The Life of Léonie Martin
written by the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen
Translated by Juan Marrero
for "Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway"
This life of Léonie was written soon after her death in 1941 by her Visitation sisters and circulated as the "death circular" then customary. We thank the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen for their gracious permission to translate this article for publication by “Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway,” and we thank Juan Marrero for making this important document available to the English-speaking world. Translation copyright © 2011 by Maureen O'Riordan and "Saint Therese of LIsieux: A Gateway." All rights reserved.
For the illustrations we thank photographers Dee Curci, Susan Ehlert, Ann Hess, and Juan Marrero. We appreciate the permission of the archives of the Carmel of Lisieux and of the Poor Clares of Alençon to display their treasured photographs. Our particular gratitude to Mr. Emmanuel Houis and Father Pascal Marie of Lisieux for the extraordinary expositions about the life and times of the Martin family which they mount each year at St. Jacques Church in Lisieux. Many of these illustrations are courtesy of those expositions. We extend heartfelt thanks to Peter and Liane Klostermann, who patiently spent hours photographing the 2009 exposition fin detail or "Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway." And we thank the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen for permission to reproduce photographs from its archives.
SUMMARY OF THE LIFE AND VIRTUES OF OUR VENERABLE AND WELL- LOVED SISTER FRANÇOISE-THÉRÈSE MARTIN, SISTER OF ST. THÉRÈSE OF THE CHILD JESUS, WHO DIED IN THIS MONASTERY OF THE VISITATION OF HOLY MARY AT CAEN, JUNE 16, 1941, AT THE AGE OF 78, AFTER 41 YEARS AS A PROFESSED RELIGIOUS, OF THE RANK OF A CHOIR SISTER, LATER PASSED TO THE RANK OF AN ASSOCIATED SISTER.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
for myself, I have chosen your altars,
my King and my God.
After having, at different times, searched for a home before the Tabernacle of the Lord, it was in the shadow of our sanctuary that our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse found a place forever, embracing the hidden life of the Visitation, with all the joy in her heart.
Marie-Léonie was the third of nine children entrusted by God to Monsieur and Madame Martin. We need not praise these virtuous parents; it is enough to say that the most beautiful blossom in their crown was St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Marie and Pauline already filled the family home with joy when the third child came to bloom in this blessed garden on June 3, 1863.
She was received with the warmest tenderness, and the next day was reborn in the waters of baptism on the beautiful feast of the Blessed Sacrament: a pious coincidence that was always a joy to the profoundly Eucharistic soul of our well-loved Sister.
[St. Pierre de Monsort was the parish church of Louis and Zelie Martin from their marriage in 1858 until they moved to Rue Saint-Bllaise in 1871. This church was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century].
[All the Martin children were baptized at St. Pierre de Monsort except Thérèse].
Instead of blossoming, however, this white flower soon showed signs of wilting; the infant’s shaky health constantly worried her mother, who witnessed her totter between life and death for sixteen months.
Her father’s pilgrimage on foot to Notre Dame de Séez and a novena to Blessed Margaret Mary finally obtained from heaven the longed-for restoration of her health. “If she will be a saint one day, cure her,” so prayed M. and Mme. Martin with the movement of their almost supernatural faith.
But the Lord, in His inscrutable designs, would will that these two great Christians would again pass through the crucible of trial. As the child developed, they saw with pain that she was less gifted than her sisters. From the time that she reached school age, she displayed a mischievous nature, and drew no profit from the courses she was given, instead amusing and teasing her little schoolmates. With sincere humility, she would later admit to having been a very poor student. For example, not understanding mathematics, particularly failing at division, she contented herself with randomly aligning and ciphering numbers, to the irritation of her teacher.
Schooling at the Visitation.
The pious Madame Martin did not hesitate to entrust to her sister, a nun of the Visitation Convent of Le Mans, her third daughter, who had caused her so many worries. After Leonie had stayed a while at the boarding school at the Monastery, the dear aunt thus expressed her appreciation of her young niece, then about nine years old:
“Léonie, during the short time I have seen her, has given me much hope for the future. It is the case of a child difficult to raise and who since infancy has not given much pleasure, but I believe that she will soon advance as far as her sisters. She has a heart of gold, her intelligence has not developed and is below her age; but, she does not lack the means, and I find in her good judgment with also an admirable strength of character. When this little one realizes her duty, nothing will stop her; difficulties, whether great or small, would be nothing for her; she will break whatever obstacles in her path; she will find them, for she is made for it. In sum, hers is a generous and strong nature, all to my liking, but if God’s grace is not given, what will happen then?”
On May 28, 1875, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Léonie made her First Communion at the Church of Notre-Dame of Alençon, a memory that would form a profound imprint upon St. Thérèse, as she related much later in her wonderful autobiography, “The Story of a Soul.”
M. and Mme. Martin tried again to give Léonie the benefit of the good education that Marie and Pauline received at the Visitation of Mans where their aunt, Sister Marie-Dosithée Guérin, surrounded them with maternal solicitude. But our little one, most lacking in self-discipline, could not possibly adapt to the regimen at the Boarding School, and returned to Alençon to receive tutoring there. She felt herself inferior, and suffered silently, as she would much later tell us. “I felt for a long time that I would have [another] change in care-giver until one day that my mother assured me that I would never be abandoned, which promise gave me real relief!”
Her affectionate soul expanded in the warm family atmosphere where she gave lots of expressions of love to each family member, above all to her two younger sisters.
“My dear little Léonie,” wrote St. Thérèse, “had a very large place in my heart; she loved me a great deal; in the evenings, after lessons, she volunteered to care for me while the rest of the family went on walks. I still remember the gentle refrains of the songs she would sweetly sing to lull me to sleep.”
The Desire to Become a “Real” Religious
Around 1876, Mme. Martin had a last meeting with her well-loved Visitandine sister, who had quickly become holy in the life of the cloister and whose earthly life was drawing to an end. Mme. Martin asked Sister Marie-Dosithée to make her feel visibly, after her death, Sister’s credit with God and to ask God to take pity on her poor child.
When, at home, she heard sadly of the impending death of her venerable aunt, Léonie told Marie, “I would like myself to write to her before she dies and give her my requests for heaven; I ask her to ask the Good God to give me a religious vocation.”
Her dear elder sister did not pay serious attention then to this wish that she felt had no basis in reality, but our little one voluntarily composed her letter all alone, and here is its content:
“My dear aunt,
I keep as a relic the picture you gave me. I look at it every day as you asked to become obedient. Marie will have it framed for me. My dear aunt, when you are in Heaven, ask the Good God, please, that He grant me the grace of conversion and also that He give me the vocation to be a true religious, because I think about it every day. I beg you, do not forget my little request, because I am sure that the Good God will answer you.
Au revoir, my dear and well-loved aunt, I embrace you with all my heart.
Your very affectionate niece,
Upon reading these lines, Mme. Martin, greatly surprised by this startling declaration, wrote to Mme. Guérin, her sister-in-law in Lisieux, adding:
“But where would she come up with such ideas? Certainly, it was not I who put them in her head. I myself am persuaded that unless a miracle takes place, Léonie will never be able to enter a Community. I will admit to you that this little letter revives my courage, and I hold on to the hope that, perhaps, God has merciful designs for this child. If it takes the sacrifice of my life that this child become a saint, I would happily do it.”
Retelling the story of this letter to her daughter Pauline, also a boarder at the Visitation, the dear mother stated: “I told Marie this evening that there is one thing that astonishes me: that she wrote ‘a real religious.’ Marie, very much surprised in her turn, answered me: “I absolutely wanted her to erase ‘vrai’ (“true”). I told her that it does not mean anything, but she stood firm, saying “Please, let me put it that way; I want to write it that way.”
Marie asked her the next day: “What does it mean: a “true” religious?” Léonie answered her, “It means I want to be a thoroughly good religious and ultimately to become a saint.”
Some weeks later, on February 24, 1877, the venerable Sister Marie-Dosithée rendered her beautiful soul to God, leaving her religious family fragrant with the perfumes of her eminent virtues. It was then that a notable change showed in our Léonie; one could not help but note the rare qualities of judgment and heart that supplied for everything, even while her education remained mediocre; the intervention of Heaven was palpable.
Her Mother's Death
The following June, Mme. Martin, suffering from an incurable illness, went, along with her daughters Marie, Pauline, and Léonie, on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, to ask for her cure. With her profound faith, she also intended to ask for her third child the all-powerful intervention of the Holy Mother of God. “I plan to take Léonie,” she wrote to her sister-in-law, “and wash her forehead with the miraculous water so that the Holy Virgin will open her intelligence.” This confidence could not be defeated.
Soon, on August 28, 1877, the admirable and true Christian who was Mme. Martin, exhausted from her suffering and feeling that she was dying, surrendered into the hands of God, with the most perfect abandonment, her young and numerous family. She left them plunged into great sorrow, but they were all left imprinted with the example of her noble life that recalled the “Strong Woman” of Scripture whom we admire. During her blessed stay on earth, this worthy Mother completed what the Visitandine aunt had begun, so that Léonie became a source of consolation for her good Father and sisters.
The Move to Lisieux
M. Martin, worried about the happiness and future of his daughters, wanted to ensure the tender and vigilant direction of their aunt, Mme. Céline Guérin, and decided to move to Lisieux, where Léonie could finish her education as a boarder at the School of the Benedictine Nuns.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus paints with an exquisite charm the intimacy of one of the evenings wherein the entire family gathered around the family hearth. The venerable Father, like a true patriarch, had his “little Queen” on his knee, while reviewing the homework of his “good Léonie,” as he liked to call her. Léonie’s characteristic offering to her younger sisters of her doll with its basket, ribbons, and trousseau, shows her golden heart. She could not see them admiring any object that belonged to her without spontaneously offering it to them.
In 1883, Léonie shared in the profound suffering of the family brought about by the mysterious illness of the “little Thérèse.” With her elder sisters, she spent arduous hours at the bedside of the sweet patient, doing her best to distract and amuse her. Sadly, one day it seemed that the child recognized no one but Marie, and Léonie carried her close to the window where the young girl could see her eldest sister stretching her arms out to her. A vain attempt, after which the three young girls, anguished, fell to their knees, praying and begging the Queen of Heaven with an indescribable fervor. They then had the joy of seeing the reflection on the face of the miraculously cured child of the heavenly radiance of the ineffable smile of the Immaculate Virgin on her “little Flower.”
The following year, the child privileged by Mary had the inexpressible happiness of uniting herself with Jesus for the first time and of receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. “It was my dear little Léonie who was my godmother on this day,” Thérèse would write later, “She could not keep her tears from running down her cheeks during the ceremony.”
A Failed Attempt to Become a Poor Clare.
Years before, Léonie had accompanied Mme. Martin to the meeting of tertiaries of St. Francis of Assisi and, secretly, nourished the desire to consecrate herself to God through the Seraphic Order. On October 7, 1886, she obtained permission to attempt the religious life within the Monastery of the Reverend Mothers at Alençon.
Alas, the austerity of the Rule got the better of her delicate health, and, on the following December 1st, she had to leave this most fervent Monastery.
Interiorly compelled by a great desire to “inhabit the House of the Lord” and not dreaming of joining her elder sisters Marie and Pauline in Carmel, Léonie directed her steps towards the Visitation Monastery, which she sought to enter on July 16, 1887.
But this was not the time set by the Lord because her health had not sufficiently improved. She returned to the Buissonnets where her beloved family received her with compassion and tenderness.
In her absence, Monsieur Martin made, with his two youngest daughters, Céline and Thérèse, a pilgrimage to Rome. They later would relate their interesting and pious memories of the trip to their older sister, who little by little flourished in this intimate environment.
A great emptiness would soon develop in this privileged household. The “Little Queen” would soon take flight towards the blessed mountain that she would grace with the unique charm of her sanctity.
On the eve of her departure, all the while fearing that these last conversations would provoke difficult emotions, Léonie held Thérèse close to her heart, giving her affectionate advice so as to give her youngest sister a preview of those tests that she might soon meet within the convent. But Providence had very different designs for these two souls. It was a definite goodbye for Thérèse upon stepping across the doorway into the Carmel.
Caring for Papa and Another Attempt to Become a Nun.
After making this supreme sacrifice, M. Martin, who, with his generous faith, felt much honored to see all his daughters marked by the Divine choice, offered himself in these last years to God for His greater glory. With admirable resignation, he accepted the terrible malady that would lead to the end of his exile. Léonie and Céline cared for their good Father with delicacy, their filial efforts reinforced by their wish to make up for the absences of the affectionate hearts lost to the cloister, which invisibly strengthened all with tenderness and prayers. Léonie and Céline would often visit the Carmel speakroom for direction when they so needed this comfort.
In 1890, the two sisters had the consolation of making a pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, and there our dear Léonie, who had never lost her ardent desire for a religious life, begged Blessed Marguerite-Marie for a definite entry into the convent. As the remaining “Guardian Angel” of their good Father, Céline allowed Léonie to cross the threshold of our Monastery again on June 24, 1893. After a bountiful postulancy, she took the habit and made preliminary vows. She received the name Sister Thérèse-Dosithée after her holy Visitandine aunt. Her joy was all the greater when her well-loved Céline was able to assist in the ceremony, and, of course, all the hearts in the Carmel of Lisieux beat in unison for her.
Delighted that they now shared the name of Thérèse, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote to her elder sister:
“Which of the two Thérèses will be most fervent? It will be the one who is most humble, the one closest to Jesus, the one most faithful to do all with love…’Let us not allow to pass by any sacrifice, all counts in the religious life.”
Nevertheless, despite her total effort, the dear novice was not able to withstand for long the requisite efforts demanded. In those days, the senior Religious required the young sisters to keep the Rule to the letter, and they did not believe in moderating the regime as sometimes is needed in the formation of new nuns. As a result, her delicate health suffered, and our poor child was dismissed.
Return to Lisieux and a Father’s Death.
Upon returning to Lisieux, she found her blessed Father on the verge of exchanging earth for heaven.
The Lord called His Faithful Servant on July 29, 1894, to wear the crown of glory and everlasting happiness that he so nobly deserved. Two months later, Céline, having so nobly completed her filial duties, embraced in turn the life of Carmel.
It was then in the very affectionate home of her uncle and aunt, M. and Mme. Guérin, that Léonie found comfort amidst her bereavement.
Near them, she felt “en famille” because both Guérins always treated their daughters and nieces with the same solicitude. Their eldest daughter had married Doctor La Néele, and their youngest would soon leave to enter the Carmel.
So, as if she were a uniquely loved child, Léonie was pampered by these good parents, from whom she received sweet consolation.
But, in the Carmel, her blood sisters followed with compassion the unsettled experiences of their poor exiled sister and united their prayers with hers. On the day of her profession, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, ardently desiring to see Léonie share in the intimate blessing that she experienced, composed the following prayer:
“Oh, Jesus! Make it Your will that Léonie become a Visitandine, and, if she does not have a vocation, I ask You to give her one. You cannot refuse me this.”
[During Thérèse's last hours on September 30, 1897, Léonie was praying in the chapel of the Carmel with her aunt and uncle Guérin. When Thérèse died in the early evening., Pauline sent them this note: "Dear Uncle and Aunt, Dear Léonie - Our Angel is in heaven. She gave up her last sigh at seven o'clock, pressingh her crucifix to her heart and crying "Oh! I love You!" She had just raised her eyes to heaven. What was she seeing!! Your little daughter who loves you more than ever, Sister Agnès of Jesus r.c.i."]
[The invitation sent by the members of Thérèse's family to her funeral on October 4, 1897. Léonie is listed as the first of the mourners.]
Definitive Entry into the Visitation at Caen.
This audacious supplication from the “Little Queen” would touch the Heart of the Divine King. After Thérèse’s death, the difficulties that kept our dove outside the ark would diminish and she could repeat what the Psalmist wrote: “Lord, You have broken my bonds; I will offer You a host of praise.”
An important change had occurred within our religious family. Repeated bereavements within our community required us to seek from the Mother Monastery in Boulogne-sur-Mer assistance in augmenting our ranks. Our appeal was kindly heard and three Very Honored Sisters who were destined to govern our Monastery were sent to us. They were able to bring with them new, progressive views about the formation of young sisters to our Holy Rules. Accordingly, many former applicants decided to try again to join our ranks. Encouraged by this example, Léonie re-entered to be among us definitively on January 28, 1899.
Her leave-taking caused a great void within her adopted Guérin family. M. Guérin, who prudently had extended his niece’s stay in the world, decided to take her himself to the cloister, despite the sadness he felt in this last parting. Two days later, in an affectionate letter, Mme. Guérin would so express her feelings:
“I saw, my dear little Léonie, that you suffered a great deal in the world and I suffered too to see your pain. Everything you desired has now been given for you to drink; may the Good God continue to guide your sailboat until it arrives safely to port.
“Your year of trial is over, now it is a new life that you are commencing, a life with which you are already familiar. Go forward with courage, count on the Good God, leave things as you have done, leaving everything to Him. We will help you. Oh! I assure you that from our feeble prayers the Lord will frequently hear your name.”
After only fourteen months of postulancy, Léonie received the Holy Habit with the name, Sister Françoise-Thérèse, in remembrance of her beloved, youngest sister.
Her novitiate was under the vigilant care of the Very Reverend Sister Louise-Henriette Vaugeois, a professed nun from our beloved Monastery of Boulogne. This intelligent Superior knew how to comprehend the soul of her new novice, whom she judged as being very direct, simple, and humble. Never appearing surprised at any criticism directed toward her, Sister Françoise-Thérèse would humble herself freely, profoundly convinced of her own deficiencies. She would not trouble herself unduly with the difficulties that her work gave rise to, and she laughed at her own shortcomings. She showed affection to all her fellow novices, so much so that amongst themselves, they would frequently be heard to say, “How fond I am of that little sister!”
Her heart, which became closely attached to this worthy Mistress, was broken when the Mistress was recalled to her profession Monastery, leaving her little charge in the hands of our Very Reverend Marie-Aimee de Songnis.
Very different in character, the new Directress, who had remarkable aptitude in the formation of novices, trained them with strength to acquire strong virtues. The transition was difficult for our dear Sister, who would pour a torrent of tears; one would see her present herself in front of her Mistress armed with two handkerchiefs to stanch the flow!
The searcher was, in effect, sufficiently strengthened on her way; the wise Directress, affirming her with kindness, decided that the time had come to work on loosening the chains that had constantly held her captive to her own self.
She experienced a certain difficulty in adapting to the practical details of religious life, together with an exaggerated and too meticulous sense of upkeep of everything that she used, furnishing ample reasons for the corrections that she received. However unfortunate the repeated humiliations she received with “peace and kindness,” our fervent novice did not lose her sense of joy, her animated and engaged spirit at recreation, providing in great part pleasant occasions for her fellow nuns. Charity characterized her dealings with all the other sisters: once the sisters played a small prank on her during the Feast of the Epiphany.
That night our sister, who had drawn the charm in the king cake, returned to her room and found six hot water bottles placed in her bed.
Rather than making a fuss, she kept one bottle and distributed the others among the sisters who, like her, were most susceptible to the cold.
Upon finishing her novitiate year, our well-loved Sister Françoise-Thérèse could now look forward to the beautiful day of her profession. Her small sailboat was now reaching port, and she could now write to her good Uncle Guérin upon learning that she had been accepted and could now pronounce her holy vows. He responded:
“Despite contrary winds along the way, God has willed to keep you and to render unto you the great honor that you seek. You have without doubt received the graces that God has filled you with in order to repay your perseverance.
“I feel part of your joy, my dear, because I sense that part of the honor that is yours reflects back upon us. Despite the years, are you not still our child? We have done our best to bring about your growth in the path of perfection. As of yesterday, our mission is accomplished. Help us, my dear child, in thanking God and know well that your aunt and I miss your sweet presence dearly.”
From the Carmel of Lisieux, four affectionate hearts reached out to her with the most loving and sisterly wishes. From her eldest sister, Sr. Marie du Sacré Coeur, came the following statement:
“How can I express what I feel in my heart on the eve of such a great day? What an alliance! What an honor for one who is the object of such a privilege. Tomorrow, at nine, you will be attended by our love and our prayers. Do not think that we are far from you; no, for the soul there is no such thing as distance. And also, at your side will be our dear father and mother, my aunt from Le Mans who radiates happiness in seeing her little Visitandine realize her dearest wishes, our Thérèse surrounded by the four little angels who have been in heaven now for so long . . . . Yes, tomorrow, all of heaven will celebrate. I placed your crown at the feet of the Virgin (it was in our house, as you know, that she smiled upon Thérèse). We have also placed it around the statue’s neck where we have all kissed it in happily making this loving offering.
Her younger cousin, Sister Marie of the Eucharist, also expressed her joy in writing:
“Thanking the Lord, who has shown his mercy to our family. A sixth lily is going to be consecrated, and it is not the least brilliant, having purchased by force of sacrifices her vocation. Oh! How I am united in heart and in spirit and how Heaven rejoices, that the saints accompany you on this beautiful day, your cortege is all celestial; there is nothing of earth.”
On July 2, 1900, on our Patronal Feast of the Visitation, our blessed Sister Françoise-Thérèse was consecrated forever to our Lord.
Radiant below her crown of roses, she seemed transfigured; wasn’t she the Bride of Jesus, the King of Heaven and of earth. With her sainted little Sister, she could sing with great gratitude:
You can strum the chords of your lyre
And this lyre, Oh, Jesus, it is my heart
Then I can of your mercies
Sing of their power and sweetness.
Within Community life, the newly professed nun was called to serve successfully as an aide in all types of employment. Her love of order, taken to an extreme, was seen manifested first in the refectory where, with great meticulousness, she made sure that nothing was left amiss.
But her heart leaped with joy when obedience called her to work in the Sacristy, reflecting her great spirit of faith and ardent love for the Holy Eucharist..
Until the age of 73, she held the honor of ironing the altar linen; her piety found pure joy in working with the holy implements that would touch the Divine Host. We do not know how to describe the happiness with which she responded to the Holy Mass and the great pleasure she derived from these privileges.
A Storm of Glory from Lisieux
Hardly thirteen years had elapsed from the death of the Angel of Carmel when an air of extraordinary glory began to surround her memory, and talk began of submitting to the Holy Church a request to examine her virtues. In 1910, Monseigneur Lemonnier, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, received authorization from the Sacred Congregation of Rites to open the diocesan process and to inform our Most Venerable Mother that our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse should begin to prepare for her deposition. Much moved by the grandeur and gravity of the enterprise and of what was being asked of her, and worried that she neither omit nor add anything, she enveloped herself in prayer and contemplation in order to write down her remembrances.
Thereafter timidly and self-critically, our worthy sister, who saw God in all her superiors and who showed them filial confidence, would have recourse of their guidance in these particular circumstances. “Our Mother is for me a subject of unparalleled devotion,” she would write her Sisters in Carmel, “I am touched unto tears to have so much help; never would I involve myself in any matter without that aid, I am humbly convinced of that. In all, as long as I have the spirit to love the Good God with all my strength, I cannot live without a love born of humility; that is enough.”
Several months later, she was called to testify before the Church Tribunal seated in Bayeux. Our Very Honorable Mother Jeanne-Marguerite Decarpentry accompanied her there, where they received warm hospitality at the residence of the Reverend Benedictine Mothers.
Our humble sister, instead of being dazzled by the respectful regard tendered to her, confided: “Thérèse works much for my soul, even in this moment, in terms of humility. The more I see her glorified, the more I feel the need to be hidden. I desire to disappear, to count for nothing, what grace.”
On September 30, 1912, the fifteenth anniversary of her having entered into Heaven, the kind, little Saint came to visit her good Léonie, who experienced that evening the soft and penetrating scent of roses. Telling her older sisters about it, she concluded:
“I experienced a great consolation although it did not last more than a few moments But within the joy I felt, I was pressed to say, ‘Oh, my well-loved little sister, you are so close to me, I am sure of it.’ Afterwards I felt greater fervor to practice littleness. Whenever the little habits returned, alas, when a little rebellion set it, it was worth the effort to practice ‘la petitesse’.”
A Reunion in the Carmel of Lisieux.
The Apostolic Process had reached the point of requiring the examination of witnesses under oath at the Carmel of Lisieux. Léonie’s superiors ordered her to report there. [Editor's note: A Visitation nun at that time did not leave her monastery, nor would the enclosure of Carmel have been open to her. But because almost all the witnesses to be examined were at Lisieux, the ecclesiastical authorities directed Sister Françoise-Thérèse to travel to Lisieux to testify before the tribunal that was sitting at Lisieux. This rare exception was a great joy to Léonie]. She embarked on this second trip feeling the sweetest consolations. “Behold how good and joyful a thing it is” was a feeling shared by the four reunited sisters, together for the purpose of advancing the glorification of the youngest sister, their Benjamin.
Our dear sister had not to this point foreseen her sister’s long ascendance to the summit of sanctity; now she was able to piece it all together in this blessed setting and there to serve as a witness.
With a devotion she could not quite explain, Léonie experienced the places made holy by her angelic sister; she particularly enjoyed prolonged prayer in the austere cell that had been used by the little Saint. And what celestial conversations she must have had with her other sisters! This unexpected reunion made her appreciate all the more her joyous union with Jesus through her vows as a religious. “Oh, I am too happy,” our Léonie would say with her hands together and her eyes towards heaven.
The other nuns at the Carmel joined Léonie’s own sisters in welcoming her. Our own dear Sister Françoise-Léonie was surrounded and celebrated by all. All the sisters sang for her a hymn composed to celebrate the virtues of the future and great Saint, including references to the great honor devolving upon her own blessed family.
But as everything on earth is fleeting, the Martin family reunion was shadowed by the knowledge that it would be a short one. One of the songs composed for her made reference to this:
Oh, Sister, do not cry as the hour advances,
And we must prepare for the sad adieux,
Since this exile of a day shall pass like a dream,
And soon, forever we shall be in Heaven.
Upon returning to the Visitation, our blessed Sister Françoise-Thérèse returned to her humble and hidden life. So much so that, she experienced worries of failing that recurred so often that it was a bit paralyzing. She decided from then on to follow in her Sainted sister’s wake and to dwell upon and study every day the profound secrets of spiritual childhood that fits so well for the daughters of St. Francis de Sales. She preserved in her heart with a degree of nostalgia the memory of the time full of charm passed in Lisieux. Also to savor with pleasure the lines written by her older sister, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart:
“And you, little sister, what do you think of the memory that you have left us, a memory that has left me dreaming of heaven where our reunion will be eternal? Like you, I feel more, after your departure, I feel the exile, I miss the happiness brought about by our reunion. One minute we enjoyed the joy of a family reunion, we have been blessed to experience what it will be in the afterlife when we will never again separate. It had been seventeen years since you had been far from us but you have been with us always. Then, glancing below to our terrestrial home, it will all seem like a dream; like our Mother Saint Teresa said, “A night passed in a bad inn.” Yes, our life here below is not what it should be and I feel like you, to fill up with courage in order to scale the mountain of perfection, because I know well that it is Jesus that carries me in his arms if I place in Him all my confidence”
In subsequent years, Léonie’s health, always precarious, became notably weaker and would occasion sensible sacrifice on her part [as she carried out her religious duties].
It was around that time that she greatly dedicated her sweet and harmonious voice to the chanting of the Divine Office, praising the Lord with all her soul. While carrying out this duty, she was favored with a touching manifestation of her saintly sweet Sister at the start of her religious life, which she reported in a letter to the Carmel. During the Matins, she saw, all of a sudden, a luminous hand that rose above her book. This vision was as clear and quick as lightning, but immediately, our sister had the feeling that it was nothing less than a sisterly visit and she told herself:
“That is my little Thérèse, my second guardian angel, who came to increase my fervor.”
And one can add faith to her testimony because she never wished at all for extraordinary graces. With age, she was not able to withstand fatigue enough to continue chanting psalms, and it was her duty to step back and pass to the ranks of the Associate Sisters. Opening her heart to her doubly maternal Pauline (the Reverend Mother Agnes de Jesus) she received this response:
“Oh! Do not become sad, my little Léonie. As long as your soul sings without ceasing the praises of the Lord, all will be well. In addition, recall the luminous hand of our Thérèse. This time she has invisibly closed your hymnal, but she has also come to open your heart!”
Thereafter, Sister Françoise-Thérèse nourished an intimate and ardent desire--that is, to have a great relic of her little Thérèse. Heaven appeared to deign to grant this desire in a touching and unexpected manner. The Sisters of Carmel were prohibited from disposing of the Blessed Relics, but they wondered how they could nonetheless grant Léonie’s reasonable desire. During the second exhumation, one saw that from within the silk covering the main relics of the Saint a molar had detached completely. “This will be for Léonie,” the Carmelite Sister thought to herself. And Léonie indeed received, with immense pleasure, this most precious gift.
The worldwide fame of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus brought to our door visitors anxious to meet the very sister of the Little Flower of Lisieux. Respecting the demands of the cloister, one had often to refuse these requests. Sister Léonie-Françoise, as assistant to the porter sister, had many occasions to handle such requests with finesse, and she would respond in a manner that was both appropriate and calculated to deprive herself of any satisfaction based on pride.
A prelate presented himself at the visitor’s entrance wanting to visit with Léonie, but our dear, unrecognized Sister told him, “we will ask the Mother Superior, but I don’t think that this request will be granted.” “Oh, I am so sorry,” responded the prelate. Léonie responded, “I assure you, Father, that you will lose nothing in failing to see her; it really is not worth the trouble.” Startled by this blunt opinion, the prelate left without saying a word. When he ran into the Convent chaplain, he discovered who the door-keeper had been, and was edified by how low an opinion the Sister of the Saint had of her own self.
Our Sister, although she lavishly praised the talents of the other nuns, was herself incapable of showing even the slightest envy. She would admire without question all that was produced by the Carmel in Lisieux—publications, portraits, etc., and she found them all worthy moral and physical depictions of her Little Thérèse. But she was uncomfortable when these became subjects of discussion.
She gained a strong devotion for the portrait of the Holy Face, based on the Holy Shroud of Turin, painted with such exactitude and piety by her dear Céline. Léonie confided to her:
“How can I describe my happiness in receiving the beautiful Holy Face; this true portrait of my Jesus has value without price for my heart. The other day, my evening prayers were too short because I had this treasure before my eyes. In contemplating his divine features, I recollected myself with thoughts of his Passion and my soul was filled with pain and love.”
The Hidden Sister of a Canonized Saint.
We should note how close these sentiments are to those expressed by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. With what enthusiasm Léonie followed the triumphant phases of her sister’s beatification and canonization.
It was with touching delicacy that Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus kept us up to date with all the associated developments. In turn, each of the three Reverend Mothers of the period did everything possible to celebrate with appropriate ceremony the glory of the celestial Miracle Worker. With a heart filled with supernatural joy, our well-loved Sister experienced vivid emotion the ceremonies in our Chapel and joined in the hymns of thanksgiving towards the child beloved by the entire world. On this occasion, the Reverend Mothers would allow Léonie to receive greetings from all; we were edified by the charming simplicity with which she accepted our congratulations and allowed herself to be crowned with roses.
Thanks to the generosity of the Carmel of Lisieux, one of our extern sisters was assigned the favor of representing at the Canonization in Rome our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse. Because of her veneration of the head of the Church, Léonie asked her to kiss the Holy Father’s slipper. When so requested by the Bishop, Pius XI allowed it responding with a smile, “Yes, I would like it, since it is simply an act of faith."
On the following September 28th, His Eminence Cardinal Vico, Legate of the Pope at the Lisieux celebrations, came in his name to visit whom he called “Sister Léonie” and who brought her on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of her profession a magnificent portrait of the Holy Father, favored with a special blessing.
After a paternal visit in our Community Room, where our Sister, kneeling at the Cardinal’s feet, touchingly answered the well thought out questions posed by His Eminence, the Cardinal with an entourage of prelates, went to the garden to bless a beautiful statue of the new Saint given to us by the Carmel of Lisieux.
Happily returning to her humble place in the Community, our edifying Sister had no dreams other than to deepen an intimate life with God. Now growing older, she wrote to her well-loved Pauline—whom she called her soul’s little mother:
“I see always that all human honors are nothing but vanity and afflictions of spirit, and I am pleased as my life vanishes before me; it passes completely in our cell, working in the laundry with the linens, reciting lines from Thérèse’s poetry about her little way, so delightful and always good to experience.”
Her charity was inspired by her Canonized little sister whom she called her “beloved [spiritual] director.” From her, she derived the grace to accept her own deficiencies with joy, and she always asked her to help her complete her tasks despite her slowness and over-sensitivity, in order to realize the beautiful words, “I wish above all to be fortified by humiliations.” These words, as she expressed to Mother Agnes, in one of her confidences, gave her comfort because instead of suffering from a sense of inferiority and from the isolation of the heart, she found comfort in her littleness, a sweet fruit derived from one of her spiritual retreats. It was a pain that brushed softly against her heart. “I dream of disappearing more and more.”
In 1930, following a grippe that developed into pulmonary congestion, she became so ill that she was permitted to receive the last Sacraments. Our fervent Sister found herself joyful in receiving this much hoped for sacrament. She exulted in thinking that she would soon find herself in the true Homeland and she kissed her hands that had been purified with the holy ointments. Her nights of insomnia were occasions to experience brilliant inspirations of love that moved us deeply. She joyfully received a telegram from His Holiness Pius XI imparting his benediction. But it was yet not time for her deliverance, and soon she began to feel better and better.
Our dear convalescent soon had enough strength to continue her earthly pilgrimage. During a visit with her, our Very Honored Sister Marie-Aimee prayed on her knees before an image of St. Thérèse asking, “I pray to you, kind Saint, that you leave your dear Léonie with us longer, do not take her yet.” This ardent prayer, united with the prayers of the community, was granted by Heaven. Our devoted nurse, our unforgettable Sister Joseph-Gabriel de Formigny, would write to the Carmel a most admiring testimony: “What an edifying example Sister Françoise-Thérèse has given us during her great suffering! How many times have I had occasion to admire her faith, her love for the Good God, her delicacy; she brings honor to our dear little Saint, whose virtues she follows. What joy for us now that she is out of danger and all of our efforts have been richly rewarded.”
His Eminence Cardinal Suhard, then bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, wrote to Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus after visiting our virtuous Sister:
“I visited Caen, where I imparted my blessing upon Sr. Françoise-Thérèse. The dear patient is truly in the hands of God, and, from the short conversation I had with her, I am truly edified. It is like an echo of Paradise to live in such an atmosphere.”
How joyful we were when our venerable Sister returned to our midst. So many more times were we able to appreciate her generosity within her circumstances of physical suffering. We were amazed at her endurance as, with increasing age, her frailties increased, making it ever more difficult for her to maintain the religious duties of our Order. She never complained, although her walk became heavy and movements less agile, humming cheerfully as she went along and continuing to bring joy to our recreations.
The most salient characteristic of her moral character was the virtue of religion. Her love for the Church was manifested in her profound respect for its representatives, above all the Sovereign Pontiff whose teachings she studied in depth. All clerics were subjects of veneration for her. She prayed for them and loved her youngest Sister’s prayer:
I wish that the soul of a Priest
Resembled the Angels from Heaven
Oh, I wish that he could be reborn
Before climbing to the altar
In order to bring about a miracle
It is needed that, filled with burning love,
Souls close to the tabernacle,
Will be inflamed day and night.
She saw equally in all her Superiors the Divine authority and would show them filial respect, being very mindful of their wishes, and she was most attentive to all the details involving her employment.
She could not understand why one would place oneself in opposition to the directives of the Vicar of Jesus Christ or his delegates, and she strongly criticized the enemies of the Church, so much so that we would tease her about being as severe as St. Jerome.
Her reverent attitude towards prayer showed her deep piety. She particularly held dear the short preparatory retreats before the Feast of Pentecost. In one of these, our Sister noted:
“How I savor these words: ‘The Good God works within us. He does not need to see or hear. Because I am simply a poor soul, I ask Jesus to fill me with the Spirit of Love. In all, the little ones simply wish to love, they have nothing to say or do because love is all. Being small is our happiness and our strength.”
The Sacred Host was the center of her life. “I would rather drag myself on my knees than forgo Communion.” She experienced true joy before the Eucharist and she would humbly request to be allowed more hours of adoration.
She always had her rosary in her hands as she walked through our cloisters. “It is my good fortune,” she said at the end of her life, “to have sown so many ‘Hail Marys’.” When she said this prayer, she would stress the words, “pray for us sinners.” She loved to invoke the Blessed Mother using her title of “Immaculate.” She would say that it was Mary who would give us strength in life’s battles.
Our Sister had great love and devotion to the Founders of our Order.
She said that she loved St. Francois de Sales and considered him an incomparable saint. She would ask, “what would have become of us if our good and saintly Founder had not instituted the Visitation?” She also had great devotion to the Sacred Heart as transmitted by St. Margaret-Mary. Above all, she loved to follow the liturgical cycle, particularly as we approached the Feast of Christmas. After Vespers she would meditate on the dialogue purportedly between the Child Jesus and St. Jerome:
Jesus: Jerome, what are you giving me for my birthday?
Jerome: Divine Child, I give you my heart.
Jesus: That is good, but what else will you offer me?
Jerome: I will give you all my prayers and affection.
Jesus: Give me something else.
Jerome: I give you all that I have; all that I am.
Jesus: I wish you to give me something else.
Jerome: Divine Child, I have nothing else. What else can I give you?
Jesus: Jerome, give me your sins.
Jerome: What do you wish to do?
Jesus: Give me your sins, so that I can forgive you.
Jerome: Oh! Divine Child, you make me cry!
At the last words, she would be moved and one could see the tears in her own eyes.
She regularly received the magazine “Annales de Sainte-Thérèse de Lisieux” and would be a faithful reader. She delighted in sharing with us the consolations that she found in these pages. She would generously give it to other sisters and tell then to take as much time as they wished in reading it. It was very touching when she would share consolations with sisters exiled from monasteries or those in the infirmary with passages from the life of her Sainted little sister.
Charity in the Cloister.
Old age did not dull her affectionate nature that she would share with all. She had an extraordinary memory and would remember the anniversaries of all the sisters. She had an uncanny ability to detect when someone was going through a trial or other difficult experience. Once she noticed that a novice after Matins appeared to have tears in her eyes. Léonie then accompanied the young nun to her cell door and without speaking gave her a motherly hug. The young sister was so touched by the gesture that she seemed to forget the source of her troubles.
Her charity was always expressed with an affable smile, always accompanied by respect. Once during World War I, she consoled a nun who worried about her family’s exposure to the fighting. She told her that she should not worry since little Thérèse would surely watch over and protect them. “Do not worry; I am confident that she will.”
She was particularly solicitous towards the sick among us. Despite her own illnesses and fatigue, she always volunteered to sit up with those seriously ill. Our Honorable Mother Jeanne-Marguerite Decarpentry was so touched by her kind attentions to her during an illness that she would write to Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus:
“Without doubt, you know my good Mother, that Sister Françoise-Thérèse has suffused my old age with affectionate attentions. She comes often with a wheelchair to take me to choir and to our Community Assemblies with perfect punctuality and care. I ask Our Lord that he repay her. and I view with admiration the courage with which she presses on despite old age and poor health to observe our religious duties.”
Our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse carried out her work duties with remarkable dedication and care, and she would place herself at the disposal of all her supervisors in all circumstances. “My sister,” she would say, “ask whatever you like of me. I am ready to be at your disposal.” Effectively, she would render thousands of hidden services. She would do whatever she could to alleviate the pain of others without worrying about herself.
She would carry out many offices to lighten the work load of the other sisters. Her thoughtfulness was well known. She was vigilant to put away items that others might have misplaced and would return such items to the right work place.
Invariably, in such cases, we would know who to turn to when something was misplaced since our meticulous sister, without ever complaining, would make every effort to keep tidy the Lord’s house.
She would reproach herself, during the annual retreats, of moving through her work too quickly and thus acquiring for own self free time that did not properly belong to her, and in her eyes this offended the spirit of poverty. And thus our dear Sister wished that everything that she used would not be too pretty; she would not accept any special indulgences, even when she was ill, and wished to simply meld into the Community without particular attention to her person. After her death, various persons asked our Mother Superior for souvenirs of our dear Sister, but to her embarrassment little was found to give away since Sister Françoise Thérèse kept nothing but a few deteriorated medals, a cheap inkwell and a few printed pages on the reverse of which she had written notes.
Whenever she was able, our devoted Sister would take part in communal work; our novices would rejoice whenever she would come to help wash the dishes with them, knowing that she would be a most joyous companion and they would feel at ease in her company as she treated them with sisterly affection. She would revel in being assigned occasionally the humblest tasks in the Monastery. She would write that becoming little to the point of demolition was most sweet, since it was the shortest and surest way to reside in the Heart of Jesus.
The Visitation and the Carmel of Lisieux.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse’s greatest comfort was through the exchange of thoughts and sentiments with her beloved sisters in Carmel, all sharing the same ideal of the religious life that was lived by their Saint Thérèse. They reciprocally encouraged each other to persevere, using for this purpose all the energies contained within the powerful and tender affection that united them so closely. So wrote Sister Marie du Sacré-Coeur to her little Léonie:
“Your letter was very interesting to me. I so love to know what you do, albeit small in appearance, like my duties making provisions for the convent among the pears, potatoes, carrots, beets, etc. But in the eyes of God, there is nothing great here below—it is all as nothing, even the greatest enterprises are as nothing. Before Him, only if our works are filled with love, are our labors great before His eyes.”
“Thank you for your long letter that gave us so much pleasure; continue it later, since nothing can be more interesting for us than the progress of our little Visitandine along the way of Love and total abandonment. Yes, it is a short way and one that gives our wings air and why? We wish, like our Thérèse, to be as a grain of sand, stepped upon by passers-by. That was the secret of her rapid rise towards the summit of the mountain of Love.”
She would quote often from the last letter that she received from Marie, Thérèse’s Godmother, just six months before Marie herself died. How supernatural and strong was this adieu:
“They have told me that you are tired; that is not surprising at your age. We are nearing Heaven and the road has been so long that we are feeling the effects of the voyage. Who among us will be the first to reach Heaven? It could well be me, the most infirm. But I will not ask anything of the good God since we will not have again the chance to aid in the saving of souls. It is well worth it to stay on earth for many more years to suffer more if he should so wish it. Goodbye, my dear little sister, I embrace you tenderly. Have great courage. Heaven is at end of our struggles. Your poor elder sister.”
After Marie’s death on January 19, 1940, our venerable Sister Françoise-Thérèse seemed to hasten to the end of her own journey. Her increasing infirmities obliged her at the beginning of winter to leave her small cell and move into the infirmary, which, to her joy, she found had a window over-looking our Chapel. As always, she found the means to show many acts of generosity and delicate concern towards her fellow sufferers and forgot herself in order to comfort them.
Always acknowledging the small services her Community happily rendered her, she thanked us with touching embarrassment and, notwithstanding her fatigue, she would faithfully follow our Community exercises. “Yes, I suffer very much,” she admitted, “but I do not wish to stop, I want to go on until the very end.”
In May, she became ill with influenza that weakened her perceptively and rheumatic pain that seemed to diminish her in size. Her heart seemed to suffer from compression and she appeared to suffocate. In view of the rapid decline, Our Very Honorable Mother took advantage of a slight improvement to give her one last joy by celebrating her 78th birthday with an intimate gathering. She was placed near Mother in the refectory and during recreation the Community sang verses to her. A great joy brightened the day--the Benediction of the Holy Father, obtained through the good offices of Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus, who had requested it the previous year. This timely Benediction was meant to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her religious profession:
“We bless with all our heart, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of her religious profession, our dear daughter in Jesus Christ, Françoise-Thérèse of the Visitation in Caen, and through the intercession of her glorious Sister, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, we ask the grace of highest sanctity together with most fervent humility upon her.”
With all the enthusiasm of her faith, our ardent Sister kissed with respect the signature of the great Pontiff whom she referred to as our Angelic Pastor and looked upon his portrait. She signed with trembling hand a letter of gratitude to His Holiness Pius XII. These were the last letters she ever wrote here below. We later learned that, upon learning of her death, the Holy Father Himself celebrated a Mass for the repose of the soul of this fervent Catholic who so loved the Church.
The Profession Crucifix of St. Thérèse.
Our Venerable Sister Françoise-Thérèse piously preserved the Crucifix of Profession of her Canonized youngest sister which the Carmel had lent to her for life.
On the day of the birthday celebration, our prioress announced that she had received word from Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus that this precious treasure, together with a magnificent reliquary for display in our Community, would be permanently ours. Sister Françoise-Thérèse’s obvious delight was inestimable. She had worried that after her death the ties between these two beloved monasteries would loosen. Well aware of Léonie’s concern, Pauline once again assured her, “Do not worry, my little Léonie, that if you leave for Heaven, I will not often be in contact with the Visitation; moreover, I will feel a need myself to continue this closeness.”
At the end of this beautiful day, we organized a small procession to return our well-loved Sister to the infirmary while we sang:
To Heaven! To Heaven! To Heaven!
On your sweet path,
Thérèse, lead us there!
In the arms of our Very Honorable Mother, the venerable patient, who we loved to call “our living relic,” glowed with happiness. Clearly, she seemed to sense the coming of eternity. We were sad to see, however, how day by day she became weaker as the Lord’s coming became imminent. She would assure us that she was without illusions and knew that the end of her exile was at hand.
When in the midst of occasional agonizing suffering, she would console the Community:
“The Divine Thief is at the door, my Mother, but do not worry if he takes me in my sleep. I am ready; all is done, abandoned.”
Such conversations will be continued only in Heaven. This image reminds one of the wise virgin whom with the oil lamp in hand awaits the appearance of the Spouse. Her confidence was complete, her self-abandonment entire; thus she was free of all worry. Without illusion, our edifying patient said that it was necessary to climb Calvary in order to go straight to Heaven like little children do.
She wished to remain small and weak, as she confided to her sisters in Carmel:
“I wish to stay small, so that I can have the audacity to believe that I will not go to Purgatory. I ask my Jesus that He Himself prepare me for His arrival. I do not want to be left alone so as to spoil anything.”
A few weeks before her death, in her last letter to Carmel, she again revealed:
“A thought directly from my heart--even a great sinner does not need to fear the good God. On the contrary, it is my insignificance that gives me confidence, and I perceive with joy that I will fall from the arms of our Beloved Mother [Superior] into the arms of our Beloved Mother in Heaven. What audacity!”
Her Holy Death.
On June 11, the Feast of the Sacred Sacrament, she showed herself to be most happy at recreation. She observed that day the anniversary of her baptism. She read for the Community her Canonized Sister’s Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, reciting “I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little “host’.” She emphasized touchingly, without musing, without doubting, but firmly, that after that morning’s Communion would come the Viaticum.
On the following day, our courageous Sister began to rise very early as was our custom, fearing that she would not be in time to receive her God. A few minutes later, her infirmarian came to help her dress, but instead found her unconscious. Our Very Honorable Mother was immediately alerted, and judged her condition to be grave. She alerted the Chaplain to give her the Last Sacraments before celebrating Mass. The dear patient was unable, in the subsequent hours, to communicate to us her thoughts, since she had lost the power of speech, a great sacrifice for one of such an expansive nature.
Two “touriere” nuns from the Carmel of Lisieux arrived in the afternoon bearing the comforting intentions of her two well-loved Carmelite sisters, both of whom felt closer to her then than ever before. Through this special privilege, we were able to receive them in our cloister and thus give our Sister Françoise-Thérèse the consolation of recognizing them and receiving their smiles one last time.
This state of weakness and suffering lasted for another five days. During this time, we surrounded her with prayers and, each evening, the Chaplain would come to renew the grace of Holy Absolution, staying to bless and preside in the recitation of the rosary prayed around the bed of our venerable infirm sister.
Each morning, after Holy Communion, our Very Reverend Mother would come to Léonie’s sick-bed to finish her Act of Thanksgiving. Léonie would ceaselessly finger the rosary beads that came from her well-loved sister, Marie of the Sacred Heart, which she had requested and received from the Carmel, and, in the other hand, held the profession crucifix of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, kissing each in turn. She seemed much moved when we sang the Saint’s verses:
To die of love;
A sweet martyrdom;
That I wish to suffer;
Oh, Cherubim tune your lyres;
Since my exile is about to end.
Nearby, there was a reproduction of the statue of the “Virgin of the Smile” that had miraculously cured Thérèse. She gazed upon it with an ineffable smile of her own and stretched her arms towards the image while we murmured those familiar words:
“You who came to smile at me in the morning of my life;
Come and smile once more, Mother, at its close!”
Her life, like a beautiful evening, moved serenely towards its mortal conclusion.
Our Sister waited calmly for the blessed moment when she would receive her eternal embrace.
In imitation of her sister, the Saint, she spent several hours before the end throwing rose petals upon her crucifix from flowers that her two Carmelite sisters had cut from the Lisieux monastery garden.
In the evening of June 16, Léonie visibly weakened, holding firmly in one hand her crucifix and rosary and a wax Agnus Dei in the other. Our Very Reverend Mother and those sisters in attendance redoubled their prayers, invoking above all the Most Holy Virgin under her titles of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of the Visitation; St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus; and her blessed parents, all of whom could not fail to assist her in this supreme hour.
A supernatural atmosphere was felt in the room, when all of a sudden, Léonie came out of the torpor, which had absorbed her for the last several hours, and she bestowed a luminous smile upon our Mother Superior and the two beloved tourieres from Carmel who knelt by the bedside. Very moved, our Mother blessed her one last time and, in the midst of tears, embraced her in the name of Pauline and Céline; then Léonie’s eyes closed, and, without the death rattle and after a few audible sighs, she seemed to fall asleep in the arms of the Lord. The date was the anniversary of the apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary.
The Magnificat was the prayer that our Reverend Mother was inspired to say, feeling the need to thank God for the graces that He had bestowed upon this humble and faithful soul. Below white roses, our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse appeared to reflect the peace and happiness of the eternal. She had a beautiful smile that we did not tire of contemplating.
Funeral and Burial.
On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we had to forgo the exposition of the Sacred Sacrament in order for our Sister to be laid out in the chancel. This was done to accommodate the demands of the faithful who asked to have an opportunity to pray before her remains. Thousands came to join in the rosaries recited aloud by our pious Chaplain. Many of the faithful asked that religious objects, flowers and images be touched to the crucifix of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus that remained in the hands of Léonie.
Pilgrims from Lisieux had the consolation of arriving in time to view the remains of Léonie, which showed no signs of decomposition, despite the summer heat.
On Saturday, June 21, 1941, Monsignor Germain, the Director of Pilgrimages in Lisieux, presided at her funeral, substituting for the Bishop of Caen, who was ill. Five members of an order dedicated to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus attended the Requiem Mass, preceded by a cortege of twenty-nine priests. Surrounding the coffin, they formed a beautiful and priestly crown around our Sister’s remains.
We then proceeded in procession to the burial of our Venerable Sister inside the interior crypt of the Monastery, where we have the great privilege and consolation of being near her tomb.
Now, near the Rose of Lisieux, our deeply missed Sister, like a “Small Violet,” will look after her Visitation family in Caen, and we hope after the Church, our Holy Order, the Carmel, and the entire world. And Raise the Lowly! God be Blessed!
69.144 –s. 1B..N..CAEN