Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, of Jewish parents, Siegried Stein and Auguste Courant, in Breslau, Germany. By her teenage years Edith had rejected her family’s faith and had become an atheist. She studied philology and philosophy at the universities of Breslau and Goettingen. In 1916, she received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Göttingen, with a dissertation under Edmund Husserl, "Zum Problem der Einfühlung" (On The Problem of Empathy). Edith had been searching for the truth.
On holiday in Göttingen in 1921 she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila. She had found the truth and now converted to Catholicism. Her Jewish parents found this very difficult to accept.
She taught at the Dominican girls' school in Speyer from 1922 to 1932. While there, she translated Thomas Aquinas' De Veritate (On Truth) into German and intensively studied Catholic philosophy. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Münster, but anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazi government forced her to resign the post in 1933. She wrote to Pope Pius XI and condemned the Nazi regime and asked the Pope to openly denounce the regime "to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name."
She entered the Discalced Carmelie Nuns’ cloistered community at Cologne-Lindenthal on 14 October 1933. The following April, Edith received the Habit of Carmel and the religious name of "Teresia Benedicta a Cruce". On Easter Sunday, 21 April 1935, she made her Profession of Vows.
As the Nazis increased violence against the Jews, Sister Teresa Benedicta soon realized the danger that her presence was to the Cologne Carmel, and she asked and received permission to transfer to the Carmelite monastery at Echt in the Netherlands. On the night of 31 December 1938, she secretly crossed the border into Holland. There she wrote her last work, The Science of the Cross.
Her Testament of June 6, 1939, states "I beg the Lord to take my life and my death for all concerns of the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary and the holy church, especially for the preservation of our holy order, in particular the Carmelite monasteries of Cologne and Echt, as atonement for the unbelief of the Jewish People and that the Lord will be received by his own people and his kingdom shall come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world, at last for my loved ones, living or dead, and for all God gave to me: that none of them shall go astray."
Edith Stein is quoted as saying, "The darker it becomes around us, the more we ought to open our hearts to the light that comes from on high."
The Nazis invaded neutral Holland, and when the Dutch Bishops Conference issued a pastoral letter protesting against the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland. Edith was taken from the Echt Carmel on 2 August 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on 9 August 1942.
Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on 1 May 1987, and canonized her on 11 October 1998.The miracle which led to her canonization was the cure of Teresa Benedicta McCarthy (called after Sr.Teresa Benedicta), a little girl who had swallowed an overdose of the pain-killer Tylenol. Her parents phoned and asked people to pray to Edith Stein to intercede with God for Teresa Benedicta’s recovery. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, a pediatric specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who treated Teresa Benedicta, testified about her recovery to Church tribunals, stating "I was willing to say that it was miraculous.