The beginning of the critical editions
with Father Francis of Saint Mary
Seen here in the preau of the Carmel of Lisieux.
The story of Story of a Soul by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (published in 1898) has brought about very difficult questions concerning the publication of texts, has given rise to discussions for more than one hundred years, even controversies not yet completely calmed down in our days. It’s not a question here of telling every detail of this story. This tale has been told many times-see, among others, my book on the subject: L’Histoire d’une âme de Thérèse de Lisieux, Cerf, 2000.
We need to focus our attention here on the work and personality of Fr. Francis of Saint Mary, Carmelite from the Province of Paris (1910-1961), who returned through obedience to publish the autobiographical notebooks of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus in their original form, meaning to finally offer the exact text of a notebook that she wrote in 1895: Manuscript A, various letters of September 1896: Manuscript B; and an unfinished notebook (because of illness) from summer 1897, Manuscript C.
When Mother Marie de Gonzague, prioress, Mother Agnès of Jesus and Sister Geneviève consulted each other to publish the obituary circular of Sister Thèrése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, dead from tuberculosis on Thursday September 30th, 1897, they put together a consistent book from these notebooks and letters previously mentioned.
They unified the recipient (when there were three), created chapters, corrected spelling mistakes, wrote several “transitions” between the texts for clarity, skipped several passages, corrected the style and gave it a title.
Never did they imagine the fabulous destiny of this book with 2000 printed copies and self-published (paid by Uncle Isidore Guérin) would be a world-wide best seller translated into some 60 languages. Story of a Soul would pursue its dazzling career until 1953.
Very early, during the years 1925-30, after the canonization of Sister Thérèse (5/17/1925), several voices made themselves heard, wishing to know the original texts. Evidently, the Congregation for the Cause of Saints had worked on the authentic texts. It would be after the war (1939-1945) that the question of publishing these texts would be considered.
To summarize the complex negotiations, the work of Fr. André Combes (as of 1946), the requests of Fr. Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus and various Carmelite priests, repeated requests from the friends of Thérèse, finished by convincing the Carmelites of Lisieux to hand over the authentic texts. Briefed about it, Pope Pius XII requested the publication but out of consideration for Mother Agnès of Jesus who was very elderly, he pushed back the date, asking to wait for her death. This occurred on July 28th, 1951. Her sister Céline was completely in agreement with the publication project.
It was Fr. Gabriel of Saint Magdalene, Carmelite in Rome, who was given the responsibility for the work. Hardly had he begun when he died on March 15th, 1953. Fr. Philippe of the Trinity, Carmelite and Rector of the International College in Rome (Teresianum) was asked to succeed him but refused, saying he was already “over-worked.” It was then that Fr. Marie-Eugène of the Child Jesus suggested to the Carmelites the name of Fr. Francis of Saint Mary, from the Province of Paris.
He accepted with emotion in June 1953. On June 9th, a letter from Rome put him in charge of this very difficult task. Here he was ready to begin work on this edition so long awaited. A testimony from the Carmel of Lisieux showed with what emotion he undertook this task: “All this activity of the highest class, so human and so supernatural, peaceful and beneficial, was enlightened from the beginning by a gesture that cannot be forgotten. In the spring of 1953 when Fr. François was put in charge of the publication of the Manuscripts, Sister Geneviève brought the still secret notebooks to the parlor that the facsimile had revealed. They discussed all the aspects of the project. Through the grill, Fr. François never took his eyes off the notebooks. When they were finally handed to him, he took them cautiously, bowed and kissed them piously.”
The work would last three years (June 1953-May 1956) when the prioress had written him that it might well take him a week!
Making up a team
His first initiative was to put together a team. Obviously, the center of it was the Carmel of Lisieux: the prioress Mother Françoise-Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (1902-1979), Sister Marie-Emmanuel of Saint Joseph (1886-1961) whose capacity for work and competence would be crucial. Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face (Céline Martin) would follow the work as it unfolded. Sister Dominique and Sister Geneviève, contemplative Dominicans from the convent of Chatenay-Malabry would be consulted as well as Sister Anne of Jesus, from the Carmel of Boulogne-sur-Seine. Fr. Maire-Eugène agreed to take two professors from the Notre Dame de Vie Institute, Anne Lagarrigue and Monique Duriez to collaborate. They would live in the Carmel of Nogent-sur-Marne. The sister of the writer Julien Green, Anne, would do a very meticulous work on the original texts. Lastly, three well-known expert graphologists would be consulted to help in the deciphering of the texts because the originals had undergone erasures and modifications. The school notebooks and letters proved to be very fragile.
If Fr. Francis of Saint Mary had taken so many precautions, it’s because he wanted to settle the thorny question once and for all, to give everyone an unchallengeable edition.
The solution, very costly at that time, was to create a photographed edition of the original which would permit readers to have reproduced texts in hand as close to the original as possible.
He then requested a professional photographer to photograph the manuscripts page by page. The covers of the two notebooks were reproduced almost identically as well as the color of the leaves to the point that the Carmelites, as a result, believed they were holding the originals in hand three years later, in July 1956.
Making an inventory of Thérèse’s text
With the Carmelites, Fr. Francis of Saint Mary confronted a lot of records. He had the insight and intelligence to put them in order and end up with results that remain over all valuable sixty years later.
To understand this, it is necessary to consult in his Volume 1 (introduction), the pages entitled “Textes thérèsiens” (p. 5-29) where the autographs (autobiographical manuscripts, letters and notes, poems, pious recreations, prayers, minor texts such as the school notebooks) are inventoried and classified. Next he inventoried the “Words of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus known by witnesses” (Novissima Verba, green notebooks, the yellow notebook), My Sister Saint Thérèse.
The chapter “Documentation générale” classified the canonical documentation (the Processes, the canonical books of the Carmel of Lisieux), the apocryphal documentation (manuscripts, family correspondence, various writings) and finally printed matter (obituary circulars of the Carmelites).
This nomenclature, which takes up 35 pages, remains the basis of all fundamental study of the writings and words of the saint of Lisieux. Of course, the “Notes et Tables” from Volume II (75 pages) must be added, which accompany the texts of the Autobiographical Manuscripts and bring a wealth of unpublished information.
Pages 83-127 offer the hand writing expertise of M. Trillat and M. Michaud regarding the writings of Manuscripts A, B, and C as well as thematic analysis of their contents. Very precise tables and a chronology complete the set, permitting an easy consultation of these riches. Lastly, Volume 3 offers a chart of citations, 234 pages.
A leap forward for all Theresians
The result of these three years of intensive work is impressive. The knowledge about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux during the summer of 1956 took a quantum leap. At the time of the publication of this boxed set, the reception was unanimous. Those who had asked for the possibility of an academic knowledge of Thérèse, were satisfied beyond all expectations.
The book reviews in the press (newspapers, magazines) had only praise. We need only remember these lines by Fr. Ch. A. Bernard, s.j.: “The fervent expectation regarding the publication of the true text of the Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus is now magnificently satisfied by the edition entrusted to the care of Fr. Francis of Saint Mary. […]It seems to me that everyone admits that the work offered is definitive. We hardly know how there could be more; all the resources available for the academic process have been used to establish the true text.” (Revue d’Ascétique et de Mystique. 1957, p. 95-96).
“An event in the history of Christian spirituality” announced Georges Huber in Le Devoir (1/27/1957).
Anecdotally, Paris-Match who reviewed this event on December 29, 1956, printed 1,600,000 copies.
Of course Fr. Francis of Saint Mary would go to present his work to Pope Pius XII who had requested it. A letter from papal substitute, Msgr. A. Dell’Acqua, told the Carmelite priest about the Pope’s satisfaction. Fr. Anastasius of the Very Holy Rosary, superior general of the discalced Carmelites, would be equally as full of praise (8/24/1957) after the publication of the typographical edition of the Autobiographical Manuscripts in one volume, available to a huge public, published by Office Central of Lisieux (August 1957).
Looking back 60 years, in hindsight, the reader can only admire the result of such an undertaking and the manner in which it had been accomplished: clarity of style, sharpness of analyses, sound judgments and perfection in the printing.
Ten years later, after the death of the author, a new team would be formed to bring to fruition the rest of his work to deepen, to refine and complete fundamental aspects of Fr. Francis of Saint Mary.
This team, primarily directed by Carmelite Father Bernard Delalande (1918-1997) was made up of Sister Cécile of the Immaculate, Carmelite from Lisieux, Sister Geneviève, Dominican, Sister Anne, Carmelite from Boulogne (both were part of the original team), Jacques and Jeannette Longchampt and myself. Fr Bernard Bro, o.p., ensured the publication with Editions du Cerf-DDB.
The result was the New Centenary Edition, Edition du Centenaire (Cerf-DDB, 1992) in eight volumes. The first edition (Edition du Centenaire) was awarded the prize of Cardinal Grente in 1989 by the Académie Française. All Thérèse’s friends could have access to it in the Oeuvres completes de Thérèse de Lisieux (complete works) in a single volume that same year.
Why not the photos too?
Fr. Francis of Saint Mary didn’t intend to stop on such a good path. With the agreement of Carmel, he was going to undertake the critical edition of all the writings and words of the Saint. He started with the edition of Derniers Entretiens, Last Conversations,(1897) when only the Novissima Verba was known, a little book of 224 pages published in 1927.
Death carried him off before being able to bring to fruition another vital edition: Visage de Thérèse de Lisieux (The Face of Thérèse of Lisieux) in two volumes: a volume of 47 photographs of Thérèse admirably presented in one volume and notes, published by Office Central de Lisieux in 1961.
This time, it was a case of reconstructing the iconographical truth of Thérèse as a number of her photos had been retouched according to the custom of the time period.
The introduction of Fr. Francis relating the history of the photography, especially the portraits, permitted a more accurate appreciation of the practices from a time period that had other standards of historical truth than ours today. Here again, we can appreciate the richness of his information and the delicacy of his analyses.
The results were at the level of the work done with academic rigor; the world finally discovered the real face of the best known saint in the world. During the eighteen years that I spent in Lisieux, I could notice many times the surprising impact the photos of Thérèse could have. I could cite numerous cases of healings caused by the contemplation of these photos, in France and elsewhere.
Having at their disposition the boxed set of the Manuscrits autobiographiques (Autobiographical manuscripts) and the Visage de Thérèse de Lisieux.
(The Face of Thérèse of Lisieux), countless friends of the Saint-including researchers- were finally satisfied. A new era of knowledge about “the greatest saint of modern times” (Saint Pius X) finally opened. And the path that ended in the complete edition of the works of Thérèse in 1992 was prepared and outlined. Let’s not forget that a sober film, of great beauty, permits crowds to discover this restored Thérèse. Made by Philippe Agostini, with a text by André Lesort, The real face of Thérèse of Lisieux remains a document of modest austerity, with great depth. In it we find the touch of Fr. Francis, ecclesiastical counselor.
On February 1st, 1956 the Carmelite father wrote to the Carmel of Lisieux, “For me, after a little fatigue, I’m leaving again. My death will be after the publication.” Premonition? On August 30, 1961 during a hot afternoon, he drowned in the Loire river at Ingrandes. He had just given a conference to the Carmelites of Angers on Christian death which ended with these words:
“It would be absolutely the same thing for us, if we have lived under the influence of the cross of Christ. It is towards the cross that we turn at the last moment. This mystery of the Cross is the same mystery of Love who gives itself through death. And it is this mystery that regulates our lives.”
Guy Gaucher,o.c.d. Auxiliary emeritus Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux