Teresa of Ávila was a 16th-century Spanish mystic. Her father was the son of a Toledo merchant, and her mother died when Teresa was only 15, leaving behind 10 children. Soon after her mother's death, Teresa went to Augustinian nuns at Ávila for an education, where she stayed for almost two years before she became ill and returned to her father's home in Toledo.
Teresa's uncle was very influential in her life, and played a significant role in her decision to join a convent. She could not receive her father's permission to do so, so Teresa left without his permission to join the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at age 20. It was there Teresa spent several years focusing on prayer and Christ's passion. Teresa claimed her definitive conversion in 1554: While reading Augustine's conversation story, she was struck by the sight of a statue of Christ's passion at the convent.
In 1568 at the age of 53, Teresa founded a new order committed to the values of poverty, simplicity, and prayer with the help of St. John of the Cross. The order was founded as the Discalced Carmelite Convent of St. Joseph in Ávila, a more primitive type of Carmelite. She spent much of the rest of her life travelling around Spain setting up new convents.
Teresa is the author of The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, along with several other writings centered on prayer and contemplation. On reflecting on recognizing God's presence she notes, "For even though we already know that God is present in all we do, our nature is such that we neglect to think of this. Here the truth cannot be forgotten, for the Lord awakens the soul to His presence beside it." Pope Paul V declared Teresa a "blessed" in 1614, and in 1617, the Spanish parliament proclaimed her patroness of Spain. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church for her writings and teachings on prayer, one of only three women in history to be honored in this way.1