Juanita came from a wealthy family in Santiago, Chile, where she was born in 1900. There was a chapel on the family property and Juanita attended Mass every day from the time she was a small child.From 1906 Juanita attended a school run by the Sacred Heart Sisters of St. Madeleine-Sophie Barat in Santiago. She was not an easy character. She was proud, self-centred, stubborn, didn’t like to obey, got angry easily (her brothers liked winding her up!) and would cry for nothing.
Juanita wanted to receive her first communion, but as she was too young she learned how to make communions of desire. In preparation for her first communion, she began to acquire extraordinary virtue expressing her love for life and for God through her actions. Her brother Lucho taught Juanita how to pray the Rosary. Both made the promise to pray it every day, a promise Juanita kept until her death (only one time, she writes, being very small, she forgot). “From that time on, one can say that Our Lord took me by hand with the most holy Virgin.” Eventually Juanita received first communion on September 11, 1910, in Santiago when she was ten.
Juanita loved to read stories of the saints. When she was 14, she read The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of a Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux, who was later canonized as a saint. Thérèse’s life story had a powerful effect on Jaunita. She felt that God was calling her to serve him as a Carmelite Sister at the convent of Carmel of the Andes.
As she prepared to enter the convent, Juanita taught religion to children from her parish and worked with needy people. One day she met a young boy in rags. She brought him home and cared for him, giving him her brother’s clothes and making sure he had enough to eat. When she learned that how poor his family was, she had a raffle to help them. She donated her watch as the grand prize.
On May 7, 1919, Juanita entered the Carmel of Los Andes and took the name Teresa of Jesus. Although she was not exempt from spiritual trials, temptations and spiritual dryness, she received in her monastery many graces of union with God. She got on well with her prioress, but the novice mistress’s constant correcting caused her pain.With the permission of her prioress, who understood that the new postulant was an exceptional soul, Teresa began intense letter-writing activity, especially to her friends, many of whom later joined Carmel. On October 14, 1919 she received the habit, in the presence of her family and of many friends. All were impressed by her radiating joy.
In the first days of March, 1920, Teresa told the confessor that she had only one month more to live on earth. She asked him for permission to do extraordinary penances. The confessor wondered how she could know the time of her death and told her to be satisfied with observing the Carmelite rule with perfection. Teresa became severely ill and although she knew it would lead her to death, she continued to take part in all the spiritual exercises of Lent, including the rigorous fasting.
On Good Friday, April 2, 1920, she began her way of the cross following Christ. She spent many hours in prayer in the choir. The sisters noticed that she had a burning fever and told her to go to bed.She was permitted to take her final vows from her bed and died a few days later. Her family was shocked at the crowds of people who came to Teresa’s funeral Mass. Her work with the poor and her comforting letters had touched many lives.Her younger sister Rebeca entered the Carmel of Los Andes in November that year, convinced that God had called her to substitute for her sister in the community and continued faithfully in her vocation until death in 1942.
Teresa was canonized a saint in 1993. She is the first saint to come from Chile. St. Teresa’s example teaches us that we can follow Jesus by simply praying for and helping others.