Léonie Martin, the sister of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, was born June 3, 1863. She became Sister Françoise-Thérèse of the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen (northwestern France). Léonie led a challenging life: ill from childhood; abused by a maidservant; expelled from school; isolated within her family. She tried religious life three times before she succeeded: in 1899, at the age of 35, she entered definitively the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen, where she died in 1941 at the age of 78.
How did the
troubled child and unhappy teenager turn into the sister everyone remembered as
so kind, so serene, and so happy that they could not believe she had had a
difficult childhood? As a laywoman, Léonie lived at the margins of her
family and her society. She found Christ there and made him the center
and the source of her life. She discovered God within herself, in her
woundedness, and she became the first and best disciple of Thérèse's "way of
confidence and love." When she found a home at the Visitation, she wrote: "I am very happy--as happy as it is possible to be on this earth. When I look back on my past, as far back as my earliest childhood, and compare that time with this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the Heart of Jesus, who has enveloped me in so much love, and who has placed me in this loveliest anteroom of heaven, where I shall live and die."
After her death, Léonie was almost forgotten. But the people discovered her, and, about 1960, the nuns of her monastery began to receive letters from all over the world asking them to pray that Léonie might obtain graces from God for those who wrote. Some of these letters came from the parents of special children, from families in conflict, and from persons who, like Léonie, struggle to find and to fulfill their vocations. These letters were followed by letters of thanksgiving. Pilgrims come to the monastery pray at her tomb in the crypt, to ask for graces and to give thanks. Now she is being considered for beatification. Mgr Jean-Claude Boulanger, bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, the diocese where Léonie lived most of her life and where she died, has granted the imprimatur for a prayer asking that Léonie might be declared "venerable" (that is, declared to have practiced heroic virtue).
We have not seen the limits of Léonie's mission yet, but I believe it is to draw souls along the way of confidence and love. Although her mission is by no means limited to certain groups, she speaks especially to the wounded and to those who struggle to find a place in the world. She shows us that the wounds and even the traumas of the past are no obstacle to wholeness or to sainthood. Through her intercession God has drawn children and parents together, healed memories and relationships, and restored those in spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical suffering. But her mission is universal. She models for us the counsel Thérèse gave in her last letter to Léonie, who, after three unsuccessful tries at religious life, was then, at 34, living as a laywoman with her aunt and uncle:
The only happiness on earth is to apply oneself in always finding delightful the lot Jesus is giving us. Your lot is so beautiful, dear little sister; if you want to be a saint, this will be easy for you, since, at the bottom of your heart, the world is nothing to you. You can, then, like us [like her three Carmelite sisters], occupy yourself with 'the one thing necessary;' that is to say, while you give yourself up devotedly to exterior works, your purpose is simple: to please Jesus, to unite yourself more intimately with Him.
Invite Léonie to accompany you and to lead you to surrender yourself, as she did, to God's "consuming and transforming love." She will lead you to our true home: the Heart of Jesus.