Thérèse was born in Normandy, France on 2nd January 1873. Thérèse was the youngest of nine children, five of whom survived childhood. Soon after her birth because she was so frail the young child was sent to a wet nurse, Rose Taillé, who had already nursed two of the Martin children. Rose lived forests of the Bocage the Semallé. This early seperation from her mother had an effect on Thérèse. On 2 April 1874, when she was 15 months old, she returned to Alençon where her family surrounded her with affection. On 28 August 1877, her mother Zélie died from breast cancer, aged 45. Her sixteen year old sister Pauline became her second mother.
In the deeply religious atmosphere of her home, her piety developed early and intensively. Five years after her mother's death she faced another loss when Pauline entered the Carmelite convent. Thérèse became so ill with a fever that people thought she was dying. By the time she was eleven years old she had developed the habit of mental prayer. She would find a place between her bed and the wall and in that solitude think about God, life, eternity.
When her other sisters, Marie and Leonie, left to join religious orders Thérèse was left alone with her last sister Celine and her father. Following a long fight for acceptance Thérèse followed in the steps of Pauline and at the age of 15 she entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux. Although she suffered from depression, scruples—a causeless feeling of guilt—and, at the end, religious doubts, she kept the rule to perfection and maintained a smiling, pleasant, and unselfish manner.
Thérèse had a great desire to become a Saint. She believed God would not give her a desire that she couldn't realise. Convent life was not easy; it was cold, and accommodation was basic. Not all the sisters warmed to this 15-year-old girl. At times she became the subject of gossip, and one of her superiors took a very harsh attitude to this young “spoilt middle class” girl. However, Thérèse sought always to respond to criticism and gossip with the attitude of love. No matter what others said, Therese responded by denying her sense of ego. Eventually, the nun who had criticised Thérèse so much said. “why do you always smile at me, Why are you always so kind, even when I treat you badly?” This was the “little way” which Thérèse sought to follow. Thérèse believed rather than doing great works, it was more important to do small things with great love.
Thérèse had the ambition to become a missionary and travel to Africa or China. However, ill health curtailed these plans, and she was forced to stay in the convent. Thérèse was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and her pain was so great that she said that if it hadn't been for her faith, she would have taken her own life without hesitation.
Towards the end of her life, when she was increasingly bed-ridden, St Thérèse was encouraged by the elder nuns to write down her way of spiritual practice. She wrote three books that explained her “little way” and included her personal spiritual autobiography ‘Story of a Soul’. She promised she would continue to work for God's Kingdom following her death. "I will return," she said. "My heaven will be spent on earth."
She died on 30th September 1897 aged just 24 years old.
After she died, life at the convent went back to normal. One nun commented that there was nothing to say about Thérèse. Pauline put together Thérèse's writings and sent 2000 copies to other convents. Thérèse's "little way" of trusting in Jesus to make her holy and relying on small daily sacrifices instead of great deeds appealed to the thousands of Catholics and others who were trying to find holiness in ordinary lives.
Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the patron Saints of the missions, not because she ever went anywhere, but because of her special love of the missions, and the prayers and letters she gave in support of missionaries.