Skip to main content

Fr. Paul Schenck: A Jewish, former Anglican Minister, Catholic Priest on St. Theresa Benedicta

She offered her suffering, joined to His, as an act of love for the Jewish people, her people, especially loved by the Lord.

Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was the quintessential example of penetrating intellect, social concern and personal piety. Particularly for my family and me, she is an inspiring example of continuity between Jewish heritage and Christian faith.


HARRISBURG, PA. (Catholic Online) - Soon after my family and I became Catholics, we visited Rome and the Vatican. There, among others, we met Cardinal Renato Martino, who was the Holy Father's legate to the United Nations. He is a delightful, kind and jovial man.

 With a mercurial grin and a gleam in his eye he said "Now, you were Jewish, then Protestant and now you are a Catholic, you're not going anywhere from here?!"

I handed him my card which announced "Dr. Paul Chaim Benedicta Schenck" and said, "Your Excellency, I have a Greek name, a Hebrew name and a Latin name, I cannot add any more names."

My Latin name was the last one. I took it at my confirmation, to honor St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein. St. Theresa Benedicta had an abiding sense that she would die for her people, before she was ever pursued or condemned.

She came to understand the mystery of suffering as a part of her vocational invitation to participate in the continuing redemptive Love of the Cross of Jesus Christ. She offered her suffering, joined to His, as an act of love for the Jewish people, her people, especially loved by the Lord.

As a direct descendant of German and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, I found in Edith Stein's story both a reflection of my family's journey and an inspiring example of holiness and courage.

My paternal Great grandparents fled the Western Pale of Russia at the time of the pogroms, a form of ethnic cleansing as Jews were persecuted, hounded and forced to abandon their homes and flee on foot. Many, including my father's father, fled Eastern Europe and made their way to the USA.

In a modern spiritual odyssey my father's family became progressively less religious. By the time I was in Hebrew school even our Rabbi was agnostic. I opted out of Bar Mitzvah and went on a spiritual journey, found Christ as my Savior and was baptized at sixteen by an evangelical Christian minister.

After becoming an evangelical pastor, then an Anglican clergyman, my family and I came into fullness of the Christian faith and were received into the Catholic Church in 2004. Under the Pastoral Provision begun by Blessed Pope John Paul II, and with the permission of Pope Benedict XVI, I was ordained a Catholic priest in 2010.  

Edith Stein was the youngest of seven children born to Orthodox Jewish parents on the Polish German border. Her father was a successful businessman who died when Edith was only six years old. Her mother was a remarkable woman who maintained their lumber mill and supported her family and raised Edith and her siblings as a widow.

In the spirit of the times, Edith lost her faith and became an atheist. A bright student, she entered the university and took her Doctoral degree under the great modern philosopher Edmund Husserl. She was a promising female philosopher, lecturer and author when she encountered Saint Theresa of Avila's autobiography. After a marathon reading she wrote in her journal "This is the truth." She was baptized by the parish priest and took the confirmation name "Theresa".

She began a new translation of Saint Thomas Aquinas, lectured widely on philosophy and became a Catholic representative of women's rights. After Hitler rose to power her books were banned and she was prohibited from teaching and speaking.

Discerning her vocation to religious life, she entered the Carmelite Order along with her sister Rosa and made her solemn vows. She took the religious name of Benedicta (for St. Benedict) of the Cross (for Saint John of the Cross, St. Theresa's co-founder of the Carmelite Reform and another of Edith's mentors).

In an effort to protect her from further persecution, her community sent her away to Holland. When the Nazis invaded, all Catholics of Jewish descent were transported to the extermination camps, Edith and Rosa among them.

Edith Stein, St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, died with her sister in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. The last words she spoke upon her arrest by the Gestapo were "Come Rosa, we go for our people."

The testimony of survivors, Jewish and Christian, was that this powerful, courageous, intellectual and deeply spiritual woman spent her last days leading prayers and devotions, counseling distraught women, bathing, feeding and caring for their children, and encouraging her fellow prisoners.

One camp survivor said she was just like the presence of an angel. Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was the quintessential example of penetrating intellect, social concern and personal piety. Particularly for my family and me, she is an inspiring example of continuity between Jewish heritage and Christian faith.

In our time, as we struggle to bring the light of Faith into a culture of death, Edith Stein's life of intellectual rigor, philosophical insight, spiritual depth and social activism is an example for Catholics and all people of conscience who seek the Common Good.

Edith Stein, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us!

---


Pope Francis calls for your 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women:
That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.

Keywords: Edith Stein, St Theresa Benedicta,



NEWSLETTERS »

E-mail:       Zip Code: (ex. 90001)
Today's Headlines

Sign up for a roundup of the day's top stories. 5 days / week. See Sample

Rate This Article

Very Helpful Somewhat Helpful Not Helpful at All

Yes, I am Interested No, I am not Interested

Rate Article

1 - 6 of 6 Comments

  1. Gene Hutter
    1 year ago

    I saw your interview on EWTN "The Journey Home" . You gave an ourstanding and profound witness regarding pro-life, etc. . . Congrats!

  2. Mark
    2 years ago

    What a wonderful story tying St Theresa's to yours! Thank you for sharing; it was very inspiring. God Bless!

  3. Mark
    2 years ago

    What a wonderful story tying St Theresa's to yours! Thank you for sharing; it was very inspiring. God Bless!

  4. mikem
    2 years ago

    What a great story. Thank you so much. May I say that I am a godfather to a convert from Judaism, now deceased in the Faith. St. Edith Stein, if you would so permit me, was one who lent trustworthy example to my friend in his agonizing process of discernment. Another Jewish-to-Catholic, whose writings I recommend, was Karl Stern, the founder of the neo-Freudian school of psychoanalysis. His story of conversion, "The Pillar of Fire" is a great testament to Truth. But it was Msgr. Oesterreicher, (sp?) founder of the Judeo-Christian Institute at Seton Hall University, and contributor to the Vatican II document on the Jews, who provided first hand counsel and encouragement to my searching friend. I would like to wish you long life in ministry. Since Sr.Benedicta was the secretary for Pro. Husserl, whom Pope John Paul II took as his mentor in founding the third acceptable philosophical system for Catholics, Existential Personalism, you definitely have great patrons for your ministry. ty, Fr. Paul !

  5. jh
    2 years ago

    A lovely appreciation of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. I am glad you share her heritage.

  6. christie
    2 years ago

    St. Benedicta of the Cross, I know you better by your Jewish name of Edith Stein, I admire you for your conversion from being A Jew, an atheist to becoming a great Catholic. You lived with the courage of your convictions, fearlessly and bravely to the point of dying for Christ and fellow Christians. Pray for all converts and more so for those who have been touched by Christ but who make excuses not to profess their faith in Him. Pray for all multi-religious countries, where the persecution of the Church is ever present in subtle and overt ways. Pray for all women, that we may imitate you in your overwhelming commitment to Christ. Pray for all children who are afflicted with fragile X. Give them Christ's healing today. As we know that to have asked Christ for a healing is to believe that we have already received it. Amen

Leave a Comment

Comments submitted must be civil, remain on-topic and not violate any laws including copyright. We reserve the right to delete any comments which are abusive, inappropriate or not constructive to the discussion.

Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish any comment which denigrates the human person, undermines marriage and the family, or advocates for positions which openly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is a supervised forum and the Editors of Catholic Online retain the right to direct it.

We also reserve the right to block any commenter for repeated violations. Your email address is required to post, but it will not be published on the site.

We ask that you NOT post your comment more than once. Catholic Online is growing and our ability to review all comments sometimes results in a delay in their publication.

Send me important information from Catholic Online and it's partners. See Sample

Post Comment


Find Saints

Catholic Online offers the largest searchable database of Catholic Saints on the internet.

Browse Saints
by Alphabet
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Patron Saints
by Alphabet
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Newsletter Sign Up

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 50:4-9
Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for me to know ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
I am estranged from my brothers, alienated from my own mother's ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 26:14-25
Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

April 16 Saint of the Day

St. Bernadette
April 16: On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she ... Read More