St. Teresa of the Andes was born in Santiago, Chile on July 13, 1900. “Jesus didn’t want me to be born poor like Himself,” she later recalls. “I was born in the midst of riches, spoiled by all.” She was baptized on July 15th and given the name Juana Enriqueta Josefina of the Sacred Hearts. Affectionately called Juanita, she was loved and cherished by all in her family.
From the earliest years of her life Junanita felt inclined to religious piety and often asked her mother questions about religion. What stood out in a particular way was her devotion to the Virgin Mary. One of the most intense religious experiences of Juanita’s childhood is related to the Eucharist, an experience that marked her whole spirituality and continued to grow with the passing years. Little Juanita longed for the day of her First Holy Communion. Finally, that very special day arrived. She was 11 years old. She later recalled this day: “My First Communion Day was a day without clouds for me. What took place between my soul and Jesus is something indescribable. I asked Him a thousand times that He would take me, and I heard His sweet voice for the first time. I prayed to Him for everybody. And I felt the Virgin close to me. For the first time I experienced a delicious peace.” This occurrence and experience was not an isolated case but continued: “From the day of my First Communion Our Lord spoke to me after Communion. He told me things that were going to happen and they did happen. I still continued to believe that such things were happening to everybody that went to Communion.”
Juanita was a normal young girl who loved family, friends and athletics, such as horseback riding and tennis. She was a very joyful and beautiful young lady whom others loved to be with—a model and inspiration to her friends. She was also a strong bonding force in her family which was very dysfunctional. It is in this aspect of her life that young people today can readily relate. She suffered much from the fact that her father was often away from home and that there were many difficulties in the relationship of her parents. One of her brothers also caused her much pain by his manner of life. Yet, through all, her love for Jesus and purity of heart dominated her short life on earth: whether at school or helping the poor, at home striving to create peace or taking a walk with friends, Jesus was always present to her. It was His love and kindness that she tried to give to everyone. St. Teresa of the Andes was favored by God in a special way through many mystical experiences which led her to deepen her life of prayer and her spirit of sacrifice and charity. At the age of 14 she was aware of Jesus’ choice of her for Himself. Later she promised to be all His and sealed this gift through a vow of virginity and her later entrance into Carmel. Although divinely chosen, Juanita did not have any less of a struggle with her many faults, such as a tendency to sensitivity, anger, pride and vanity. She fought these natural impulses courageously and even endured many “nights” of spiritual darkness and trial, which only deepened her faith and union with God. Juanita entered the Carmel of “Los Andes” in May of 1919 and received the religious name Sr. Teresa of Jesus after the great Teresa, Mother of the Discalced Carmelites. However, her religious life was not to last long; she lived in Carmel only 9 months. It was in Carmel that she matured in her spiritual life and where she received the peak of holiness through a life of prayer, silence and sacrifice. It was her “heaven on earth.” In April of 1920 she became very ill with a fever, and it was discovered that she had a violent form of typhus. Knowing that death was approaching, she was granted permission to make her religious profession. April 12, 1920, at the age of 19, Juanita took her flight to heaven, united forever to her Beloved.
Pope St. John Paul II spoke of the radiant life of St. Teresa as follows: “Saint Teresa of Jesus of the Andes is a young Chilean girl, symbol of faith and goodness, Discalced Carmelite, the first fruits of the holiness of the Teresian Carmelites in Latin America. The secret of her perfection could be none other than love: a great love for Christ, and a filial love for the Virgin Mary. For her, God is infinite joy. This is the new hymn of Christian love that rises spontaneously from the soul of this young Chilean girl, in whose glorified face we can sense the grace of her transformation in Christ. As Teresa of Los Andes says: ‘Jesus is our infinite happiness.’ This is why this new Saint is a model of Gospel life. In her we can see an expression of the perennial youth of Christ’s Gospel.” Her feast is celebrated on July 13th.