the Carmel

Biography of Sister Thérèse of St Augustine

Julia-Marie-Elisa Leroyer 1856-1929

TH-de-St-Augustin sign lt

Help in the night

The beloved daughter of her parents

It was a frail little girl who was born at the Château de la Cressonnière, not far from Orbec (Calvados), on September 5, 1856. Her parents, Louis Leroyer and Élise Valentin, who had been married for a year, were servants and wife of bedroom in said castle. Very young parents: barely twenty-two and eighteen years old. Fervent Christian, the mother offers to God her first child, who will remain unique.

Julia grew up in pampered isolation, but not spoiled. Mr. Leroyer soon established himself as a lemonade-maker in Lisieux, 125, Grande Rue. On August 15, the little girl tries out a pretty toilet. And here she is lingering in front of the mirror, making nice little manners. The mother arrives, a strict educator; she strongly rebukes the coquette! Innocent childish peccadillo, which perhaps announces a tendency of the future Carmelite. Its spiritual notes reveal a highly developed reflex life, like a need to "mirror oneself". A confessor will reproach him for it one day; “You practice virtue as a bourgeois... to see yourself virtuous. » 
Julia is entrusted to the boarding school of the Benedictines. On February 2 (1870), the divine call was heard. IFather Hodierne, vicar at Saint-Pierre and interim chaplain of the Carmel, receives his confidences. Carmel, with its austere, solitary life, united to God, determines the choice of the adolescent girl. She immediately opens up to her parents. "If this vocation really comes from the good God, I will not oppose it", replies the father, a man of great faith. But he died two months later of smallpox (May 11, 1871), and Julia left boarding school to keep her mother company. The intimacy will be short-lived. 
Impatient and strong-willed, what Julia wants, she needs without delay. The - bizarre - tests imposed by the Abbe Hodierne, the reproaches of the entourage ("heartless"!) do not stop him, Mrs. Leroyer is moreover his best ally. She lets her daughter go on the 1er May 1875. She even thought of joining him there one day. Wise advice will divert him from it. She died on February 27, 1911 after a life of devotion to poor childhood.

The postulant exults: “If you saw how cheerful I am, you would no longer recognize me (...) And then if you knew the souls of Carmel, these souls with whom I have the happiness of living, you would see, you would see how sublime they are, these privileged souls. What charity! What abnegation! What a spirit of sacrifice! (Letter to his aunt, Mrs. Hue, 6-5-1875). The young Thérèse of Saint-Augustin launched an assault on this sublime sanctity. One day she will consider herself privileged among the privileged. His sincere goodwill, sometimes lacking clairvoyance, will never waver, specifies his Circular.

The dream come true

The postulant was admitted to the vestment on October 15, 1875, on condition, stipulates Mr. Delatroette, not to make profession before his twenty-one years. The novice is under the spell of her young prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague (41 years old) but does not manage to feel at ease with her mistress, Mother Geneviève (70 years old). She is very impressionable, imaginative, inclined to dramatize. His insistence ends up bending the superior, In order "not to pass for an unreasonable obstinate" (as he writes himself), Mr. Delatroëtte authorizes the issuance of vows on 1er May 1877, subject to the consent of Mrs. Leroyer - it is acquired in advance! In a crisis of scruples, the young sister receives this consoling answer from Father Youf "My poor child, all I can tell you is that you already have one foot in hell and that, if you continue, you will soon put the second there"... Mother Marie de Gonzague, with her usual open-mindedness, soothes the beleaguered novice: “Don't worry, I already have both! »

The young Carmelite dominates herself by sheer force. We have left this portrait of her: "Little character, holding cherubim, entirely to her rule and her duty, not losing a line of her small size nor any opportunity to practice an act of virtue or fidelity to the smallest things. Willing will and which, with its battle cry: "It's settled", rushes to attack the sky with a fearlessness that would defy that of the most illustrious warriors. (text by Sister Marie des Anges in 1893). Thérèse of Saint-Augustin becomes a model of religious seriousness and recollection, a living and sustained example of regularity, not without a little sharp stiffness in her words and her ways of acting” (Circular).

Meeting of the young Thérèse

In August-September 1882, Pauline Martin, an aspirant to the Carmel, introduced her little sister to the Community. The nine-year-old's candor strikes all the sisters. " She is beautiful! What an angelic air", Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustin keeps repeating - forgetting her usual reserve, little Thérèse is embarrassed by it: "I did not intend to come to Carmel to receive praise" (Ms A, 26 v° ). But for the grave Carmelite, the game is over: “As soon as we met, we felt an irresistible attraction for each other. »

After the compliments, the small gifts: “Thank you very much for me to my Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustin for her pretty rosary of practices and for having embroidered the beautiful cover of my book” (LT 11, March 1884), the famous first communion preparation book directed by Sr Agnès de Jesus. Four years later, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus inaugurated a glorious war to respond to this eldest. It was she who introduced Thérèse to poetry, encouraging her to take the plunge. Thérèse dedicated her first poem to him, La Rosée divine (PN 1) and one of his last, L'Abandon (PN 52). The " Memories of a Holy Friendship from 1898 bring together some of his confidences and his life with Thérèse.

“There is a way to achieve holiness without having too much trouble, finally there is a trick, do you know it? asked Thérèse - but of course her eldest knew him... "I will die soon... in two or three years" (April 1895).

The dream of the black door

There is also the famous dream of January 8, 1897, which will be so helpful for Thérèse in her anguish. Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustin finds herself in a dream in front of a heavy black door. On the other side of the door so black, everything was luminous, it was a bright sun (...) There was no gap between the black door and the luminous place. A voice calls for Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, on behalf of M. Martin: “She must be very beautiful”. And we're getting the little Queen in the dark ready. The story moves Thérèse a lot: “The black door is so much the image of what is going on in me. (...) It seems that after this mortal life there is nothing. (...) Everything has disappeared for me, I only have love left. »

During the summer of 1897, the eldest visited her friend in the infirmary whenever possible. She finds her one day "in great joy". Pattern ? A sister has just reported to Thérèse the kind reflection of Sister Saint-Vincent de Paul: “I don't know why so much is said about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, she does nothing remarkable; we do not see him practicing virtue; one cannot even say that she is a good nun. “Ah! exclaimed the patient: “To hear it said on my deathbed that I am not a good nun, what joy! Nothing could make me happier! » (PO, 403 ; AP, 339) For once, the visitor is overwhelmed, she who finds it very hard to take herself or be caught out.

Appointed sacristan in 1898, elected third councilor in 1902 (she remained so for about twenty years), "angel" of the postulants from 1909 to 1916, she offered herself to Merciful Love at Christmas 1908. From 1909, a stomach illness forces him to follow a strict diet: a bowl of liquid, always the same (milk - eggs), without bread, without the slightest variation for almost twenty years. She had to give up community life in part, reserving her strength for the sacristy: there, she was an active witness to the growing movement of the crowds pouring into Lisieux. She gave evidence at the two Trials (1911 and 1915) and experienced the overwork of the great years of beatification (1923) and canonization (1925). Mother Agnès reminds him of this in her Jubilee song (13-5-1927) What I saw, an evocation of the "intimate graces of his existence" but also of the incomparable solemnities that shone in his last years.

The last years

In the infirmary, where she had lived since 1919, her austere contemplation was tinged with gentleness and kindness. A grace of truth flooded her on June 9, 1929: "I saw all my shortcomings, how disagreeable, tiring I was for the sisters, but far from being saddened by it, I felt happy to have everything burden to throw into the brazier of merciful Love... this Love made especially for our misery”. The little Julia of yesteryear discovers her true face in the mirror of mercy.

July 18, 1929: last rites - as they said then. “One should never be afraid of death; it is the good Lord who does everything! See how simple it is for me! The last hours, July 22, are lived in apparent unconsciousness. Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustin entered life on the evening of July 22, 1929. “In purgatory? But you won't go,” Thérèse had assured him, I will come when you die! »

Sr Cécile (1929-2010) Carmelite of Lisieux