Yesterday's Magazette

8 – St. Therese and Me

St. Therese And Me


By Ann Bibby

For an extremely lapsed Catholic who believes that the crucifixion was actually God’s way of atoning to the human race rather than providing us with a means to attain entrance to heaven, I am extremely attached to the notion of saints and intercession. My personal favorite is St. Therese. She was a Carmelite nun. A mystic, she spoke with God and had visions and suffered horrible physical afflictions before dying very young. I first discovered her when I was about ten years old and my grandmother received as a gift a plastic vase with artificial yellow roses. She had been praying a novena to St. Therese in hopes that the saint would help my Uncle Jimmy get into heaven.

My uncle had died about a year and a half earlier after a fall from the barn loft onto a slab of cement. He’d suffered irreversible brain damage and the family decided to let him go rather than keep him attached to a respirator. In my family’s version of Catholicism, no one goes straight to heaven. They lay over for an indefinite period in Purgatory until they, and the loved ones they have left behind, have prayed their souls clean enough for St. Peter’s inspection at the gates.

My grandmother prayed the novena to St. Therese hoping that the saint would intervene on Jimmy’s behalf and allow him a few years off for exceedingly good behavior. And if anyone deserved clemency, it would have been my uncle. He was just thirty-nine years old when he died. Unmarried. No children. Friend to everyone he met. He was the spoke in our family wheel. His wake was two solid days of standing room only, and the funeral mass flowed into the foyer and down the steps outside.

He was my godfather. The last time I saw him was the week that he died. I took him out to the back yard to show him how I was developing as a batter. He pitched and I swung. But he would throw the ball up too high or behind my back on occasion, just to tease me. Of all the nieces and nephews, I riled the easiest, and he loved to get me going. I never understood why. I think now maybe it was because I was so shy, even with my own family, and he just wanted to bring me out.

I was never shy when I was angry. And I was angry with him that evening. He was laughing so hard at one point that he was doubled over, and I was so mad that I picked up a big kitten-ball and threw it right at him. Hit him square on the back, hard, and then I stormed away and into the kitchen, refusing to speak to him for the rest of the visit. He was still trying to make up with me when we drove off that night, but I crossed my arms and deliberately turned away. I never saw him again.

At his wake, I stood behind the flowers at the head of his casket and watched the people come up, kneel down and pray. I spent most of the first night and nearly all of the next day in that spot until someone noticed me and told my father. He came and made me sit down in the back of the room. I was sure that my throwing the ball at Jimmy had made him fall and that if I hadn’t done that he wouldn’t have died. I don’t know how long I carried that silly idea around.

Today though the thing I feel most guilty about is that I didn’t forgive him for teasing me. I never said goodbye. The adult I am now knows he never took to heart my little girl anger. He teased me all the time and when I got mad he found some way to get back in my good graces.

Just before I married my first husband, Will, I had a dream about Uncle Jimmy. I was out at the old farm in the cattle corral helping him fill the feeders, and I was telling him all about Will and how I thought he would like him. Jimmy looked older. Plumper with white hair and a sun-wizened face, but I would have known him anywhere. He told me that I didn’t need to tell him about Will because he already knew him. I can still see and hear him say that.

My grandmother was just destroyed by Jimmy’s death. She desperately wanted to know if he was in heaven. She felt she could rest better knowing he was. The St. Therese’s novena is a pretty straightforward one. It involves a petition for her intercession and a certain number of “dekats” of the rosary for a predetermined number of days. If you are sincere in your intention and follow the directions, St. Therese will send you a sign that she has successfully interceded with God on you behalf. The sign is roses. Receiving a rose after a novena to her is positive confirmation.

My grandmother believed that those plastic yellow roses were a sign that Jimmy was in heaven. I was impressed. When it came time for my confirmation, I took Therese as my saint name. But, I never prayed a novena. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started praying to St. Therese for her guidance and help. It was always about a test. I would go the church over by the Van Allen building in Iowa City, and I’d climb up to the choir loft where I had discovered a statue of her one afternoon while I was hiding out, trying to think and pray my way through some dumb romantic problem.

I went back probably once a week after that to visit and talk with her, and sometimes ask for help on a test. One time, I took her two long stem roses and left them at her feet. She held a basket in her hands with yellow rose buds in it. The roses I left her were red. When I came back later that day, the roses themselves were gone but the stems remained and now there were two red buds in her basket. She has been my personal friend ever since.

I don’t always ask for her help. I am aware of God’s little prejudice about us helping ourselves. It is the mark of a good parent. When Will got sick I prayed to her, God, the Blessed Virgin and my Uncle Jimmy. I begged them to help Will get better and when it was apparent that would not happen, I begged them to let him die so he wouldn’t have to suffer what I knew was coming. After about a month, I realized that this was one of those “suck it up, kid, because there is no way out but through it” times. No holy roses for me. Sometimes the answer to a prayer is no.

Right before Christmas of 2005, while Will was in hospice, I discovered a website for Therese that took petitions that the Carmelites would pray for over the course of 30 days. I knew that Will was going to have to leave hospice in January to go back to a nursing home, and I could barely stomach the idea. You don’t know suffering until you have found your 31-year-old husband lying half-naked in a bed and with his arm and shoulder trapped in the safety railing on the side.

Nursing homes are horrible places. His teeth had rotted and were flaking apart because they didn’t brush them at night – only the morning because they had more aides on duty then. I didn’t want him to have to go back, and I knew he wouldn’t want that either. So I sent a petition to the Carmelites asking them to ask St. Therese to intervene on Will’s behalf, asking her to go to God and ask if Will couldn’t finally be allowed to die and go home. That was right before Christmas. He died on January 23rd. Quite unexpectedly, he developed pneumonia.

The roses came the day of the wake. St. Therese was still my friend.



Ann Bibby is a writer and blogger. A former English teacher from Iowa, she is currently living in Canada with her husband, Rob, and daughter, Katy.




  1. […] And he was proud of me, especially my writing. He’d only read the piece I’d written about St. Therese. He looked at me afterward and back at the paper as though he couldn’t quite connect me with […]

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  2. […] Yesterdays Magazette* And thank you to Karen of Ann Arbor, Michigan who copped to being my 10,000 viewer at the original blog site, Second Edition at .mac. Thank you so much. And thank you all, dear readers. Though you don’t post much, I know you are out there and I am happy to “see” you day after day. […]

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