Servant of God Therese Neumann was born on Good Friday, April 8, 1898, in the small village of Konnersreuth, Bavaria, Germany, and was the eldest of ten children. Interestingly, this also happens to have been the very year when St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who later played such an important part in Therese Neumann's life, passed to her eternal reward. Therese Neumann, however, was named after the other Therese, that is, St. Teresa of Avila, the extraodinary mystic and reformer of the Carmelites. From her youth, her nickname was “Resl”. Church and school records identify little Resl as a person of ordinary intelligence and attainment. Her grades were average. It might be said that the one exceptional thing about her was her quiet, unobtrusive piety.
Her family was always in poor circumstances, owning a small farm, the earnings of which were supplemented by Mr. Neumann's income as a tailor. It was fortunate that Therese, the eldest child, was sturdy and able to assist her parents in caring for her younger brothers and sisters. Therese's vital role in the rearing of the younger children was especially necessary when her father was called into the service during the First World War. She regarded no task as beyond her strength and was as able as most men to carry on the heavy farm work. She remarked that while she did a man's work, she also had a man's appetite. This girl who was to later to live without any food, at this time ate more than the average man.
Therese's ambition was to become a missionary sister, and she was especially hopeful that she would be sent to Africa. She had a special love for the outdoors in all its varied beauty. This deep love of wildlife was manifest in the variety of plant and bird life which enlivened her little room.
A far-reaching event happened in her life, without anyone realizing it, on the fateful Sunday of March 10,1918. Fire broke out in the barn of Martin Neumann, Therese's uncle, for whom she was working. As part of a bucket brigade, she was lifting pails of water to someone higher up in the stable. To do this better, she stood on a stool. After sustained exertion, her clothes water-soaked, she became utterly exhausted and fell to the floor. With very severe pains in her spine, and unable to walk alone, she was helped by a woman to reach her home nearby.
The fall had caused partial paralysis of the spine, accompanied by very severe cramps in her legs. Physicians were called in to evaluate her condition, but they were unable to bring any relief to her serious condition. She became worse every day. One thought that caused Therese great sorrow was that she felt that her chances of becoming a missionary sister were fading away.
Through an act of the will she forced herself in every way to be as active as her limited strength would permit. These efforts resulted in several additional accidents and injuries. One day she fell from her chair; while prone on the floor, she struggled to get to her feet, but could not do so without help; on one occasion, perhaps hitting her head, she had been struck almost blind. In her continued efforts to move around, she often fell again. One of her most serious falls was down the basement steps in her home. These falls increased the severity of her painful cramps. Added to all this, fainting spells occurred which often left her unconscious for several days. The Physicians seemed powerless to help Therese or to hold out any hope to her grieving family. This sorrow reached a climax in March, 1919, when Therese became totally blind.
Confined to bed
Thus, a tremendous change had occurred in the life of Therese Neumann. A short while ago she had been a strong and healthy girl, with the ability to work hard; now she found herself struck with partial paralysis - a burden to the very ones she would like so much to help. It was during this time that her spiritual life blossomed. She offered herself up to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. She enjoyed spiritual reading, so her family members took turns reading to her about our Our Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the saints. The story of Therese- the Little Flower of Jesus was one of her favorites. Along with the pains in her legs and back, bedsores caused by her long confinement in this helpless condition added to her great sufferings. Dr. Mittendorfer, of Munich, stated that these sores were so deep that the bones were exposed. Also at times she had such severe nausea that she was forced to live only on liquids.
Her spiritual director, Father Josef Naber
Father Josef Naber, pastor since 1909 of the parish of St. Lawrence in Konnersreuth, had been Therese's spiritual director for nine years. He was a very devoted pastor, especially to those most in need of comfort. Therese, perhaps the most afflicted of all the people in Konnersreuth, was rightfully given a large measure of his paternal care and spiritual guidance. He was deeply impressed by the resignation with which Therese bore her many sufferings.
The first miraculous intercession of Therese of Lisieux
After four years of suffering with paralysis and blindness, a very joyful day was approaching for Therese. Sunday, April 29, 1923 was the day scheduled for the beatification ceremonies in Rome of the Carmelite nun, the saintly Therese of Lisieux, who had promised before her death to let fall from Heaven a "shower of roses." In the bedroom of Therese, flowers were arranged to adorn the picture of the “Little Flower” which Therese had received from her father. Many days before she had begun a Novena in spiritual preparation for the day when the Little Flower would be officially numbered among the beatified.
The day of the Beatification arrived and as the ceremonies at St. Peter's in Rome were drawing to a close, the newly beatified Therese of Lisieux "showered a bouquet of roses" on her devoted sufferer; at the instant of beatification, Therese found that her eyesight was completely restored.
Her Miraculous Cure- The second miraculous intercession of Therese of Lisieux
On May 17, 1925, when Therese of Lisieux was canonized and became officially recognized as a saint of the Catholic Church, Therese Neumann heard her voice. Softly and distinctly, the saint said to her, "Therese, do you not want to become well?
Therese answered, ''Anything is all right with me: to be healthy, to remain sick, to die, whatever is the will of God.”
The voice continued, "Therese, would it not cause joy to you if you received some relief of your suffering, at least to be able to sit up and walk again?”
Therese answered, "Anything that comes from God causes joy in me.”
Again the voice said: "Therese, I shall obtain for you a small joy. You shall now be able to sit up and to walk, but you will still have much to suffer. However, be not afraid; you have received help through me in the past and I will also help you in the future.”
As St Therese of Lisieux was speaking, it was as though two strong hands lifted Therese from her bed, and after being paralyzed for six and one half years, she found herself completely healed. Not only was she healed of the paralysis, but of the gaping bedsores on her body as well. According to medical reports, some of those sores were deep enough to expose her bone. In a matter of seconds, the sores were completely healed and were covered with a fresh layer of skin.
A third intercession of St Therese of Lisieux occurred on November 13, 1925, when Therese again became very ill with an acute attack of appendicitis, for which her Physician ordered that she be taken to the hospital at once. As arrangements were being made, St Therese again appeared to her in a vision, and obtained for her an instantaneous cure. These extraordinary graces inspired in Therese Neumann a deep and most profound trust and confidence in God, which was very much needed in what was soon to come in her life.
Therese receives the holy Stigmata during Lent, 1926
In February of 1926, Therese fell ill with what was believed to be influenza. On the morning of the first Friday of Lent, March 5, 1926, Therese had a weak spell which forced her to stay in bed. She was alone in her bedroom during most of these hours, in a condition which seemed to be a state of semi-consciousness, which at least in part was an Divine ecstasy. As she lay thus on her bed of suffering, Therese suddenly saw the Divine Redeemer in the Garden of Gethsemani. "I saw Him kneeling on the ground, and I saw everything else in the garden, the trees, the rocks, and also the three disciples. They were not sleeping, but in a sitting position, leaning on a rock. They looked quite exhausted. All at once I felt such vehement pain in my side that I thought my last moment had come. Then I felt something running down my body. It was blood."" The blood kept on trickling until toward noon of the next day, and Resl remained so weak that she hardly knew where she was.
As the day went on, she noticed that her nightgown was stained with blood on her left side. She found that the blood came from a wound slightly above her heart. Not wanting to cause her parents any further anxiety, she decided not to tell anyone about the wound, feeling certain that it would soon heal on its own. She managed to clean her side, and then she hid the bloody cloth under the mattress of her bed. The wound, about one and one half inches above her heart, was the first of her stigmata and represents the place where the lance of Longinus penetrated the sacred body of Jesus. The wound was oblong shaped, about one and three-eighths inches in length and three-sixteenths of an inch wide.
On the night of the second Thursday of Lent, into the second Friday of Lent, March 12,1926, she had another bout of weakness and began feeling ill and was once again confined to her bed. During the early hours of Friday morning, she was rapt in a vision and saw the Saviour, first in the Garden of Olives and then at the pillar of scourging, and the wound in her side bled again. In her childlike simplicity and limited education, she of course did not understand the significance of what was happening to her. It was on this second Friday of Lent that she confided in her sister Creszentia, telling her about the wound above her heart.
|Therese Neumann with family---Therese is top left, beneath cross|
On Passion Friday (the Friday before Holy Week) March 26, 1926, she saw the Saviour carrying the wood of the cross and falling under its weight. The wound in her side bled again at this time and an open wound appeared on the back of the sufferer's left hand. This new wound could no longer be kept a secret and nor could the wound she bore above her heart, as it began bleeding profusely, and her Father soon discovered it in her attempt to assuage the bleedi . Even the bloodstained cloths which Therese had tug with cloths. Also, the cloths that were previously tucked under the mattress were then discovered.
On the night of Holy Thursday, April 1, 1926, Therese saw in a ecstatic visions the complete Passion of Our Lord, from the Garden of Gethsemane up to His death on the Cross, beginning at about midnight on Holy Thursday, and ending with our Saviour's death on the Cross at 3pm on Good Friday afternoon. The suffering which came upon Therese during those hours was so excruciating that words cannot describe it. From the additional wounds on her hands and feet, which were now all completely penetrating, blood flowed profusely, as it did from her eyes, rolling down both cheeks and collecting upon her throat and chest.
The sight of Therese suffering on her bed in this pitiable condition was almost more than her family could stand. As the hours passed and her suffering increased, they realized that they were witnessing something of divine origin. Father Naber had intended to anoint Therese, giving her the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Last Rites of the Church), but at 3pm that afternoon the ever-increasing, excruciating pain climaxed in the final death struggle. Then, abruptly, it all ended, and Therese fell lifelessly back into her pillows, exhausted even beyond the last ounce of her strength.
After a few hours, Therese gradually returned to her normal physical condition. Her parents and Father Naber were so moved by what they saw that it was some time before they regained his composure. After she had been washed up, Father Naber carefully observed that Therese bore on the back of each hand and on the instep of her feet, "round, open wounds from which clear blood flows." The wounds caused her intense pain; she said that the feeling was as if something "was sticking in there." The side wound caused her great pain also, and in this wound the pain seemed to come from deeply inside.
At the culmination of Holy Week, during the morning hours of Easter Sunday, 1926, Therese had another ecstatic vision in which she saw the risen Christ, dressed in a white garment. From this time onwards, the sufferings of the Passion of our Lord would be experienced by Therese each week, usually beginning on Thursday evenings and lasting until Friday afternoon.
The Crown of Thorns and the Scourging
On Friday, November 5, 1926, Therese received nine wounds about her head from the Crowning of Thorns, and also wounds on her shoulders and back which represented her participation in the Scourging. From this point on, the wounds from the Crown of Thorns required her to constantly wear a head-cloth, which can be seen in the many photographs of her. Thus the stigmata on the body of Therese Neumann became complete, including the wound above her heart, penetrating wounds on her hands and feet, the nine wounds on her head, and the wounds on her shoulders and back. Not one of the wounds ever disappeared; they never healed, and they were still imprinted on her body at the time of her death.
Therese sustained entirely by the Eucharist –Total abstinence from food and drink
In 1927 on the anniversary of her death, (September 30), St Therese of Lisieux appeared to Therese in a vision and told her that henceforth she would live entirely off the Eucharist, and would have not need for earthly food. This total abstinence from food and drink continued until her death in 1962. The fast actually began in 1922, but was not a total and complete fast from food or drink until September of 1926.
This led to a request by the Bishop of Regensburg that Therese submit herself to a period of medical observation. The request was for a fifteen-day observation, for specialists in these matters considered such a period sufficient. They asserted that hunger might possibly be borne longer than that, but a complete fast of two weeks without taking any liquid nourishment was not possible. Resl's father agreed to comply with the episcopal request, and so from July 14 to 28 inclusive, in the year 1927, Therese was under the observation of four Mollersdorfer Sisters, members of a nursing order, who came to her home. They were placed under oath by the Regensburg ordinariate before and after the observation. All were well qualified for the task, and carried out with the most scrupulous care the directions of Dr. Seidl, the medical supervisor.
The directions were very strict and carefully calculated to meet every possible contingency. Therese was not to be left alone for a single moment, day or night, whether at home, in church, or out of doors. For this reason, even her customary confession was foregone. The Sisters were to bathe Therese, but with a damp cloth instead of a sponge. The water for mouth washes was to be measured and remeasured before to Resl so she could swallow the Host was to be measured by the Sisters before it was given to her. Periodic weighing of the body, taking of the pulse and temperature were prescribed. Blood smears were to be made during the Friday ecstasies and compared with a blood smear from the ear lobe taken on another day, after which the hemoglobin content was to be determined.
According to the Miinchner medizinische Wochenschriit supplement, No. 46, 1927, the directions went so far as to demand that "All excretions - urine, vomit, and stools - must be gathered, measured, and weighed, and immediately sent to the physician for analysis."
Professor Ewald of Erlangen, an opponent of any supernatural explanation of this phenomenon, admitted in a brochure on Konnersreuth that the keenest and most relentless attention was given to the matter of food throughout the period of observation. Despite the constant alertness, it could never be ascertained that Therese Neumann took nourishment or attempted to take it. The professor claimed that the stigmatist ought to have lost weight heavily, but such was not the case. She did lose considerably (3 to 8 pounds in a few days is no slight loss) following the days of ecstasy, but regained this in the course of the same brief period. Without taking food or drink she gained 5 to 6 pounds, so that at the conclusion of the observation her weight was the same as before.
Dr. Ewald also draws attention to the fact that about 400 grams of water are taken from the body daily through exhalations. It is to be especially noted that to meet the demands of exhalation is a purely physical process and almost totally independent of the constitution of the individual. To the loss in this manner must be added that which accompanies the bleeding, perspiration, etc. "Therese ought long since to have been dried up like a mummy. But she is fresh-looking and lively, has saliva, and moist mucous membrane. One may indulge in the most fantastic imaginings, a prolongation of metabolism as in hibernation, or Iakirism - though Therese does not hibernate, but moves, speaks, reads, writes letters, goes about - this increase in weight simply cannot be explained; for something cannot come from nothing.”
Dr. Seidl, who had been Therese Neumann's attending physician since at least 1918, testified under oath in a Munich court case on April 15, 1929, that there could be no question of Therese having taken any nourishment during the period of observation. He maintained flatly that the abstention of all nourishment by Therese Neumann was a fact, which he had not the least reason to doubt. He added that since September, 1926, the stigmatist took no nourishment at all, not even a bit of water, as she had at the time of the fifteen days' observation.
She was once asked how it was possible that she lived on the Eucharist alone, and she responded “The Saviour can do all things. Did He not say that “my Flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink?”
Her extraordinary mystical gifts
Therese was given many visions of Our Lord, and she also was “shown” many details of the earthly life of our Lord, from His birth until His Resurrection. She was often visited by our Blessed Mother, the Saints and Angels. It is common knowledge to many who visited Konnersreuth that Therese always recognized priests as priests. This was a particularly mysterious phenomenon which baffled many visitors. One day a man dressed in the formal attire of a bishop came to Konnersreuth and visited Father Naber and Therese. Father Naber was very cordial to him, as he always was, but when Therese came into the room she immediately recognized that this was not a man with consecrated hands. She robustly turned him about in no uncertain terms, telling him to get out and stay out, saying: "You imposter!"
It was later reported to the parish that this man was arrested by the police as a con man who wanted to collect money under false pretenses.
Therese explained that she was able to recognize any ordained priest by his "consecrated hands”. On occasion (especially during World War II) Priests would come dressed as ordinary lay persons, and she would immediately identify them, addressing them by saying “Hello Father”. She could also immediately tell the difference between consecrated and unconsecrated Hosts. She was able to recognized the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in a church as far away as one mile. When Father Naber asked her on several occasions, in locations unfamiliar to her, whether the Blessed Sacrament was present, her answer was always immediate and definite. When she approached the Blessed Sacrament-whether it was in the tabernacle of a Catholic Church or carried on the person of a priest making a sick call-her wounds reflected this joy, and the pain subsided temporarily.
Knowing that Therese always recognized a Catholic Church having the Blessed Sacrament present, a priest once asked her, "Is it also true that you can feel when a visitor has received Holy Communion?" "Yes," she said, "but only within a certain length of time."
Once while Therese was in ecstasy, a Benedictine priest came to the Neumann home in the company of other visitors. Shortly after they entered the room, Therese motioned to the priest to come nearer to her bed. Then she reached out and clasped a relic that was suspended from the Benedictine's habit. After holding the relic close to her heart, she kissed it. She explained that it was a relic of the True Cross, and further identified it as a particle from the lower section of the Cross, close to where the nail had transfixed the Saviour's feet. During the few moments taken to identify this relic, Therese's sufferings seemed to subside, but they resumed immediately thereafter.
On another occasion while Therese was in ecstasy, she asked a visiting priest to show her his rosary. When the priest handed it to her, she kissed it devoutly and explained that this rosary had once been used by Blessed Kreszentia of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria. The priest knew the history of this particular rosary to be precisely as Therese stated it.
On one occasion a gentleman brought a relic along from Italy. As Therese was touched by the relic, she immediately responded that it was from a saint in Heaven who knew the Holy Father very well. She also told the name of the saint; it was Contardo Ferrini, who was not known at all in Germany and whose connection with the Holy Father was known by only a few trusted people. Again Therese startled the visitors by telling the incidents of his life, which they themselves did not know. It turned out that she was correct, as always.
It was discovered that there was only one thing that would bring Therese out of a Passion ecstasy momentarily, and that was the blessing of a Catholic priest (or bishop) who might be present. She would respond to the blessing with the words: Thanks be to God, Father. (or your Excellency).
Countless other marvels
Because this article is now quite lengthly, we will simply relate a few other remarakble matters, without going into details. One can read further into these matters in the books that have been published. As a Victim Soul, Therese suffered primarily for the souls of sinners. There are many documented events which give ample proofs to the fact that remarkable conversions were made in persons chosen by God, and obtained through specific sufferings that she was given. She obtained these conversion by her participation in the Passion in union with Jesus. In other words, she suffered in union with Jesus for the conversion of sinners. At times she was “shown” whom a particular was that she was suffering for.
On other occasions, she took upon herself the physical sufferings of others, always of course, through the permission of God. She once took upon herself a throat disease that threatened the vocation of a young seminarian. She suffered this throat ailment for many years, until the day when the newly ordained seminarian, now a Priest, celebrated his first Mass. At that moment, the diesease completely disappeared. Interestingly, the taking upon herself of this throat disease coincided with the beginning of her perpetual fast from eating and drinking in 1922.
Lots of details can be found in the books concerning her use of various languages in her ecstasies, including Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Portuguese etc…It seemed that she was able to speak and understand whatever the native tongue of the one whom was appearing to her, for example the Hebrew Greek and Aramaic of those of Jesus’ times, the Potuguese of St Anthony, the Latin of St Lawrence and even the French dialect of the Pyrenees in the vision of St Bernadette at Lourdes.
Her holy death
In the late 1950’s Therese began having heart troubles. As time when on, she began having mild attacks of the heart. On the day of her death, she received an rare grace, that of as a miraculous Communion, an event which usually happened only on high feastdays; the Host appeared on Therese's tongue, having been given her by Our Lord Himself. The time was 10:30 a.m.
After the vision and the reception of Our Lord, Therese was fully conscious, and during an attack she was still able to ring for her sister Marie. Therese appeared to be very uncomfortable, and it was apparent that the death struggle was in progress. Marie was greatly alarmed and immediately called Father Naber. As he stepped into the room, Therese Neumann had already presented her holy soul to her dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thus on September 18, 1962, one of the greatest mystics and stigmatists of our time passed to her eternal reward.
The pastor of Konnersreuth at the time, Father Schumann, performed the Rite of Extreme Unction. No one in the room really believed that Therese was dead. She had died more than a hundred deaths in her lifetime, and many times everyone thought of her permanent passing from this earth. Candles were often lit on such occasions, because there was no pulse, no breathing or heartbeat; and she had often been pronounced dead by doctors. However, this time, after a period of hours had passed, they finally called in three doctors, who eventually pronounced her dead.
With good reason, the doctors were ordered to watch and check the body of Therese, starting Tuesday, September 18 until the following Saturday before the coffin was closed for the funeral. The scientific verdict after the final examination by the doctors was: there existed no death odor, no death spots, and there was no death stiffness. Also, there was no breathing, and Therese's lips remained fresh and moist. It must be remembered that at that ime in Germany, people were not normally embalmed, and neither was Therese, and furthermore, the record shows that at the time of Therese's death on Tuesday until her burial on Saturday, the area was experiencing a heat wave, which normally would precipitate decomposition, but after 5 days of laying in state, her body remained as a living person with no usual signs of death.
Catholic Church position
The process of Beatification and Canonization for Therese Neumann was officially opened on February 13, 2005 by Bishop Gerhard Mueller of Regensburg, Germany and is therefore officially considered a "Servant of God" by the Catholic church. Gratitude for favours received through Therese Neumann’s intercession
and prayer requests attributed or entrusted to her should be reported to the Chairman of the Department for Beatification and Canonization Processes, Rev. Domvikar Georg Schwager, Schwarze-Bären-Str. 2, D-93047 Regensburg or Kath. Pfarramt, Kirchplatz 3, D-95692 Konnersreuth.
Sources for this article are the excellent books "Therese Neumann-Mystic and Stigmatist" by Adalbert Albert Vogl, Tan Books, 1987 availible from Tan books here, and also "The Story of Therese Neumann", by Albert Paul Schimberg, Bruce Publishing Co., 1947.
July 2018: For those interested in more information about Therese Neumann I just published a wonderful accompaniment to the article above--"Eyewitness to an ecstasy- A priests visit to the mystic, Therese Neumann"
"You are given not only to suffer with our dear Saiour, but you will be joyful with Him too. But remain always submissive and childlike." -St Therese of Lisieux to Therese Neumann