St Teresa of Avila

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Foundress of the reformed (Discalced) Carmelites. St Teresa was born in 1515 to an aristocratic family in Avila. As a child she showed precocious piety by playing at hermitages with her younger brother. The pair once ran away from home, hoping to go to Morocco and die as martyrs.

After her mother's death when she was just 14, Teresa went through a spell of being very interested in boys and clothes. She was sent to be educated by the Augustinian nuns and soon decided she wanted to become a nun. Her father at first objected, but later gave his consent and she entered a Carmelite convent at the age of 20.

The convent was a relaxed place, where many visitors came and went and the sisters were often allowed out in the town. Teresa struggled with her prayer life, abandoned it and then returned once again. After about 25 years of living the unreformed Carmelite life, she decided she wanted to found a community where the rule could be more strictly observed. In 1562 she established her new house of St Joseph of Avila with 13 nuns, living an austere life of prayer and work. The sisters never ate meat. Teresa made sure she did every job the others did - from cooking and cleaning to spinning and sewing.

With St John of the Cross, she helped reform the Carmelite friars and established 16 more Carmelite convents. St Teresa became a great teacher on prayer and contemplation. She wrote countless letters and several books including her autobiography, and the classics. 'The Way of Perfection', written for nuns and 'The Interior Castle'.

St Teresa was know for her cheerfulness and sense of humour. She said: "God deliver me from sullen saints" .

She was canonised in 1622 and was the first woman saint to be made a doctor of the Church in 1970.

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