Church Doctors, Church Mystics:

St Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Ávila was born in Spain on March 28, 1515.   She came from a middle-class pious family and one was one of 9 children.  Her mother died when she was 12 years old.  She always dreamed of being a martyr, or a hermit, and constantly repeated  the words “forever and ever and ever.”    Her family sent her to boarding school at a convent and she realized she enjoyed being there.   However, she did not want to become a nun despite acknowledging the worldly life was not for her.

St. Teresa struggled and decided to enter the Incarnation Carmelite convent.  Once there she felt at peace but later was physically and spiritually challenged.  A few years later she became ill and her family took her out of the convent.   She received a prayer book from her uncle and discovered that through prayer she could develop an intimacy with God that she felt she had not yet had.


When she returned to the convent she observed that her sister nuns brought the outside world into the convent.  The nuns wore jewelry,  had private kitchens, oratories, and guest rooms.   They came and went at will.  Visitors were often admitted to the convent.   She felt the convent was not conducive to a good prayer life but nonetheless she remained faithfully praying, observing all rules, and enduring all the fasts and fortifications. Through her perseverance, St. Teresa of Avila developed a deep prayer life.   She began to have mystical experiences,  visions, and raptures.

The Council of Trent took place between 1545-1563 and addressed the challenges of the Protestant Reformation.   It called for reforms in order to revitalize the Roman Catholic Church.  St. Teresa of Avila pioneered reform in the Carmelites and was met with strong opposition from her order.   She founded the Order of Discalced Carmelites in 1562.   These sisters wore no shoes and capacity was limited to thirteen sisters per convent. Her new order was to be poor, to fast, to mortify, and develop an intense prayer habit.

St. Teresa of Avila would spend the last years of her life opening new convents throughout Spain.   She was a charismatic person who led her order with a cheerful disposition,   Despite the Discalced Carmelites requirement to live a primitive and contemplative life, St. Teresa of Avila asked that everyone should see the joy and happiness the nuns felt from their close relationship with God.    St. Teresa became a prolific author whose spiritual works on prayer are highly considered in the Church.

St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great mystics and religious women of our  Church, died at the age of 67 on October 4, 1582.   She was canonized in 1622 in the company of Saint Philip Neri, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Francis Xavier.   St Teresa of Avila became the first female Doctor of the Church in 1970 through St. Pope Paul VI.