One hundred sixteen years ago today, on Monday, July 2, 1900, the Servant of God, Léonie Martin, made her religious profession during Mass in the chapel of the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen. Celebrate this happy anniversary by reliving the day with her in this article.
Léonie was then 37 years old. Having entered the Visitation Monastery at Caen a total of three times, she had received the habit twice before, in 1894 (she left the monastery in 1895) and in 1899. The day of her vows was the happiest day of her life.
Leading up to the happy day of Léonie's profession
On May 12, 1900, the nuns of the Visitation community had voted to receive Léonie, who had taken the name Sister Françoise-Thérèse, as a professed nun. At the request of her superior, Léonie sent a telegram to her uncle, Isidore Guèrin, in Lisieux to announce the happy news. The next day she wrote to her uncle:
My gratitude to our beloved Mother and the whole Community is indescribable. I’d like to be able to describe the joy and deep affection with which I was received. I knew I was well-loved here, but I didn’t imagine it was to such an extent.
One is happy to think that Léonie, for so long misunderstood, was surprised and happy at how well she was loved at the Visitation. Read the rest of Léonie's happy letter at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.
When the news reached Lisieux, Léonie received joyful letters from her family. Read the letters of congratulation from:
- her cousin Marie Guérin, Sister Marie of the Eucharist,
- her sister Marie, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart,
- her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus,
- and her younger sister Celine, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face.
The Vow Mass, July 2, 1900
The vow Mass was to take place at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, July 2, the feast of the Visitation Order. Like Therese, Léonie had to renounce the presence of Bishop Hugonin. Her aunt, Céline Guérin, had died in February. Her uncle, Isidore Guérin, and her cousin, Jeanne Guérin La Neéle, were too sick to attend. Jeanne’s husband, Francis La Neéle, represented her family.
Léonie wrote that the altar was "nothing but lilies."
Father Lepelletier, the senior priest of St. Stephen’s in Caen, presided at the Mass. He had been the confessor of Louis Martin, and of Therese from the time she left the Abbey in February 1886 until he entered Carmel in 1888. In 1887, to take a lesson in fishing from Louis Martin, he accompanied Louis and his three youngest daughters on an outing. On that occasion he left us a sketch of Léonie, Céline, and Thérèse in the country (courtesy of the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux; click to see his photo, and then, in the text, click on the word "dessine" in blue).
Canon Levasseur, who had preached at Léonie's reception of the Habit on June 30, 1899, preached the sermon. He had known the Guerin family when he was working in Navarre, near their summer estate, La Musse. He had been Marie Guerin’s spiritual director. According to the custom of the times, a violinist who was a friend of one of the Visitation nuns played several pieces of sacred music, accompanied by a harmonium. Then Léonie prostrated herself (a symbol of dying to oneself and rising to new life in Christ). While she lay under the pall, she wore against her heart the letters she had just received from her sisters.
Finally Canon Ruel, the chaplain of the Visitation, received Léonie's vows. (Her correspondence shows that she was saddened when he was reassign4ed in 1930. Tragically, Canon Ruel died in the bombing of St. Pierre in Caen in 1944).
With her own hand Léonie recorded the formula of the vows in the monastery's book:
I, Françoise-Thérèse Martin, have by the grace of God, this day of 2 July 1900, celebrated my vows to live and die in the Congregation of Our Lady of the Visitation. May my Savior bless this day and render it profitable for all eternity.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse Martin
Under the bridal crown of roses prepared by her sisters at Lisieux, the newly professed was radiant with joy. Francis La Neele wrote to Lisieux: “Léonie was transfigured; she was truly beautiful; it seemed to us that the Holy Spirit rested on her.” As a souvenir of the great day, Léonie distributed holy cards with an image then known as “Thérèse seated in the monastery garden” (in fact, the figure of Thérèse was cropped from a group photo and pasted onto the background).
In terms strikingly reminiscent of Thérèse's description of her own profession, Léonie described the day in her letter to her sisters of August 4, 1900.
Leonie mentions the surprise of being presented with the crucifix Thérèse had worn throughout her own religious life and had caressed on her sickbed. This was a gift from her Carmelite sisters. Referring to the usual cross worn by all Visitandines, Leonie adds:
When I awoke the following day, I was so happy to be able to press my Profession Cross against my heart. This blessed cross has cost me so much! I said to myself, “I have it this time . . . Nothing can take it from me now!":
Among those who had the joy of celebrating with Leonie in the chapel of the Visitation on July 2, 1900, how many could have guessed that exactly 115 years later that same chapel would see the opening of her cause for beatification?
On this anniversary of the happiest day of Leonie's life, let's pray fervently that God will allow her cause to be advanced so that she may help and console all those who have shared in the trials she experienced on earth. Let's give thanks to God for her and pray for the whole Visitation family.