The town of Lisieux, France has many sorts of accommodations for the pilgrims to the site of St. Therese’s life and to the immense Basilica built to honor her. The most desirable is in L’Ermitage at the Carmel. Sister Therese of Lisieux was a Carmelite nun, entering at 15, as were three of her four sisters. The sisters are in evidence everywhere in L’Ermitage with pictures, paintings and calligraphied words. Celine, the sister closest in age to Saint Therese, was a photographer and painter so many pictures exist from the late 1880s
and 90s. Pauline Martin, her older sister, was Mother Superior at the time of her entry and Marie, another older sister was also a nun at the Carmel.
L’Ermitage can accommodate up to 150 pilgrims in simple rooms and with a communal dining room where meals are served family style. A time for conversation among the pilgrims is available provided a language of communication can be found! L’Ermitage is three sided with a lovely garden and pathways in the middle; each communal room is named for one of the Martin sisters: Salle Celine (Sister Genevieve), Salle Pauline, and Salle Marie. Leonie Martin, the fourth of St Therese’s sisters, was a Visitation sister, Sister Francoise-Therese, taking the name of her youngest sister.
The sisters who care for L’Ermitage are Sisters of the Missionary Workers, an international group of sisters who staff pilgrimage sites around the world. The missionary sisters do not wear a habit – they wear their African or Asian patterns in long conservative dresses and sometimes a hat. St Therese’s great desire was to be a missionary and had she not become ill and died of TB at 24, it is very likely she would have been sent to Vietnam. She would be very happy to have international sisters at the L’Ermitage. One sister whom I met was in fact Vietnamese! These sisters do everything from administration to food service creating a sweet and hospitable atmosphere conducive to pilgrimage and conviviality. All ran smoothly,quietly and sweetly.
St Therese would have liked the joyfulness and playfulness and song that permeated the atmosphere; ‘The Little Flower’ as she is often called, always wanted to know if God was happy with her. God is surely happy with L’Ermitage and the Sisters in stripes.