What can compare to the limpid innocence of a child? It is no wonder that Jesus insists that no one prevent them from coming to Him, especially those who, already at an early age, approach Him in faith! Teresa Quevedo was such a child, so precious to the Heart of Jesus because, from childhood and throughout her life, Mary was her all. And she answered Jesus’ call to the Carmelite Order where she loved and served His Mother in the most perfect way of obedience.
Amidst the ringing of the Angelus, Venerable Teresita Quevedo, known in religion as Sr. Maria Teresa of Jesus, was born on April 14, 1930, in Madrid, Spain. She was the youngest of three children, born to Dr. Calixto and Dona Maria Quevedo. The Quevedo family was a model Christian home which boasted not only exemplary Catholics, but a number of priestly and religious vocations, and even several martyrs.
Mary Was Her Life is the title of perhaps the only full length biography of Teresita in English, and as we shall see, she fully merited such a description. Her love for Mary took root early on, as her father taught her to begin every day with an offering to our Lady with the words, “O sweet Virgin Mary, my Mother, I offer myself today completely to you. I beg you to give my body, eyes, ears and tongue, my heart and soul to Jesus. I am all yours, holy Mother of God. Watch over me!” And as Teresita recalls, “From early childhood, when Papa taught me to make the Morning Offering, it was always a prayer of holocaust to Our Lady.” From age five, she never let a day pass without praying the Holy Rosary, as her family would gather together every evening to pray this powerful prayer before a beautiful wooden statue depicting Murillo’s Immaculate Conception. Later on, as a day student with the Carmelites of Charity, she edified her peers by her fidelity to the particular custom she adopted of praying the Sorrowful Mysteries before the Blessed Sacrament daily.
But what is perhaps even more encouraging than her holiness is the fact that Teresita was not born a saint. The testimony of her mother bears clear witness in a letter describing her children to her sister-in-law. “Louis has the manner of an army general, Carmencita is quiet and thoughtful… Teresita is a bundle of happiness. Everyone loves her… pretty as a picture, but terribly self-willed. Perhaps we have indulged her more than we should because she is the youngest. Whatever the reason, she cannot be crossed. We shall have to do something about it.”
And “do something about it” they did! One example of her parents’ watchful care will suffice. When the eruption of the Spanish Civil War threatened the safety of the Quevedo family, Dr. Calixto moved the family to their country home in Santander, on the Cantabrian Sea Coast. Life in the country was much different than the life they enjoyed in the surroundings of the Spanish Royal Palace. It was here that little six-year-old Teresita made first contact with dirt! She was thoroughly repulsed by the little poor children she encountered, with their unrefined manners and dirty clothes and faces, and she even ordered them to “get away from here.” Dr. Calixto, lovingly but firmly corrected Teresita by explaining to her that those little poor children were poorer than the Baby Jesus, and because of their poverty were greatly loved by God the Father. He also reminded Teresita that they were probably not unlike herself, in that they most likely prayed and made their morning offering to our Lady just as she did. Her father could not have been more pleased by her change. Not only did Teresita overcome her repugnance towards the little poor children, but she became their great friend and benefactor, inviting them over to the house to try little delicacies they would have never tried, and even going so far as to collect an abundance of toys and clothing to give to her new little friends.
It was during this time that Calixto began to prepare Teresita for her first Holy Communion alongside her cousin Oscar, who was the son of Calixto’s martyred brother. Teresita’s first Holy Communion was a decisive turning point in her life, and those around her could not fail to notice a difference. After her first Holy Communion, Teresita became ever more humble, she took correction much better, and she never willingly missed daily Mass. In a letter to his brother, her father wrote, “The extraordinary power she had acquired over her quick, impulsive nature touched me deeply.” Later in life she revealed that it was during those precious moments after having received our Lord in Holy Communion for the first time that she chose His Mother as her sole confidante.
It finally became safe enough to move back to Madrid, and Teresita began attending Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy run by the Carmelites of Charity. Her aunt, Mother Teresa, was the Prefect of Discipline as well as a teacher there. Although Teresita had a repugnance towards books, she worked hard to overcome herself, and she became so exemplary a student that she was much sought after by the other students for help in their studies. How did she respond to the help others sought? As one of her classmates attests, “She gave it generously to everyone, regardless. The girls throughout the academy loved her.” She naturally excelled in art, and in particular, drawing; and this artistic sense extended to the way she dressed, to the point where she even received an award for being “Best Dressed.” But as her teacher, Sr. Ramona, commented, “I often wondered how she could be as humble and simple as she was, for many a girl with her physical grace would have been as proud as a peacock.”
When she was ten, she received permission to attend the retreat which the older girls made. Despite being so young, she made a fervent retreat and arrived at a decision which clearly shaped the rest of her life. In her retreat notes we read the words, “I have decided to become a saint.”
Love for Mary penetrated ever deeper into her heart and led her from victory to victory. Her road to holiness was similar to that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, that is, it was marked by many small victories over her self-will, but with the distinction of having an explicitly Marian character. As Teresita herself explained, “I love Our Lord with all my heart. But He wants me to love Our Lady in a special way and to go to Him with my hand in Mary’s.” Her life’s motto was, “My Mother, grant that everyone who looks at me may see you!” And as her confessor attests, her great love for Mary was the key motivating factor behind all her self-conquests, noting that every time she was victorious in overcoming her repugnance towards certain foods, or in putting aside her own will, she silently counted the act as a little gift for Mary.
Whatever Teresita did, she did for love of Mary, with every fiber of her being. Whether it was as captain of the basketball team, president of the Marian Sodality, or as top-seeded tennis player, she gave everything her all and she gave everything to Mary. For example, after learning of her skill in diving, a lifeguard named Juan tried to convince her to compete, assuring her she would be an easy medalist. Teresita asked simply if it would bring glory to Our Lady. When Juan replied, “Let’s leave her—I mean the Blessed Virgin—out of this,” Teresita let him know that if Mary would not be a part of it, neither would she. When she played basketball, onlookers would ask, “Who is that blond, who plays so hard?” As captain, she inspired her teammates to do their best in order to honor their school and Our Lady, leading them to attend Mass, pray the Rosary, and consecrate themselves to Mary every day during their season, which ultimately led to winning the championship. It is here where we see those features of Teresita’s life that add a special freshness and attractiveness to this soul proclaimed Venerable by the Church.
During one particular retreat, the priest made a point of explaining the essence of total consecration to Mary according to the teachings found in St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. These talks made a profound impression on Teresita, and she expressed her desire to make St. Louis’ Marian consecration. The priest, knowing the seriousness and responsibility of such an act, proceeded to question her thoroughly regarding her understanding of this devotion. When the priest discovered the preeminent quality of her Marian devotion, despite never having encountered St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion until that retreat, the priest confessed, “The only reply I can make is this: you have been living your own True Devotion to Our Lady. Nevertheless, it will please her if you make Saint Louis de Montfort’s Act of Consecration at Holy Mass tomorrow morning.” And that she did, with a heart full of holy joy, on November 14, 1943. The following year, the Carmelites of Charity invited her to join the Marian Sodality, and she later became the Sodality’s president. She led her fellow members by her inspiring example and apostolic zeal.
It was during her work in the Sodality that she carefully instructed and prepared a little boy named Pepe for his first Holy Communion. The boy came from a very unfortunate family situation: his mother was a spiritualist who regularly held seances in her house. Teresita was able to instantly win the little boy’s confidence. She was able to enlighten him about the grave sinfulness of channeling spirits, which resulted in his firm resolution never to attend one of his mother’s “sessions” again. He was able to avoid any protest from his mother by admirably changing his pattern of life, such that he would go off to bed right after dinner, and thus before the sessions. As Teresita was able to report to her sister, “I am very happy about Pepe… He prays sincerely, and he loves the Blessed Virgin.” Of course, such results were not without sacrifice. Teresita would deny herself candy throughout the week in order to bring Pepe a generous bag of goodies come Sunday. She offered this sacrifice to our Lady for Pepe’s complete surrender to grace.
While her devotion to Mary won for her extraordinary graces, this was especially true of the sublime grace of her religious vocation. Her love for Mary inspired her to redouble her already intense efforts at sanctification for the month of May, the month of Mary. In her last year at Mount Carmel Academy, and a few days before the beginning of May, Teresita received a book from her mother’s friend called Deciding Factors. Because Teresita found books—in particular educational books, which this book certainly was—so repugnant, she reasoned that reading a little of this book every day during the month of May would be an ideal sacrifice to offer to our Lady for Her special month.
What special grace did our Lady have waiting for her? Teresita explains, “When I read the chapter on Religious Vocations I felt that it was written for me. The last line in the chapter asked: ‘What would you like to have been in life at the hour of death?’ What strange means Our Lord uses to send us His Divine Light, Padre! I believe the book has turned out to be my greatest blessing this month.” Her spiritual director judged her vocation to be authentic, and Teresita knew exactly which community she was to enter. It was a community that places on the lips of its aspirants, “We wish to dedicate ourselves to the service of our Most Holy Mother Mary, and to attain sanctification.” It was none other than the Institute of the Carmelites of Charity.
How did her parents react to her vocation? Dr. Quevedo’s letter to his brother, Fr. Antonio, S.J., gives us a good idea. “You know without my telling you, Antonio, that I shall do nothing to stand in her way. Both Maria del Carmen and I consider her vocation a blessing from God. At first, naturally, her mother suffered deeply; she was afraid that Teresita, at seventeen, may not realize the step she is taking. Now, however, we both are sure that our child is fulfilling God’s will. Our faith moves us to give what God asks, just as Teresita’s faith inspires her to respond to his call.” How truly admirable was the resignation of these authentic Christian parents in the face of so great a sacrifice.
The “little way” was not the only thing that tied Teresita to the Little Flower. As both followed the way of spiritual childhood, both were entitled, as it were, to child-like wishes. As St. Therese wished for snow on her entrance day to Carmel, so did Teresita; and while February 22 proved to be a clear, warm, sunny day, Teresita woke up on her entrance day to a beautiful, snow-covered city. “Our Lady was going to ask much of Teresita from that day forward and, Mother that she is, she wanted to give her child one more proof of her love, one final caress as she left home.”1
While none of the essentials of Teresita’s spiritual program changed after her entrance, there certainly was a definite increase in the fervor and generosity with which she carried it out, motivated partly by fear, but mostly by heartfelt gratitude. We discover her one fear in a letter to Fr. Llorente, a Jesuit missionary to Alaska whom she supported while still in the world: “I have only one fear, and I beg you to pray, Padre, that if I should become a Religious, I will be a good one, for the thought of being a mediocre Religious terrifies me.”
The gratitude which filled her heart can perhaps best be glimpsed in the act of consecration she made upon being clothed a postulant and in the glowing appraisal of religious life which she gave her friends. In her act of consecration she prayed, “O most pure Virgin Mary, Mother of God and my most loving Mother! Prostrate at your feet I thank you for the immense favors you have obtained for me from your Divine Son, especially for the great grace of a vocation to the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. Here I wish to live until death, working tirelessly for the glory of your Divine Son. Shelter me, O Immaculate Mother, within your blue mantle so that I may never stray from the promises I have made to your Son.” To her friend, Consola’s question, “Are you really happy?” Teresita replied, “You cannot imagine what my happiness is like. The convent is the vestibule to Heaven. If only the world knew it, I tell you there would be not enough convents to house the aspirants. You should see, Consola, how much more complete our devotion to Mary is here than it was at school!”
How exactly did she exercise her intensified fervor and generosity? Her diary entries from her first month speak for themselves:
I have just spoken to our Mother Mistress, and I told her I am very happy. She promises to allow me to perform an act of humility on Saturday so that I may have a little gift to offer Our Lady…
Mother Mistress is going to give me a little penance chain to wear. What joy it will be, my Jesus, to mortify my flesh for You! Most holy Virgin, help me to be good…
Tomorrow I am going to our Mistress and I shall ask her to correct me severely whenever she sees anything in me that would displease Our Lord, and even though it may be insignificant, not to let it pass. You will help me, won’t you, dear Mother of God?…
The morning meditation was strong but it did not inspire me; mental prayer costs me a good deal. I will be patient because I do my best and because I place all my frailties in your blessed hands dear Mother Mary. With your help I shall do better…
I made the act of humility today and I have said ten decades of the Rosary; tonight falling asleep, I’ll complete the chaplet. These are my tiny gifts to Our Lady today…
Mother Mistress called me this morning to see how I am coming along. I told her quite well, thanks be to God, but I added that the devil never stops trying to ensnare me. I also explained that at times I feel Our Lady’s presence near, defending me against his onslaughts; she never abandons me. Mother asked me about the particular examination of conscience; I am working on imitating Our Lady in remembering the presence of God…
Today I read the letters that Mother gave me some days ago. I did not read them before so as to mortify curiosity, a little gift for Our Lady. Like a good child I must show love for my Mother by bringing her gifts…
I must correspond much more completely with the immense grace of my vocation during this next month. Oh my good Jesus, I would rather die a thousand times than leave You.
When the moment arrived for Teresita to be clothed as a novice and receive her new name, Teresita was also ready to make a special vow. On the eve of her investiture, she vowed to God in the presence of Mother Carmen and her spiritual director, Fr. Muzquiz, to never commit a deliberate venial sin as long as she lived. The name she was given could not have been more fitting for this soul who strove with her entire being to imitate as perfectly as possible the Mother of God. Her name from that day forward would be Sister Maria Teresa of Jesus. She could not have been happier, and she lovingly repeated over and over in her heart: of Jesus, of Jesus, of Jesus. She would be of Jesus just like her Blessed Mother was.
In a letter Teresita wrote to her aunt, Sister Irene, Mother Carmen added a brief postscript: “This child could not be more perfect.” Teresita used two tools to help her merit such a description: the spiritual sack and the spiritual garden. Teresita describes her spiritual sack.
I have been thinking lately that it would be a good idea to have a spiritual sack into which the day’s works may be placed. Every evening I could bring it to Our Lady and ask her to remove the defects. Free from flaws, I would take the sack to His Eucharistic Presence and offer it to Jesus. I shall do this! Years from now, when the sack is full, I believe I will have reached sanctity. O my Mother, I know you will help me. I also know that it will take the rest of my life to fill the sack.
We know from her diary entries and from the testimony of her Sisters, that she made a particular point to fill it with “recollection.” As the mistress of Postulants recalled, “I used to be edified to see Sister Maria Teresa so recollected. It cost her a great deal to master the virtue of custody of the eyes. She told me, however, that once she learned to fix her glance on the sweet face of Jesus, it was difficult to raise her eyes, even to pass something at table in the refectory.” Her spiritual garden was very similar. In a conversation she had with Fr. Lucas, S.J., she explained, “You see, I can best keep tabs on my spiritual progress by calling each virtue a flower, by planting it in my spiritual garden, watering it with prayer and penance, and watching it grow… the white rose is charity; the red rose, mortification; the carnation represents poverty, and the forget-me-not, obedience. My precious violet signifies humility.” When Father asked why she called the violet “precious,” she answered, “Because Padre, the violet is the symbol of humility and since sanctity is impossible without it, the latter is precious indeed. Padre, I came here to become a saint.”
During one particular recreation in Advent 1949, the novices were enthusiastically discussing the preparations being made for the Holy Year in Rome and the news that the Holy Father would be proclaiming the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the close of 1950. Without intending to change the topic of conversation, Teresita declared, “Sisters, I am sure Our Lady is going to grant me a very unique privilege!” The hint of mystery in such a statement brought on a barrage of questions seeking an explanation. Teresita tried to leave it at that, but the continual entreaties compelled her to give in: “Since there will be a new dogma in honor of one of Our Lady’s prerogatives declared this year, there are certain privileges bound to be extended by Our Lady to her little exiles on earth. Something tells me that one of those privileges will be mine. Sisters, I believe I am going to celebrate the new dogma in heaven.” Most of the Sisters laughed, and none took her seriously, but she continued, “Go on, Hermanitas, laugh at me. But remember what they say about the one who laughs last! Every one of you will probably sing my requiem before the close of 1950. I know I shall be with my Mother on her glorious day. Can you imagine Sisters, what Heaven will be like when the dogma of the Assumption is declared?”
Sure enough, towards the end of January, 1950, no more than two months after her prophetic declaration, Teresita fell ill and was diagnosed with tuberculous meningitis. Her condition was terminal. There is a well-known maxim of the spiritual life which proved to be especially true during this episode of Teresita’s life, namely, “as a man lives, so shall he die.” As Teresita did nothing but edify those around her up to that point, she did nothing less than positively inspire all who came in contact with her throughout her final illness. She did so, in particular, by her patience, resignation, cheerfulness, and spirit of sacrifice. One particular sacrifice, or rather a series of them, cannot be overlooked. Teresita was prescribed a series of spinal taps to drain the continuous build-up of excess fluid. An injection of novocain ordinarily accompanies this procedure in order to deaden its “dreadful pain.” However, Teresita’s mind was already made up. She refused the anesthetic so that she would not be denied the privilege of imitating her Crucified Savior. She would have this privilege a total of sixty-four times.
The passion of Teresita even seemed to mirror the progression of Christ’s Passion in the Church’s liturgy. At the time when the Church’s attention is fixed most intensely on the events of our Lord’s Passion, namely, Holy Week, Teresita entered into her most intense period of suffering. On Good Friday, when the entire Church commemorates Our Lord’s saving death on the Cross, Teresita’s death-agony reached its climax. And finally, on Holy Saturday, when the whole Church contemplates the deathless martyrdom of the Mother of God, Sister Maria Teresa of Jesus, surrounded by her Sisters in religion, was to look up with wide eyes and an angelic smile, only to utter her last words: “How beautiful! O Mary, how beautiful you are!”
As Teresita previously explained, she was not to die from the illness, but from love, and the tender Mother, whom Teresita loved with all her heart, came personally to bring her beloved daughter home, in plenty of time to celebrate the Dogma of the Assumption in heaven.
Perhaps it is not too much to deduce that since “the Church perpetuates the memory of that unique and memorable [Holy] Saturday, filled with the presence of the Mother, by consecrating every Saturday to its Queen,”2 divine Providence willed that Venerable Teresita wing her flight to heaven on so holy a day so that the memory of her whose entire life was filled with the presence of Mary may inspire us to make that extra effort to live out every Saturday, as Teresita lived out her entire life, that is, with burning love for the Mother of God.
On June 9 1983, Pope John Paul II declared Sister Maria Teresa of Jesus Venerable. Her cause for beatification and canonization is still underway. As the Primate of Spain, Cardinal Enrique Pla y Deniel, once said: “Let us petition God fervently for the glorification of this chaste soul who, from her Mother’s side in Heaven, will steal many souls for the Church.” And let us entrust ourselves to her powerful intercession, confident in her bold promises: “Some day you will know how much I shall be able to do from my heavenly home… I will teach many to love Our Lady with abandon, and to go to Our Lord through her.”