by Stefanus Hendrianto, SJ.
August 9th is the Feast Day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as St. Edith Stein, who was martyred on that day in 1942 in the Auschwitz concentration camp. St. Edith Stein is especially dear to me because she is the one who constantly prays for me in my life journey, especially in my journey as a Jesuit.
I heard the name of Edith Stein for the first time when I attended a retreat with a group of Indonesian Catholic young adults at the University of Washington Catholic Newman Center in Seattle. The retreat facilitator was an Indonesian Carmelite priest and he recommended for me to read the life story of a Carmelite nun, named Edith Stein. At this point, I had no clue as to who she was; I imagined her as a dull old nun who wears a dark habit, and, so, I was not interested to check her life story.
A few years after the retreat, I entered the religious life as a Jesuit Novice in the Oregon Province. I entered the Novitiate on October 11, 2009, the day of the Canonization of St. Edith Stein. Pope John Paul II canonized her on October 11, 1998. Little did I know that this was not only a simple coincidence, but rather, a sign of abiding grace in which St. Edith Stein had been praying for me long before I entered the Novitiate and she would continue to pray for me in my journey on the religious path.
As a Jesuit novice, I had to make the Spiritual Exercises, a thirty-day, silent retreat developed by St. Ignatius Loyola. I read a lot of books during those thirty days; one of the books that I read was the life of Edith Stein, which I picked randomly from the bookshelf in the Novitiate living room. I was amazed to learn from Edith Stein’s biography that she was not a dull old nun like I imagined, but rather, an intelligent and stalwart woman. What inspired me the most was Edith Stein’s struggle with her family’s opposition when she decided to enter the Carmelite Order on October 14, 1933. Edith Stein’s mother especially was devastated with her decision to enter the Carmelite convent because she saw her daughter’s decision as a betrayal of her Jewish heritage. Similarly, my mother was devastated when I told her that I wanted to join the Jesuit Novitiate. I grew up in a traditional Confucian family in which the eldest son is responsible for carrying on the family name and lineage and presiding over ancestral rites. Thus, my decision to join the Jesuit Novitiate was also a betrayal of my family heritage.
After the long retreat, however, I did not try to keep my friendship with Edith Stein alive. Slowly I began to forget her as my dear friend; nonetheless, she continued to pray for me during my Novitiate training. Having spent two years in the Novitiate, I pronounced vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and, then, I moved to philosophy study at Loyola University Chicago. Soon I found that philosophy is not an easy subject. Many philosophical writings contain abstract vocabulary and vague concepts and also I had difficulty finding a good mentor who could help me to learn some basic philosophical concepts. In the midst of frustration, Edith Stein came back to my life and she rescued me from the stormy sea of philosophy.
Every Jesuit makes an annual 8-day silent retreat. After the end of my first year of philosophy study, I made my 8 day silent retreat at Gonzaga Jesuit community in Spokane, Washington. The sixth day of my retreat was the feast of St. Edith Stein. During the daily mass at the community chapel, Fr. Brad Reynold, a Jesuit who was celebrating the mass, mentioned that Edith Stein was a brilliant philosopher of her time; she was the protégé of Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology. Nevertheless, Edith Stein did not achieve a successful academic career because she was a Jew and a woman. Fr. Reynold’s homily reminded me that I have a good friend, a brilliant philosopher, St. Edith Stein who has been praying for me throughout my philosophy studies. After my 8 day retreat, I went back to Chicago and resumed my philosophy study. I began to read many philosophical writings of Edith Stein, and, indeed, she has helped me rekindle my interest in studying philosophy. By the end of my philosophy study, I was still struggling to understand philosophy; nonetheless, thanks to St. Edith Stein, I have developed a great interest in studying philosophy.
I am fortunate to have a dear friend like St Edith Stein. She was with me during my discernment to enter the religious life as a Jesuit novice. She was there for me when my parents strongly opposed my decision to enter the Jesuit Novitiate. She was walking with me during my 30 day retreat in the Novitiate and my entire Novitiate experience. She extended her support and prayer during my philosophy study and I believe that she will continue to pray for me in my journey as a Jesuit. St. Edith Stein, indeed, brings an abundance of grace to me and to all who know her.
~ Stefanus Hendrianto is a Jesuit Scholastic currently doing his regency at Santa Clara University, where he teaches at both the Law School and Political Science Department.