Juanita Fernandez Solar, who would become St. Teresa of the Andes, exemplified in her short life what a later Teresa would say: “Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught. “But we can do small things with great love.”

Juanita was born into a wealthy family in Santiago, Chile, in 1900. Although she was brought up in the Catholic faith by her parents, even as a young child she was unusually drawn to both prayer and good works. It was said that she treated the employees in her home with particular kindness, looking after both their spiritual and material needs as best she could. This inclination became particularly pronounced after she made her First Communion at the age of 10. From that point on, she realized that only a close relationship with Jesus would satisfy the deepest desires of her heart.

The Solar family, like most, experienced its share of challenges, both material and spiritual.  Juanita’s father, for instance, ended up losing part of the family’s fortune; one brother abandoned his Catholic faith and another adopted a bohemian lifestyle which was often at odds with the way he was brought up. In the midst of this, Juanita became the angel upon whom the family relied.

At the age of 15, Juanita entered a boarding school run by the French nuns of the Sacred Heart.  This proved to be a great trial for her but one which she accepted as God’s will for her. As a result, she was determined to become an exemplary student, and it was at this school that a conversation with one of her teachers led her to consider a vocation to religious life.

At the age of 17, Juanita discovered and began to read the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This was followed by more spiritual reading that cemented her decision to become either a Sister of the Sacred Heart or a Discalced Carmelite. When she discussed this with her family, her brothers sought to dissuade her, but her parents, especially her mother, supported her vocation.

A subsequent meeting with the Carmelite community and her love for their prayer and simplicity of life, led her to join their order. “I am God’s,” she wrote later in her diary, expressing her joy in her decision. “He created me and is my beginning and my end.” She began an apostolate of letter writing, sharing her thoughts on the spiritual life with many family and friends, exhorting them to seek out friendship with God.

During Holy Week, 1920, Juanita became seriously ill with typhus. Because the end was near, she made her religious profession from her sick bed with great happiness. Having taken the name Teresa, she died on April 12 at the age of 20.

Her simple, cheerful holiness was an inspiration to her fellow Carmelites and all who knew her.  Canonized in 1993 by Pope John Paul II, she is Chile’s first saint; her feast day is April 12.

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