In 1962, Michael Praeger (26), a cub reporter for the New York Times, is assigned the task of investigating the life of Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun (known in religious circles as “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross”) whom Pius XII has recently beatified. Edith had been a German Jewish convert to Christianity who had subsequently found her death in a Nazi gas chamber at the age of 50. From the moment he is given the assignment and confronted with the photo of Edith Stein, Michael realises that far from being just another assignment, this investigatzion will unlock many of the traumatic scars from his own past that haunt him to this very day.
Michael travels to Europe to research the story, retracing Edith’s life from her birthplace in Breslau, East Germany, to the Carmelite Convent in Echt, Holland. In the process of discovering the events of Edith’s life, Michael interviews those who witnessed the formation of this “Saint” in a series of flashbacks spanning almost 50 years (1894-1942). He meets with Mother Frances Claire, Prioress of the Carmelite Convent in Echt, where Edith and her sister, Rosa, spent the last few years of their lives having been forced into exile in 1938 after Kristallnacht; the convent in which Edith was most defiant in her struggle against the Nazi regime. Michael then meets Erna Biberstein, Edith’s older sister, who sheds light on Edith’s tragic youth, her formative years, the unbearable loss of a father who had been the center of her
world, the psychological repercussions of her turbulent relationship with her mother, and her emotional flight to the trenches of the western front of World War I where, as a Red Cross nurse, she meets Hans, the one and only man in her life, her true love which would be transcended only by the greater love she would find in Christ.
Michael then visits Anna Reinach, Edith’s closest confidant, which brings to light a
refreshingly diverse aspect of the woman: Edith as a freethinker, a philosopher and suffragette, an adventuress who sought after the truth of the human condition and what it means to be a woman – a woman in love, a woman fiercely conflicted by the choice of seeking a physical union with Hans or a metaphysical union with the Body of Christ.
Finally Michael meets with Father Franz Breitling who traces for the young man the
woman’s journey “home” to the God of her forefathers in the tradition of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, – a way of life and devotion now threatened by the anti-Semitic venom of National Socialism; her baptism into the Catholic Church (despite the opposition of her mother); Edith’s entrance into the Carmelite Order where she would forge resistance to Hitler’s racist regime, an active opposition which would lead to the Gestapo rounding up Edith and her sister Rosa from their convent in Echt. That’s where Edith’s story ends – at least as far as Breitling, Erna and Anna know.
But what happened to Edith and her sister? What camp were they brought to? Where did they die? Is Michael holding something back: his true motivation for delving into Edith’s life which conceals that there is something more personal in his quest!