Teresa Kwon (1783-1819)
Teresa Kwon was the daughter of Francis Xavier Kwon Il-sin, one of the prominent Founding Fathers of the Catholic Church in Korea. She was the younger sister of Sebastian Kwon Sang-mun who was martyred in 1801, during the Shinyu Persecution. Teresa kwon was born in yanggeun in 1784. Her mother died when she was only six years old and her father died during the Sinhae persecution in 1791.
Even as a child, Teresa Kwon excelled in virtue and faith. When she was growing up, she tried to build fraternal love and peace among her siblings with her gentleness and charity. Her entire family had to endure hardship and privation due to the Shinyu Persecution, that broke out when she was 18 years old.
With no one to rely on in the world, Teresa Kwon decided to go to Seoul with a nephew and live as a virgin for God. Then her relatives came to see her and tried to persuade her saying, ‘Living as a single woman in Korean society is a very difficult thing.` Finally, accepting their proposal she gave up the idea of living as a virgin and married Peter Jo Suk at the age of 20. At that time, Peter Jo Suk was not practicing his religion.
On their wedding night, Teresa Kwon wrote a letter to her husband, proposing to him `to live as a celibate couple for God.` Peter Jo was deeply moved by that letter and accepted her proposal. In a very short time, his faith was restored and he was transformed into a completely different person. From then on Teresa Kwon and her husband lived like sister and brother. Day by day their faith grew deeper as they devoted themselves to prayer and meditation. Proclamation of the Gospel and sacrifices became an integral part of their everyday life.
Though they were poor, they generously helped people in need, and persevered in living their vow of chastity for fifteen years. Whenever her husband was tempted to break his promise, Teresa Kwon encouraged him gently to remain faithful.
Teresa Kwon and her husband helped St. Paul Jeong Ha-sang in every way they could, whenever he went to Beijing to invite priests. Barbara Ko, a widow, lived with them and helped them also. After St. Paul Jeong had gone to Beijing, the police searched for Peter Jo and found out that he was a Catholic and arrested him. They rushed into Teresa Kwon`s house taking Peter Jo with them. Teresa Kwon confessed that she was a Catholic and was taken to prison with her husband and Barbara Ko. It was around the end of March, 1817.
When the interrogation started, the judge tempted and threatened Teresa Kwon and her husband `to renounce their religion and inform on the other believers.` They refused, and endured severe torture. When the judge tried to persuade Teresa Kwon to betray God, she replied as follows:
"Our Lord is the Father of all human beings and the Master of all creatures. How can I renounce Him? When someone betrays their parents, they cannot be forgiven. So, how can we betray God who is the Father of all?"
The judge repeated the interrogation and torture, but realized that he could not make them surrender. He ordered that they be put in prison. In prison, Teresa Kwon prayed and waited patiently for God`s will to be done. Whenever her husband became weak, she encouraged him, saying, "Let us thank our Lord for the grace of martyrdom."
Teresa Kwon, her husband and Barbara Ko stayed in prison for more than two years. Their faith in God remained firm and unchanged, and they were determined to die for Jesus Christ. Teresa Kwon, Peter Jo and Barbara Ko were beheaded after August 10, 1819 (June 20, by the Lunar calendar) and died martyrs. Teresa Kwon was 35 years old.
One month after their martyrdom the believers collected their bodies and put a long tress of hair of Teresa Kwon into a basket, they kept it at the house of St. Sebastian Nam I-gwan. Many people testified to her virtues, saying, `everytime we opened the basket, we smelt a sweet fragrance.`