Teresa of Avila, The Leader

"Detail of St. Teresa" 1827, by Francois Gerard

"Detail of St. Teresa" 1827, by Francois Gerard

St. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun in Spain during the 16th century. Though she began in obscurity, her leadership abilities and deep devotion to God led her to become a formative leader, teacher, and reformer during the Catholic Reformation. Today, she is one of four women to be recognized by the Catholic church as a “Doctor of the Church.” 

Teresa anxiously paced up and down the long stone corridor, the black fabric of her nun’s habit swishing behind her. A letter, long expected, would soon arrive containing the fate of her convent. Her pace slowed a little as she stretched out her hand and lightly ran her fingers over the stones of the wall as she walked. Each stone of these walls had been built as a result of her leadership. It had been six years since God had first called her to raise up a new monastic order of women who were devoted to following Jesus. She had faced resistance from critics both inside and outside of the church, but she knew God had called her to this task, so she would not quit. A wealthy woman had heard of her plans and had given her the money needed to fund the project, believing in Teresa as God’s chosen instrument to bring reform during one of the Church’s darkest days. Now, after the first five years of the little stone convent’s many trials and persecutions, Teresa waited for a letter from the Carmelite general that would either approve of her vision or—

Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the sound of a door opening at the end of the hall. She spun around to the see one of the new, young nuns walking toward her carrying a letter. “Abbess,” the young nun said stretching out her hand with the letter and bowing in customary respect. 

Teresa thanked her with a whisper and spun around once more to read it in private. Her hands were shaky as she slid her finger under letter’s wax seal and unfolded the single page of parchment. Her eyes raced across the lines of script; she could hear her heart pounding in her ears. Her breath caught in her throat as she neared the letter’s end, and the moment broke as a smile curled up the corners of her mouth. The Carmelite general had praised the new convent, giving it his full blessing and backing! She hugged the letter to her and tried to stem the tide of happy tears that began to fall from her eyes. All of her hard work, all of these years of risk-taking and boldness, all of the criticism she had endured had all been worth it! She was both validated and vindicated by the church’s high authorities! And could it be true? Did she read that right? She held up the letter once more—yes, there it was! The general even requested that she not only build more of her convents, but that she now build houses for men as well! Her example of reform had made such an impact in the church that now men wanted to follow in her footsteps!

She fell to her knees and began to thank the Lord for his goodness and provision through these first hard years, and through her tears, she smiled as the words left her lips—“What’s next, Lord?”

Teresa of Avila went on to found over a dozen convents—overseeing their construction, launching their sites, and providing ongoing discipleship. She founded as many houses for men and brought on St. John of the Cross to serve as a co-leader over the male monastic houses. She stands as one of the forerunners for female leaders of organizations, church planters, visionaries everywhere. In 1970, she was named a Doctor of the Church—one of only four women to ever receive the title. 

To learn more about the leadership of this remarkable visionary check out her autobiography The Life of St. Teresa of Avila.

Laura Garverick Headshot Photo.jpg

About the Author: Laura Garverick is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University and is a current MDiv-MATS student at Asbury Theological Seminary. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a PhD in systematic theology, and sees this as a part of her calling to serve and empower the local church. She is an active leader and preacher at Indy Alliance Church in downtown Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband, Paul. In her free time, Laura can usually be found kayaking, cycling, or indulging an inordinate love for Mexican food.