THE famed phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, had a star student in a brilliant Jewish girl by the name of Edith Stein.
She was born in Wroclaw, Poland on October 12, 1891, the youngest in the Jewish family of 11 children. To the amazement of many, the young Edith Stein studied philosophy under such noted philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler, and Edmund Husserl, going from the universities of Freiburg, of Wroclaw and, finally, to the University of Goettingen. As assistant and, later on, secretary to Edmund Husserl, Edith Stein faithfully kept Husserl’s manuscripts which, in some way, found their way to the Jesuits in Belgium.*
In the course of her years dedicated to philosophy, the young woman lost her Jewish faith, and turned atheist. But, by the grace of God, she converted to the Catholic faith, was baptized at the Cathedral of Cologne, and even became a Carmelite nun. Inspired by St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Benedict, she took the religious name of Sor Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Tragedy struck when Nazi soldiers barged into her convent, arrested the nun for being a Jew and condemned her to the dreaded Auschwitz concentration camp where she died a martyr’s death on August 9, 1942.
The fame of this heroic nun reached the Vatican, and, despite the objections from the Jews who also claimed her as their own, the Church declared her a saint on October 11, 1998: a powerful symbol of penance, wisdom, prayer and triumph over evil.
* When the Belgian religious orders faced opposition from the diocesan clergy regarding entry of religious professors into the famed Louvain University, the Jesuits held the trump card: the priceless Edmund Husserl Archives which they somehow obtained from the Carmelite nuns. It was a smart and winning move.