Wroclaw

Edith Stein

04 Oct 2017

The youngest daughter of a large Jewish family, Edith Stein was born in Wrocław (then German ‘Breslau’) on October 12, 1891 as her family celebrated Yom Kippur, or the Jewish day of Atonement - a noteworthy coincidence that would foreshadow the devout and contemplative path of her life. After her father’s death when Edith was only two years old, her mother led the family timber business and strove to keep the children involved with the congregation of the White Stork Synagogue. However, by the time she was a teenager Edith had lost her faith in God and at age twenty declared herself an atheist. In 1910, her mother moved the family from Edith’s birthplace at ul. Dubois 29 (now demolished) to ul. Nowowiejska 38 (today home to the Edith Stein Society).

An excellent student, Edith studied philosophy, history and German at the University of Breslau (today’s Wrocław University) from 1911 to 1913 before transferring to the University of Göttingen under the mentorship of Edmund Husserl. Interrupted by the First World War, Stein worked in an Austrian field hospital before rejoining Husserl in Freiburg where she earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1917. In 1918 Stein gave up her job as Husserl’s teaching assistant to pursue a professorship, something quite impossible for women at this time. Rejected at the University of Freiburg (despite Husserl’s endorsement) and then in Göttingen on account of her Jewishness, Edith’s life changed forever in 1921 when she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila – a 16th century Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint and founder of the Discalced Carmelites. Convinced of its truth, Stein converted to Catholicism and was baptised on New Year’s Day, 1922, stating that from this point forward she belonged to Christ both spiritually and by blood.

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