Bishop Boulanger requests permission to open diocesan process for sainthood of Leonie Martin, sister of St. Therese of Lisieux; French press reports he will announce on January 24, 2015 in Caen

On Saturday, January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Mgr. Jean-Claude Boulanger, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, will announce that he has requested permission to open the diocesan process of beatification for Léonie Martin, the sister of St. Therese of Lisieux, according to stories in the French press.  La Manche Libre, Le Pays d'Auge, Normandie Actuand the French Catholic newspaper La Croix reported the news.  According to these reports, Father Laurent Berthout, the bishop's press officer, said:

“For many years, people have entrusted themselves to the prayers of Léonie Martin, coming to her tomb at the Monastery of the Visitation, where she was a nun from 1899 to 1941. These persons witness to graces they have received through her intercession. Léonie Martin lived a simple, hidden, humble life in the shadow of the cloister. She wanted to live the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, doing “all through love, nothing through force” in the words of St. Francis. She was blessed by the spiritual discovery of her sister, St. Therese, who taught her to live by Love in the most humble and the most everyday actions. Leonie gave witness by her life to the possibility of living it fully, even through her limitations: character, health, trials.

The French press reports that, when he celebrates Mass tomorrow at the Monastery of the Visitation in Caen, where Leonie was a nun from 1899 to 1941, Bishop Boulanger will announce that he has requested from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome permission to open the process for Leonie in his diocese.  He has the opinion of the bishops' conference of Normandy, and he is writing a letter to the Congregation asking for this permission.  He will officially confer on Léonie  the title "Servant of God."  Before the process may actually be opened, we must wait for the Congregation to give the "nihil obstat."

The opening of the diocesan process (an inquiry into the life and writings of the candidate for sainthood) is the beginning of a long procedure that, for some candidates, leads ultimately to canonization.  The diocesan process for Therese was opened by an earlier bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux in 1910, and Léonie  testified at it.

A happy birthday to Leonie Martin, sister of St. Therese of Lisieux

Today is the birthday of Leonie Martin, the sister of St. Therese, who was born at Alencon on June 3, 1863.  Leonie was a special-needs child.  When she was a child, Louise Marais, the Martins' maid at Alencon, abused her.  Leonie had a hard time  finding her place in the world, and entered religious life four times before she finally persevered.  She was an early disciple of the "way of confidence and love" of her little sister. 

In October 2008 I visited the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen and saw the door through which Leonie entered definitively on January 28, 1899, declaring "The next time I leave here, it will be in my coffin!"  Sister Francoise-Therese, the present-day archivist of the community, laughingly pointed out the irony that the body of Leonie, whose religious name was also Sister Francoise-Therese, has never left the Visitation because she was buried in the crypt, where I visited her tomb. 

Praying at Leonie's tomb, I received a unique grace.  Unexpectedly, I remembered the times in my life that I'd been deeply hurt, and I felt Leonie, who was treated so badly and yet grew into a loving, generative person, assuring me that the wounds these experiences had left were no obstacle to sanctity.  I understood why so many parents of special children commend them to her, and why so many people who struggle to find a place in life invoke her prayers. 

To learn more about Leonie's life, please see the "Letter from Clairval Abbey."  Or purchase a biography in English, "Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life" by Marie Baudoin-Croix.

When Therese lay dying, Leonie, then 34, had failed three attempts at religious life and was living as a laywoman with her uncle and aunt. On July 17, 1897, in her last letter to Leonie, Therese wrote:

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 four 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. 

You want me to pray in heaven to the Sacred Heart for you.  Be sure that I shall not forget to give Him your messages and to ask all that will be necessary for you to become a great saint.

Leonie was born in the month of the Sacred Heart and died in the same month, on June 16, 1941.  In this month of the Sacred Heart, may she help us understand "the abysses of love and mercy of the Heart of Jesus."