Monday, October 2, 2023
On December 14, 1927, Pope Pius XI proclaimed St. Therese of the Child Jesus Patroness of the Missions. The idea of such patronage was born in the heart of the Canadian Missionary Oblate Mary Immaculate, Ovide Charlebois, OMI, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Keewatin, which at the time of its establishment, in 1910, reached as far as the North Pole. Shortly after the canonization of St. Teresa, in 1925, Bishop Charlebois was in Montreal, convalescing after a long illness. He was visited by a friend, Mr. Paul Lionel Bernard, who was one of the most committed lay people in prayers and efforts for the beatification and canonization of the young Carmelite. Bernard wanted to obtain the signature of Bishop Charlebois for a letter of thanks to Pope Pius XI for the gift of canonization.
During this meeting, the Oblate missionary suggested organizing a new petition to the Holy See – precisely regarding the proclamation of St. Teresa as the Patroness of the Missions. Things moved quickly – soon twelve Canadian missionary bishops of the West and the North signed the request to the Pope together with Bishop Charlebois. In March 1926, the Pope accepted the petition kindly, but after consulting the Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Cardinal Van Rossum, further clarification was asked – would it be about patronage of Canadian missions or missions all over the world...? In the latter case, the Holy See expected missionary bishops from other countries to sign a similar request. Bishop Charlebois set out to further promote this idea. By March 1927, more than 200 signatures of bishops from all over the world had been obtained. Letters of support of missionary bishops, collected in a beautiful binding and decorated with illustrations, were handed over to Pius XI on October 14, 1927. The positive decision of the Holy Father, made in November, was announced on December 14, 1927. St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who spent her entire religious life in the Carmel of Lisieux, was proclaimed Patroness of the Missions.
One of the reasons for Bishop Ovide Charlebois’ idea was the experience of Father Arsene Turquetil, OMI, who in 1912 was sent by him to the Arctic, with the purpose of establishing the first permanent Catholic mission among the Inuit (Eskimos) on the Hudson Bay. Turquetil attributed the adoption of the Catholic faith by the Inuit, which took place after five years of seemingly fruitless missionary work, to the special intercession of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The Oblate Inuit missionary and Little Teresa shared a bit of geography, although the saint, as we know, never went on mission. Arsene Truquetil came from the diocese of Bayeux, to which the town of Lisieux belonged. Hence his special devotion to the Carmelite saint and the tradition that continues to this day in the Arctic diocese of Chruchill-Hudson Bay, of which Father Turquetil was the first bishop: after every Mass, the Inuit raise a short invocation: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Theresa of the Child Jesus – pray for us.
Translated by: Fr Daniel Janulewicz OMI