St. Therese, in her "little way" prayed and sacrificed unceasingly for the missions. We discuss material effects she had in Canada after her death:
Why did Pope Pius XI, nearly 90 years ago, on December 14th 1927, decide to proclaim Saint Therese of the Child Jesus the Patron Saint of the Missions? She never went to the missions!
St. Therese died just short of the age of twenty-five, after only nine years enclosed in a Carmelite convent. She did quite a lot of traveling with her family in her younger days, though never in a mission country. And yet Pope Pius XI decided to proclaim her Patroness of the worldwide Missions, alongside Saint Francis Xavier, a tireless Jesuit missionary in India and Japan.
What makes a missionary are not the legs but the heart! A missionary is a person whose heart burns with love for Christ and zeal for souls and therefore answer to the call of Jesus: Go, teach and baptize! A missionary shares Jesus’ mission of rescuing souls from the clutches of Satan. Means might differ: prayer, writing, preaching, penance; the goal and the motive are the same: save souls by love.
Therese tells us how she discovered this at 14, as praying in the Cathedral of Lisieux:
...looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone's hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls… I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls."
Saving souls became quickly her life's motive. Toward the end of her life she added that she wanted to "save souls even after my death".
How St. Therese intervened in the Artic region of Hudson Bay.
On September 3rd, 1912, Frs. Arsene Turquetil, OMI and Armand Le Blanc, OMI stepped down on the shores of Chesterfield Inlet. After unpacking the ship they started the construction of the mission. On the feast of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on September 8th 1912, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate celebrated the first Mass and on September 29th they consecrated the first chapel and mission in the Arctic.
The beginnings were very difficult and even tragic. Fr. Armand Le Blanc perished during his trip to the south. Br. Prime Girard, came in his place to live with Fr. Turquetil, OMI. Mission life among the Eskimos of these missions was tough: freezing cold, polar nights and days, travel on sleds and canoes. Isolation was very painful as the missionaries had to spend months alone, in a barren region of snow and ice.
Language was another issue, coming from France. And to make things even worse, these Inuit natives had no interest in the Gospel. The efforts of these missionaries were only met with jeers and sarcasm from the native audience, to the point that, after four years of fruitless labors, the superiors decided to suppress this mission.
Then St. Therese came! In an unexplained way the missionaries received two envelops in the mail from Europe. One contained a short Life of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus who had died sixteen years earlier. The second envelope contained some little sacks of dust from her casket as her mortal remains had just been exhumed.
"Tomorrow morning," Fr. Arsene told Brother Prime, "we will give it a shot. When the Eskimos are gathered in the room to listen the gramophone, I will give them catechesis on the law. While I speak to them, you will invoke Therese and then you will open these sacks and discreetly spread the dust upon the heads of my listeners!"
This is what Brother Girard did and the results were quick to come! Just one day after this unique way of evangelizing, the witch doctor of Chesterfield, the biggest enemy of the Mission, came forward and requested baptism, adding, I will "come here every day. I will do all that you tell me, because I don't want to go to the hell."
This was just the beginning. Many Eskimos asked for baptism, a church was built, then a hospital, both named after Therese. The "Little Carmelite" was beatified and canonized a few years after those events and from her miracle a rapid growth of the Arctic missions started.
Many believe that this sudden dissemination of faith among the Eskimos was one of the main reasons that prompted Pope Pius XI to insist on - against the prudent fears of the Congregations of Rites and the Propagation of the Faith - granting the title of Patroness of the Missions to Saint Therese!
Ten years after, the Pope said to Bishop Turquetill who visited him, “Those are the most beautiful, the most painful and the most mysterious missions and it is why I love them so much!”