Skip to main content


A Christmas Conversion

By Maddie O’Mahoney

For Catholics, Christmas is more than just a season of giving. For Thérèse de Lisieux, a 20th-century French author and saint, the Christmas season marked a turning point in the trajectory of her life. Thérèse came from a devoutly Catholic family, and in 2015, her parents — Louis and Zélie Martin — received the unique distinction of being canonized as a couple. She was the youngest of nine children, six of whom survived to maturity, and although both of her parents had a background in ministry, she admitted to struggling with her faith during her primary years.

Thérèse was 4 when she lost her mother in 1877. Consequently, she had strong bonds with her older sisters. In her memoirs, she described a sense of devastation when her two older sisters, Pauline and Marie, left for convent life. Though she excelled in school, she recalled a volatile and anxious disposition: She had few friends and descended into tears upon the slightest provocation.

Although Thérèse had a close relationship with her father, her sensitivity remained a point of contention for the family. On Christmas Eve of 1886, however, she experienced a miracle that altered the course of her life. The family’s Christmas tradition consisted of opening Christmas stockings on Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve, frustrated by his daughter’s constant fits of emotion, Louis declared that this would be the last year Thérèse would be allowed to act like a child. Thérèse said that her typical response would have been tears and inconsolable fits; however, that night, she felt an overwhelming sense of peace, which she later came to describe as her “complete conversion.”

She entered the convent of Carmel at the age of 15 and is now one of four women bearing the title “Doctor of the Church.” Thérèse was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925, and Pope Pius X called her “the greatest saint of modern times.” She has remained an inspiration to Catholics for her life of simplicity, her faithful writings and her story of conversion. The Society of the Little Flower formed in 1923 to support the Carmelite order and educate the world about St. Thérèse. Copies of Thérèse’s works are available in both the Marian Library and Roesch Library collections.

Christmas at the University of Dayton

  • The Marian Library’s current exhibit, Juggling for Mary: Vocation, Gifts and Performing for Our Lady, explores the Christmas story of the Juggler as it has been adapted through the centuries in books, operas, ballets and animated films. Live performances, a reading nook and a story walk highlight the interactive components of the exhibit. Visitors can also browse artifacts from the Marian Library including a selection of Nativity sets.
  • On Dec. 8, students at the University of Dayton host hundreds of children from the Dayton area for Christmas on Campus celebration, held every year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. A favorite of many students, the tradition started in 1963. Activities take place from 5 to 8 p.m., followed by Mass at 9:30 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

— Maddie O’Mahoney ’25 is a religious studies major and a student employee in the Marian Library.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Catholic Special Collection, University of Dayton Libraries

Previous Post

Beginning Advent with Coloring Activities

Color your way to Christmas with these printables from the Marian Library for the first week of Advent.

Read More
Next Post

Puzzling Gifts for the Second Week of Advent

Week two of Advent focuses on faith. We have faith that you can complete these jigsaw puzzles in record time.

Read More