Sitting there listening to NDP junior, Siena Thrasher talk about “her life, her passions, and her faith,” I am reminded for all the world of The Little Flower, Therese of Lisieux. For starters, Siena bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Therese. She is a 21st century version of the 19th century saint: pretty, dark-eyed, and bright. But the similarities do not end there. Both are defined by their youthfulness. Siena, for the moment. Therese for eternity. As very young children, both Siena and Therese were overly sensitive and reluctant to leave the comfort of mother and home for school. Both overcame their fears, excelled in their studies, and became peer leaders. Both had their eyes opened to the ways of the world through travel abroad. And both were transformed in their early teens into people with a profound faith and tremendous love for God.
Siena lives with her parents, older sister, grandmother, and uncle. It is a tight-knit and very loving Italian-American family. So much so, that when it came time to leave the nest for kindergarten and first grade, Siena panicked. She laughs at the thought of her 5-year-old self now, but at the time, it was serious enough to require coming up with an alternative. And so, Siena began her educational career in home school. She progressed so well that – when she finally overcame her fears and enrolled at Dayspring Christian Academy (she was all of 6 or 7) – she skipped right over second grade and entered as a third grader. Today, at just 15 years of age, Siena is at the young end of her junior class. Still, she fits right in and loves her NDP class of pink and orange.
It was not a fait accompli that Siena would attend NDP. Her older sister had gone to St. Paul’s, so there was a good chance that’s where Siena would go, too. However, she applied to other schools, including Notre Dame, to which she was accepted.
“When I got my NDP t-shirt in the mail, that’s when I knew I really wanted to be an NDP girl! ” Siena told me with conviction. ” At that point, I couldn’t wait to go!”
But, as fate would have it, her entrance to NDP as a freshman was delayed. She actually began her freshman year at Dulaney before transferring to NDP halfway through the first semester. It is another striking similarity to Therese whose entrance into the Carmelites was delayed more than once. For both Siena and Therese, the delay only made their desire that much more intense and their confidence in their choice that much stronger.
“And because of that, I am grateful for having waited,” Siena told me with an equanimity that belied her age.
Like most NDP girls, Siena is remarkably poised and confident. She is at ease talking about herself without being full of herself. She is grateful for all the opportunities she has been given and speaks about her “passions” with exuberance. And she has a lot of them.
“I am a singer. That is probably my greatest passion. I love to sing. I’m in 2 chamber choirs. The Peabody Chamber Choir and the NDP Chamber Choir. And I’m in campus ministry. Music is a big part of that. I remember being on a retreat the summer before sophomore year. I brought my ukulele and we all just sang and sang and sang. It was so much fun. I think that’s when I really found my niche at Notre Dame.”
Yes, Siena did say ukulele. Now, as far as I know, St. Therese did not play the ukulele. Still, the instrument was developed during her lifetime and while it may be stretching the Siena/Therese comparison a bit, you have to admit, it is a throwback to a different era.
Siena is also a master equestrian, specializing in dressage. She has her own horse, named Rain (“She is my best friend,” Siena admits with heartfelt love) and has started the Equestrian Club at NDP, about which she is very excited.
Siena’s other passion includes a newfound love of foreign travel. This past summer she travelled to France, where she visited Paris, Tours, Cannes, and Therese’s homeland of Normandy.
“It was my first time out of the country! My first time on a plane!” Siena explained with glee. The trip opened Siena’s eyes to the greater world beyond her backyard, much like Therese’s trip to Italy did for her when she was the same age as Siena. “I really got the travel bug,” explained Siena. So much so that this summer, she will take a trip to Spain. It is not just experiencing the other cultures and countries that inspires Siena. She really wants to immerse herself in them and communicate with those she meets along the way. To that end, she has developed what she refers to as yet “another passion.” Foreign languages. Already a student of Spanish, upon her return from France, Siena added French to her list. Though she’d never taken a course in French, she was determined to enter her junior year enrolled in second level French (French 2). Such determination was not lost on Ms. Sarah Myers, Chair of the NDP language department. And so, she went to work trying to make Siena’s wish come true. Talk about going above and beyond! Ms. Myers enlisted the help of retired NDP French teacher, Mary Miles, to exclusively tutor Siena throughout the summer. She and Siena spent the summer in an immersion, conversational French course of sorts, and sure enough, by the end of the summer, Siena was ready for junior year French 2. Extraordinary! She also takes Spanish 3.
In addition to all this, Siena is in several honor societies including, Music, Science, Math, History, and Spanish. And on top of all that, she is a peer minister at her St. Joseph’s parish (in much the same way Therese was a peer minister to her fellow novitiates).
The similarities in Siena’s and Therese’s life experiences are indeed striking. But it is the similarity of their spiritual experience that is truly remarkable. Both were brought up in devout Catholic families and were always believers, so you cannot call their experiences “conversion” experiences so much as episodes of conviction. But both had questions and doubts at a very young age and both had transformational experiences in their very early teens. For Therese, it was the Christmas Eve of her 14th year, and once transformed, she never looked back. For Siena, it was the summer after her freshman year when she attended the archdiocesan sponsored, High School Leadership Institute.
” It was there I realized, Oh my God! There are other teens who have a faith like mine. Who know God is love” (a conclusion Therese also came to). “I can be here for them. I can be a leader.”
This semester, Siena travelled to Indianapolis for the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), along with 23,000 other kids from around the country. She went as an “Animator” or one who leads the conference in dance, song, readings, and prayer services. And she did this despite suffering from a debilitating case of mononucleosis, another example that begs a comparison to the Little Flower who suffered from a grave case of tuberculosis, but who, like Siena, soldiered on. Not only did they both muster all their strength to do so, but each did it with a smile on her face, joy in her heart and an unabashed love for God. The openness with which both Therese and Siena speak about their faith and relationship with God is rare in persons so very, very young.
“Being Catholic without a doubt defines my faith, and it also defines me as a person. I still have a very long road ahead of me when it comes to learning about my faith and God. However, Catholicism has given me not only a roadmap for discovering more about myself and my religion, but it has given me a direct connection with Jesus, an experience so valuable nothing can be compared to it. Without my Catholic upbringing, I really don’t think I would have the same relationship with God I now have.” Siena explained candidly.
I realize that it may cause certain undue embarrassment for Siena to be compared to a saint, much less a 19th century saint. She is, after all, just a teenager. But I mean no harm and it does, indeed, seem fitting. And in the age of Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus, believe me, she could do a lot worse. Siena is a substantial person in a superficial world and she has the courage of her convictions. To me, that is something to be lauded.
If we were all asked to describe Siena in one word, we would probably come up with different descriptors. Siena, herself, might say “passionate.” (In the course of our interview she exclaimed, “God has given me all these passions! I just have to ask, how am I going to use them?”). Others might call her “exuberant” or “fervent.” But I prefer another word. And that is… “enthusiastic.” I find this to be most fitting. Particularly when you consider the derivation of the word, coming from the French (en or in) and the Greek (thu or theos or God). To be enthusiastic is, then, to be inspired or possessed by God. In short, to be in God.
Yes, young Siena is very enthusiastic, indeed. And as such, is a gift to us all.