monastery of "sanctimoniales" that is, true nuns, inasmuch as they recited the Divine Office. However, enclosure was not observed. There were about 200 people in the monastery- nuns, relatives and servants. Contrary to general understanding, life in the Incarnation was austere, with fasting, abstinence, silence, together with a quite splendid celebration of the Divine Office. No time for mental prayer was included. The religious instruction of the novices was about the Carmelite Order, its eremitical tradition, devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Prophet Elijah. Teresa's introduction to recollection and prayer came through a Franciscan book "The Third Spiritual Alphabet".
After a two year novitiate Teresa made her Profession, but shortly after her health gave out. It is not impossible to define the reason for this poor health. The primitive remedies that were administered weaken her and then general condition of her health was permanently undermined. At this time she was an invalid and bedfast. Teresa then invoked the help of St. Joseph and for the remainder of her life she attributed to his intercession her progress in prayer and her restoration to health. Later almost all of her new Monasteries would be dedicated to St. Joseph. In this way St. Teresa is largely responsible for the growth of devotion to St. Joseph in the Western Church.

Teresa's lack of modern education and not understanding the nature of the soul, the mind and the imagination caused her difficulty in mental prayer. Her lukewarmness went on for about 18 years. A first conversion came when she knelt before the wounded Christ and surrendered herself to the Lord.

Interior compunction was Teresa's way of relating to the Lord in humility of heart. She said that her greatest mystical graces seem to come from God when she was reduced to nothingness before God at the sight of her wretchedness. Her mystical experienced were so profuse and her knowledge of the way of prayer so accurate that she has been given the title "Mother of Spirituality". Mystical experiences inundated her and she constantly had recourse to spiritual and learned men for she feared being deceived by the devil.

To understand St. Teresa, she has to be situated in the context of her time: 16th century Spain was experiencing great interest in spiritual matters along with errors of quietism and sects like the "alumbrados" The Inquisition was active. This was the era of the Protestant Reformation and the Church's defensive reaction. All of these currents affected the Spain of St. Teresa. She composed her major books - the Life, Interior Castle, Spiritual Testimonies- for her confessors to give an account of her soul. Now we can be grateful for those troubled times that left for posterity such great books.

St. Peter of Alcantra and St. Francis Borgia were persons she knew as her friends and supporters at this period of her life.

On August 24 1562 Teresa inaugurated her first Monastery of Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph in Avila. In the 20 subsequent years (1562 to her death in 1582) she founded 17 monasteries of women and was instrumental in founding 15 monasteries of men. In 1567 she met St. John of the Cross. The first monastery of Discalced Carmelite Friars was founded on November 28, 1568 in Duruelo.

The latter part of her life was spent in travel and business and in numerous trials because of the opposition aroused by her reform. Her good intentions were misunderstood and misinterpreted, with opposition at times from high place Churchmen. St. Teresa was one of the most important personages of the 16th Century. Her life and spiritual experiences influenced the Church of her day and in subsequent centuries. She desired to be a true daughter of the Church. She understood holiness as uninterrupted communion with Christ through prayer, which is friendship with Him. In her great faith she sought allegiance to Jesus Christ and to His Church. Her hope became a constant longing for God and for Heaven. For Teresa to love meant a total gift of her life to Him. Her fraternal charity made her a charming friend, one the others could "count on". Teresa used to say that we cannot be sure if our love for God is genuine but we can always measure our love for others! She had great devotion to Mary as Mother of God, Queen of Carmel. Her love for Jesus Christ was a source of her apostolic ardor and she was inspired to work, suffer and pray for the Church.

In 1582 the words that Teresa repeated as she lay dying were: "A humble and contrite heart You will not despise, O God" and "O Lord, remember I die a daughter of the Church."

The first prayer recasts the compunction of her life her stance as a sinful creature before the Almighty and the second prayer expresses her great confidence in Jesus Christ and total devotion to His Church - to Jesus in His Mystical Body.

St. Teresa was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI and is the first woman saint to be thus honored.