I made a brief stop over in Chicago and wanted to visit the National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, IL. It was around 2 pm and when I called to make sure they were open (I always recommend calling before you go to confirm the things you want to see are there and on display and that the place isn’t closed for something unexpected like construction.) I found out they were only open until 4 pm. By the time I took a taxi and got there, I wouldn’t have a lot of time before it closed and I seriously thought about not going. After some consideration I decided to go anyway as seeing some of the Shrine is better than not seeing it at all and I have always had a particular fondness for St. Therese.
The Shrine is nestled in a suburb of Chicago on a 40 acre Carmelite campus. I wasn’t able to explore due to time constraints, but one could easily make a day pilgrimage here. There is a good sized free parking lot and there was plenty of parking available when I arrived. When you pull into the parking lot, the Shrine museum is on the right hand side.
The Shrine is supposed to have the largest collection of St. Therese relics and memorabilia outside of Lisieux, France (anywhere in the world!) and it did not disappoint. Let’s start with the relics as there are a lot of them. They are spread throughout the Shrine and are in some unexpected places. There is a gazebo with a large statue of St. Therese inside with a kneeler in front of it that I was drawn to as soon as I went in. One of the first things I did was stop there to pray in thanksgiving for the opportunity to venerate the relics of St. Therese and learn more about her life.
As I went to kneel I noticed something embedded in to the top of the kneeler and to my surprise, it was a relic of St. Therese.
I took out my rosary and touched it to the relic and continued my prayers. I then eagerly got up to continue exploring. The next thing that caught my eye was a large display board about Zelie and Louis Martin, St. Therese’s parents, who were recently declared saints themselves.
To my surprise and delight there was another relic within it of the Martins. To have access to one relic is amazing, but multiple relics in one place? Relics that are in easy access that you can take your time to venerate and to touch objects to? Such a blessing.
I quickly learned that there were many more to see. As I walked around looking at the various artifacts from St. Therese’s life I noticed a large, beautiful, ornate reliquary in a niche in one of the displays behind glass.
It contained a first class relic of St. Therese’s hair.
There was a large glass case on a pedestal with what looked like a statue of St. Therese resting in death inside it. It turned out to be a replica of the casket of St. Therese that is in Liseiux, France and in the center of the rose she was holding was another relic. It’s one of the most striking reliquaries I’ve ever seen.
Relic inside of the rose
I made my way to the Chapel at the back of the Shrine and there found a large reliquary that contained five gold roses and each rose held a relic of St. Therese. According to the plaque, the relics, along with many of the other artifacts at the Shrine were given to them by St. Therese’s sister, Pauline (who was then known as Mother Agnes, Superior of the Lisieux Carmel), in 1910. The relics in this reliquary included “a particle of St. Therese’s uncorrupted flesh discovered when her decomposed body was exhumed from the municipal cemetery of Lisieux in 1910, a fragment of her bone, locks from [her] hair, dust from [her] coffin, and a piece of her Carmelite Habit.”
Close up of center rose in the reliquary
Above the reliquary is a huge wood relief, taking up most of the wall, of scenes from the life of St. Therese. It’s so large, that there is a key that explains the various scenes and their locations.
There were also various other relics within the glass display cases. Make sure that you’re paying attention as you walk around or you might miss one!
If the relics alone weren’t enough, there were a large number of artifacts from St. Therese’s life. The Saints often feel very distant as many of them lived so long a go in times and places that are foreign to us. Walking around and seeing the bits and pieces of St. Therese’s life, made me feel closer to her in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I really felt like I was getting glimpses into who she was as a person in a much more intimate way than when I read about her in books. There were things like the artificial flowers that St. Therese herself placed in from of the statue of The Child Jesus at the Carmel of Lisieux when fresh flowers were out of season (ah, those little acts of kindness!) and her
First Communion prayer book. There were very personal things like the picture of her sister Marie that hung in St. Therese’s bedroom until her death in 1940, a letter that St. Therese wrote to Sister Martha and a piece of the bridal gown that St. Therese wore when she entered the Carmel in 1888. There were also things of the child St. Therese had once been such as a toy tambourine that she played with, and my favorite, the map of North America that she drew by hand at the age of 12. I don’t know why the map struck me so much. I guess I was just so impressed with the detail and how good this hand drawn map was. It’s little things like this that you just don’t get out of books.
All in all, I had a little over an hour at the Shrine and it was the best hour I could have spent. I felt like there were surprises around every corner such as the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where you can spend time in prayer and an amazing wall of rosaries from different time periods and areas of the world that drew me in.
I didn’t have time to explore the Carmelite Campus and was able to spend only a few minutes in the large gift shop which I will have to rectify that the next time I’m in Chicago. The National Shrine is undergoing renovation and expansion and I can’t wait to see what additions they make. If you live in Chicago, or are even in town briefly, make time to visit. You won’t be disappointed.
I took far more pictures than I could ever post here, so I’ll be adding some of them to Instagram
over the next couple of days.
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St. Therese, pray for us!
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