More than 15,000 people viewed the reliquary of Saint Therese of Lisieux during its three-day visit to Washington this week, according to local Catholic officials.

Despite Therese's popularity and the publicity surrounding the first U.S. tour of her relics, the attention overwhelmed her hosts.

"We never expected this," the Rev. Kieran Cavannaugh said Tuesday night at the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Northeast Washington, the first stop for relics of the French Carmelite nun. Therese died in 1897 at age 24 and was canonized in 1925.

"We didn't think anybody would be here now," he said at 9:15 as he watched a stream of visitors kneel before the gold-trimmed wooden box containing some of the saint's remains. "It's been this way since 3."

At one point, half a dozen people helped a woman restrain her son, who was about 12 and was writhing on the floor, laughing uncontrollably. The group recited "Hail Marys" while the mother forced the boy's left hand to the clear plastic covering. His body relaxed and his voice went calm.

Thursday and yesterday, Therese attracted crowds of 4,500 and 4,000 to midday Masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception--many traveling in buses from local parishes and schools, said spokesman Peter Sonski. Hundreds more lined the nave between services for a chance to touch the plastic and venerate the relics, he said.

At 2:15 p.m. yesterday, the reliquary was loaded onto a van dubbed the "Therese-mobile" for transport to Baltimore, its next stop on an 89-city tour.

CAPTION: Therese draws thousands to Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

CAPTION: Eddie and John Michael Corcoran, of Waterford, Va., examine the Therese reliquary this week.