EDITH STEIN : A Brief Biography

- Rev. Fr. Paul D'Souza

Born into an orthodox Jewish family in 1891, Edith grew up in a very religious atmosphere. As a teenager, however, she drifted away from religious beliefs. After some years of interest in psychology, she turned to philosophy. 

She became interested in the phenomenology if Edmund Husserl. His method itself trained the students to open their eyes and minds to phenomena. Among her university colleagues was the brilliant Max Scheler, who had recently been converted to Catholicism. His enthusiasm for his new-found faith was infectious. Edith, among many others, caught some-thing of the infection. Though Schelerlater left the faith, he left Edith with the light of faith flickering in her heart.

When the First W.W. broke out in 1914, student-life was – in her own words – shattered to pieces. Many of them were called to the battle front, and several of them died on the battle-field. 

Moving towards Christianity
Edith felt uncomfortable to see her companions leave the security of the class-room for the dangers of the battle-field, so she also volunteered to serve as a Red Cross nurse. Returning to the university, she completed in 1916, her doctoral thesis On the Problem of Empathy.

One of her fellow-philosophers who died on the battle-field, was Adolf Reinach, who, along with his young wife, Anna, had recently been converted to Christianity. Edith was deeply impressed by the fortitude with which Anna not only suffered her loss, but even consoled those who came to condole with her. Edith came to understand that there were situations in which faith alone could offer support and strength.

Once when Edith Was visiting another Lutheran family, Edith happened to be left alone with the books in the library. At random she picked out a book. It turned out to be the Life written of herself by our Mother Teresa.
Edith is said to have read it all through in one session. Closing it next morning, she exclaimed : Here is the Truth ! She immediately acquired a New Testament and a catechism; studied the catechism; and went to the parish-priest, asking for baptism. She was received into the Church on Jan. 1, 1922. Her conversion was a shock for her family, and a blow especially to her ageing mother. . . who is said to have asked her a question to the effect : Will we Jews not be saved ? Edith’s answer was to the effect : Of course, you will be saved if you do not know anything better. …

Edith wanted immediately to enter a cloistered Carmel; but her spiritual directors told her not to be in a hurry. Her qualifications could be of service for Church and society. So she dedicated herself to teaching and then to lecturing on education, especially on the education of women, and on their rights and roles in society and Church.

Rise of Nazism
Meanwhile , the Nazis were climbing to power in Germany. They targeted the Jews, who soon experienced what it meant to be marginalized, expropriated, excluded from social and academic life. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Edith thought that finally the time had come for her to quit public life.

Carmel at Last
A friend arranged an interview with the prioress of the Cologne Carmel on 20 May 1933. On 14 October that same year she entered Carmel and became a daughter of St. Teresa through whom God had converted her. She made her final profession on 21 April 1938. The following year, the second WW broke out. Edith had meanwhile been transferred to Holland. Soon the Nazis reached there and begam rounding up all the non-Aryans. The Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter on July 26, agaimst this Nazi policy. The Nazi commander retaliated by ordering all 1)Catholic Jews to be deported before the end of the week.

On 2 Aug. 1942, the SS came to the cloistered Carmel banging on the door and demanding Edith and Rosa, her sister, to be handed over. They were loaded onto a train going east … Edith was executed on 9 August. …She was beatified in 1987 and canonized in 1998 by Pope John Paul II.

Rev. Fr. Paul D'Souza
Institute of Philosophy
R.S. Naidu Nagar, Mysore- 7, Karnataka State, India
Phone 0821-2490638/ 2493949/ 3099005
mail:- or 



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