MARTIN Léonie, Sister Françoise-Thérèse
Also known as: Sister Thérèse-Dosithée, Sister Francoise-Therese
Born June 3, 1863 in Alençon - Died June 17, 1941 at the Visitation of Caen
Biography of Léonie written by the Father Stéphane-Joseph Piat, Franciscan (1899-1968). The out-of-print book was published by the Office Central de Lisieux in 1967. This text is posted with the kind permission of the Office Central de Lisieux.
Father Piat met for a long time with Thérèse's sisters in the visiting room and obtained very precise information from them; it is still consulted today based on the rigor of its dates and the events mentioned.
A difficult childhood...
The distant prelude to Léonie Martin's vocation was that of her maternal aunt, Marie-Louise Guérin, known as Elise, who, at the age of twenty-nine, had entered the Visitation of Le Mans under the name of Sister Marie-Dosithée. This gendarme's daughter had had a very tried youth. His parents, unconsciously tinged with Jansenism, curbed his least manifestations of exuberance with the magic veto: "It's a sin!" The family climate was severe: Marie-Louise had learned to read in the Apocalypse and never knew the joy of cradling a doll.
She wanted to enter the Poor Clares, but reading a biography of the suave François de Sales enchanted the young girl, who began to dream of the Visitation. But the move of the family home from Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon to Alençon, the studies of the children in religious boarding schools, exhausted the meager resources of the household. You have to earn your bread. Marie-Louise and her sister Zélie opt for the art of lace. Two years passed before the postulant could realize her dream. Admitted on April 7, 1858 to the Visitation of Le Mans, her conventual existence will be a straight climb. "I come here to be a saint," she said as she stepped through the fence.
For his youngest, Zélie, who, after having aspired for a moment to style the cornet of the Daughters of Charity, will unite, on July 13, 1858, with Louis Martin, the visiting room of the Visitation will become the haven of intimacy and confidences. where the couple will seek comfort and support. Letter exchanges will complement the conversations. The children arrive. After the birth of Marie and Pauline, two brunettes full of vitality, is announced that, on June 3, 1863, of a blond girl with blue eyes, very frail of constitution. She was baptized the very next day, at Saint-Pierre-de-Montsort, on the Solemnity of the Blessed Sacrament, which, later, would not fail to delight her. The godmother, Mme Tifenne, gave her her own name: that of Léonie, preceded by that of the Virgin, according to the tradition of the family.
While the two eldest had caused no concern, the one who occupies the third row will be, for more than sixteen months, between life and death. To the address of Mr. Guérin, the young Isidore then assistant pharmacist, who is an authority in the family in medical matters, the health bulletins follow one another, more and more alarming. “Little Léonie is not coming strong, however she is not sick. – “This poor child is very weak; she has a kind of chronic whooping cough, luckily less severe than the one from which Pauline was afflicted, for she wouldn't overcome it and the good Lord only gives what we can bear. – “Little Léonie is not growing well; she doesn't seem to want to walk. She is fat and tall as nothing, without being crippled however; it is only very weak and very small. She has just had measles from which she was very ill with very strong convulsions. »
In March 1865, the situation worsened: continual heartbeats, inflammation of the intestines, purulent eczema all over the body. The parents cry out to the Heavenly Father who never gives up: “If she is to become a saint one day, heal her”. M. Martin, a soul of intrepid faith, who does not recoil before the fatigues of the road, especially to reach some sanctuary, undertakes on foot the pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Sées. The Visitandine, alerted, begins a novena in honor of the visionary of Paray-le-Monial, recently beatified. At the end of the day, the patient, who could no longer stand on her legs, ran “like a little rabbit” and showed herself, according to her mother, “incredibly agile”.
Léonie nevertheless remains fragile and subject to many discomforts. She contrasts with Hélène, who came to brighten up the house on October 13, 1864, and whose lovely face exudes smiles and joie de vivre. The Mum, very proud to walk Marie and Pauline "well groomed", shifts her thoughts to the youngest: "I still have two others who are not there, one beautiful and one not so beautiful that I like as much as the others, but it won't do me so much honour".
For the moment at least, because the sickly and rickety child is paying the ransom for the anxieties she has perceived around her, for the eager care that has never ceased to envelop her. She is demanding, capricious, rebellious. At certain times, impossible to overcome. “She made us a terrible life, yesterday, all morning, writes Mrs. Martin: she had put it in her head to leave for Lisieux and she did not stop shouting. Her father had to get angry and tell her she wasn't going; then we had peace. »
She was placed with the eldest, as a half-boarder, at 5, rue du Pont-Neuf, a hundred yards from the house where the Martin family had settled, with its double business of jewelry and lace. The primary school is run by the Institute of the Sisters of Providence, which was founded, at the bedside of the Notre-Dame church, in a vast building where the motherhouse, novitiate, workshop of point of Alencon. The little elf is not impressed. Barely left to herself, Léonie broods over some escapade. At the age of four, to reach her snack on top of a buffet, she put two chairs on top of each other, climbed the whole thing and fell on bottles which she dragged down with her. We had to call the father, who with pliers removed the pieces of glass embedded in the forehead and whose marks will remain visible. It was the third accident of the same order. The mother, who narrates the fact, adds no less: “On the other hand, it is the best character that we can see, she and Pauline are charming”. Sister Marie-Dosithée, for her part, after having received her nieces in Le Mans, considers “Léonie very turbulent; but they are often the best”, she immediately corrects.
In truth, there was in this sickly little girl, alongside a heart of gold capable of delicate gestures, a fundamental instability, a kind of rebellious excitement at all regulations. Léonie will speak later, not without some exaggeration, of her “detestable childhood”. In her letters to her sisters of Carmel, she will recall certain episodes of these stormy beginnings. "I remember, devil-to-four that I was, that my pleasure - it was about the days off at the Pavilion - was to make the dogs of Mr. Rabinel, a great friend of Dad, rage and bark, that I saw on the granite steps. If I had been within their reach, of course, I would have had a bad time. »
Another kind of deficiency weighed on this assessment: a real slowness to learn, which, helping playfulness, accumulated academic delays. We will talk for a long time about the arithmetic exercises where, to the desolation of her mistresses, the inattentive schoolgirl lined up the figures pell-mell with a calm casualness. “This poor child, concluded Mrs. Martin, worries me, because she has an undisciplined character and an undeveloped intelligence. »
Several painful conjunctures will aggravate the difficulties. On February 22, 1870, dies unexpectedly the charming little Hélène who would have been, for the one who preceded her a little, the most amiable and the most exemplary of companions. Closeness in age brought Marie and Pauline closer together, as Céline and Thérèse will do tomorrow. Somewhat isolated, Léonie tends to withdraw into herself and become wild. The harmful influence of a servant will add its weight of mystery to an already seriously burdened situation.
There is indeed a mystery in this home where everything conspires to elevate souls to God. Why does the third child show herself, if not impervious, at least reticent to the teachings and examples that have guaranteed in others a harmonious and crisis-free growth? The same principles presided over his education. She enjoys the same atmosphere of radiant tenderness, joyful austerity, simple piety. She is involved in all the events of family life. The vigils under the lamp, the collective liturgy, the Sunday offices and walks, the indoor games too and the relationships with loved ones, all this endearing framework of intense poetry that Mrs. Martin's letters depict over the hours. and of which the Theresian autobiography betrays the nostalgia, Léonie enjoyed it like her sisters; she experienced its incantatory virtue. And yet, she seems to stiffen against the beneficent hold. How to explain this enigma?
Mrs. Martin had an expansive kindness and a keen sense of justice. "She was highly esteemed, loved even by her workers," said Madame Fléchier of her. As for the domestic workers, she considered them to be relatives. She opens up to her brother: “It's not always the big win that ensures the attachment of the servants; they need to feel that you love them, you need to show them sympathy and not be too harsh with them. When people have a good background, we are sure that they serve with affection and devotion. You know I'm very lively and yet all the servants I've had have loved me and I keep them as long as I want. The one I have at the moment would be sick of it if she had to go away; I am sure that we would offer her two hundred francs more than she would like to leave us; it is true that I do not treat my servants less well than my children. If I tell you that, it's not to give myself as an example, I assure you that I don't think about it, because everyone tells me that I don't know how to be served”.
Choose well, love, and trust completely; such was the policy, if one dares to use such a word, of this overworked woman, who added to all her family responsibilities the worries of a complicated and exacting business. Above all, she was looking for people capable of taking care of the children when she herself was absorbed either by the reception of customers and the lacemakers, or by the meticulous work of assembling the stitches. Thus she had hired in 1865, moreover convinced of doing charitable work, a sixteen-year-old teenager, Louise Marais, living in Merlerault, in the Orne, and whose family situation required that she be placed. This country girl became deeply attached to her. She felt like she was adopted and took more and more foothold in the home, especially with the younger ones. It is not that this little peasant girl was without faults. She had outbursts of anger, a sometimes insolent frankness, an obvious lack of psychology and rather summary Christian convictions: the shortcomings of her first education explained these shortcomings, which were redeemed by unfailing devotion.
The woman who was soon to terrorize Leonie with a view to making her bend did not immediately exercise such sway. The mother, at the beginning of the school year in October 1868, had entrusted her two eldest to the Visitation of Le Mans, which offered her the opportunity of more frequent contact with her sister. She recommended to him in an anguished tone the child "very gentle at heart," but who was reluctant to obey. "Entrust it to me," said Sister Marie-Dosithée one day, "I must give it a try." It was finally in mid-June 1871 that Léonie joined her two sisters. Delighted with this solution, Mrs. Martin wrote to Lisieux: “Since I know it is in such good hands and I see myself, on my side, so peaceful, I seem to be in paradise”.
The Visitandine did not share this enthusiasm, if we can judge by the words she sent to her brother: "I now have Léonie, this terrible little girl, I assure you that she gives me not a little to do. . It's a constant fight, so I would have liked her mother to have found a place to put her, but I see that it's me who has to carry that cross, so I'll try to muster up all my courage. This child loves me very much, and it is surprising because I punish her so much, I do not spare her and it is necessary; otherwise we wouldn't do anything, she fears no one but me! »
On the back of a note written by her niece, in broken words, with the most fanciful spelling, Sister Marie-Dosithée writes this appreciation which wants to encourage Mrs. Martin: "Léonie gives me embarrassment, it is true, but no more than Marie gave me. She has faults, but she has many qualities too; she has such a good heart, is very obedient. Never reply to everything we say to him. It's not like his two sisters who always want to be right. But his great fault is that he does not understand more than a three-year-old child”. All in all, favorable diagnosis.
" Hope it lasts ! muttered the mother. It didn't last long. The initial success was cut short. The child was not admitted at the start of the school year in October. She couldn't adapt to a normal class. No mistress was available to take care of her. His aunt, whose health was increasingly precarious, could not, in winter, assume such a responsibility. The parents found themselves with their ungovernable little girl.
Mr. Martin had sold his jewelry to his nephew Leriche, in order to assist more effectively, in his business in Point d'Alençon, the wife crushed under the task. In July 1871, we emigrated to the parish of Notre-Dame, at number 36 rue Saint-Blaise. It was there, on January 2, 1873, that Marie-Françoise-Thérèse, the future Saint, was born. All the witnesses then participating in the signing of the baptismal certificate, Léonie will put her name on the register, next to that of Louise, who will bear the child.
It seems – although no trace of the event has been kept – that in the fall of 1871, she resumed the path of Providence, while benefiting from private lessons. There, as at home, the results were less than brilliant. She herself, at her sister's trial, would later pay homage to those who tried to straighten her character. “At home, the education that our parents gave us was good and affectionate, but attentive and neat. We weren't spoiled. In the sense of the spirituality drawn from the Visitation, fidelity to state duty was encouraged, modest sacrifices decorated with the name of "practices" were suggested. Léonie will remember the lesson, but for the moment she cares little to apply it. More turbulent than ever, not staying in place, creating disorder everywhere, she exhausted those around her, who were never calm on her account. There was no respite until the father intervened, shouting, “Peace! The peace ! ". Using a local expression, the mother moaned: “But they changed her to a nurse, that child! A statement that intrigued and mortified the little one enough to make her worry about it, until he was assured that she had never been entrusted to foreign hands.
"I cannot analyze his character," writes Madame Martin to her brother; besides, the most learned would lose their Latin there; I hope, however, that the good seed will one day come out of the ground. If I see that, I'll sing my Nunc dimittis...” Twelve months later, the bulletin remains pessimistic. “Only Léonie doesn't come or go, she's like an eight-year-old child. We are considering a new trial at Le Mans, as a preparation for First Communion. On the spot, "she uses a catechism in a month, to know nothing at the end". A new rash of eczema, aggravating the nervousness, doesn't incline the wayward schoolgirl to study. The departure for boarding school, deferred for a term, was fixed for the beginning of January 1874. Mme Martin worried about the worries that this new experience would cause the Visitandine. “However, she adds, my duty obliges me to try once more; if she does not succeed, I will have nothing to reproach myself for. » Sister Marie-Dosithée seems to be getting better, « I put myself in the idea, says her sister, that God leaves her to me to transform my Léonie, because she is the only person who has empire over her. Also, when we ask this poor little girl what she will do when she grows up, the answer is always the same: 'I will be a nun at the Visitation, with my aunt.' God grant that it is so, but it is too beautiful, I dare not hope. »
The elders are required to pray for the attempt to succeed. Mrs. Martin, who attends the meetings of the Third Order Franciscans at the Poor Clares of the rue de la Demi-Lune, also implores the suffrages of the Poor Ladies. She entrusts them with hopes and failures; on many occasions she presents to them in the parlor the child of so many tears. She begs, she expects a miracle.
The beginnings look promising. The religious aunt who, either intuition or predilection, set her sights on Léonie very early on, saw her already evolving towards the Visitation. “For the short time that I had her, she wrote to her brother after the first experience, she gave me good hope for the future. She is a difficult child to bring up and whose childhood will give no pleasure, but I believe that, for the future, she will be worth as much as her sisters. She has a heart of gold; his intelligence is undeveloped and well below his age; however, she does not lack means, and I find her good judgment. With that, an admirable strength of character. When this little one is right and she sees her duty, nothing will stop her. Difficulties, however great, will be nothing to her; it will break all the obstacles that will not miss it in its way, because it is built for that. Finally, it is a strong and generous nature and completely to my taste. But if the grace of God was not there, what would it be!...”
There would be no lack of optimism in those who acted as educators and pedagogues. She used, in the first month, the strong way, multiplying warnings and punishments. Then she changed her mind. “I could see that I was going to make this little girl unhappy, and that's what I didn't want. I wanted to be a Providence of God towards him, so I implored the help of God and the light that I needed, because I had only good intentions. So I started to treat her with the greatest gentleness, avoiding scolding and telling her that I saw that she wanted to be good and please me, that I had this confidence in her. It produced a magical effect on her, not only temporary but lasting, because it is sustained, and I find her quite cute. I'm happier than her sisters. It's unimaginable the desire she has to please me; this makes him overcome his laziness. She studies well now; she comes candidly to tell me of her misdeeds. I told him that I wanted so; she is very obedient.
This is the one we thought was heartless and who happens to have more than the others. I hope that God will bless my efforts and that she will turn out well, because all is not done and it will be necessary more than once to season the sweetness with firmness. »
The final reservation was only too justified. The sky does not take long to darken for the impatient child under the yoke, who cannot bend to the rhythm of studies, and who is exasperated by this life in a cage. On March 29, 1874, Mrs. Martin wrote melancholy to her brother: “A week ago I received bad news from the one whom the aunt calls the predestined. If they send her back to me, all is lost, I have no hope except by leaving her there for many years”. She will nevertheless observe with gentle resignation: “When our children are not like the others, it is up to the parents to have the embarrassment”. The Visitandine feels sorry for her. “What a cross! How I pity this poor dear sister! How I wish I could help him, but I can't do anything, nothing at all. »
On April 6, Léonie definitely joined Alençon. Her mother told Mme Guérin how heartbroken she felt about it: “As you can imagine, that really upset me; that's not enough to say, it made me feel a deep pain that still persists. I had no hope except in my sister to reform this child and I was convinced that she would be kept, but it was not possible, despite the best goodwill, or she would have had to be separated. of other children. As soon as she finds herself in company, she no longer possesses herself and shows an unparalleled dissipation.
“Finally, I no longer have faith except in a miracle to change this nature. It is true, I do not deserve a miracle, and yet I hope against all hope. The more difficult I see her, the more I convince myself that the good Lord will not allow her to stay like this. I will pray as long as he lets himself bend. She was cured, at the age of eighteen months, of an illness from which she was to die; why would the good Lord have saved her from death, if he had not had plans of mercy on her? »
Missteps and straightening
Towards her younger sisters, she shows kindness. It is Thérèse herself who recounts, in her Manuscript to Mother Agnès of Jesus, the episode of “I choose everything”, which has led to many misinterpretations. One readily imagines Léonie bringing to her younger sisters, for the purpose of liquidation, a vast basket abundantly supplied with dolls, dresses and shimmering fabrics. Céline, wisely, would have taken a ball of braid, while Thérèse, less discreet, placed an embargo on everything else: clear proof that the instinct of possession was alive in her.
In October 1876, when she suddenly felt the secret evil that she had been carrying within her for eleven years waking up, a gland in her breast which was growing abnormally, Mrs. Martin's first reaction was to think of Léonie. “His future scares me. What will become of her when we are no more? – “I can no longer overcome it, it only does what it wants and how it wants. »
The doctor's diagnosis, administered without any consideration, dispels the last illusions. It is indeed a fibrous tumour, of a cancerous nature, and which is no longer subject to surgical intervention. A vague treatment is offered lip service. “What will it be used for”, asks the patient? – “Nothing, it's to please the sick. This implacable verdict plunges the entire household into desolation. Mr. Martin is devastated. He puts his fishing gear back in the attic and leaves the summons from the Cercle Vital Romet unanswered. Léonie cannot hold back her sobs. Only the heroic mother revives courage. Communicating the sad news to her sister-in-law, she valiantly adds: “I would like it not to torment you too much and that you resign yourself to the will of God; if he found me very useful on earth, he would certainly not allow me to have this disease, because I have begged him so much not to remove me from this world, as long as I would be necessary for my children”.
She admits, however, that in the evening, thinking of those she will leave behind, she finds it difficult to fall asleep. She reviews her daughters, underlines their qualities, evaluates their good dispositions. For the third, which remains her main concern, she leaves it up to someone more powerful than herself: "As for Léonie, God alone can change her, and I am convinced that he will."
Dr. Notta, consulted at Lisieux, leaves little more hope than his colleague from Alençon. "However," writes Madame Martin to her husband, "he seems to say that I can go on like this for a very long time." Thus, let us place ourselves in the hands of the good God, he knows much better than us what we need: 'He is the one who makes the wound and binds it up'. »
While waiting for the pilgrimage to Lourdes, which the husband imposes on the reluctant wife, life goes on, just as lively, apparently just as cheerful, despite the threat that hovers. We go to the fair, we celebrate the carnival; the mother leads the rounds, organizes the games. His letters to Pauline, if they become more tender, are no less seasoned with humour. With what charm does she recount the thoughtlessness of Léonie, who cuts the bread in the soup tureen without noticing that Louise, called urgently, has left her tea towel there: which will give the soup poured over it a consistency unusual!
In the perspective of death, Zélie Martin's gaze often turns to the Monastery of Le Mans where her sister is also finishing a life full of merits. She led little Thérèse there who, having seen the fence and heard Marie and Pauline talk about their rounds around the big lime tree in the boarders' courtyard, will say tomorrow to her elders: "When I grow up, I too will come with you in your cloister". There were exchanged words heavy with anguish and bathed in spite of everything in hope, on the recalcitrant child whom Sister Marie-Dosithée called “the little Visitandine”. There especially are communicated the secrets in which the best of souls are revealed.
The nun completely stripped herself of her initial tendencies towards timidity, excessive austerity, lack of openness and expansion. She renounced active methods of prayer to seek God with a simple gaze. At the school of St François de Sales, she understood that “Our Lord does not want convicts in his service”. The letters she addressed to her family were punctuated with advice and maxims in which Salesian sweetness shined through. “God loves with an extremely tender heart those who abandon themselves to Him, and the mother does not have so much tenderness for her little child as the Lord has for the abandoned soul. » – « We must have faith and confidence, do what depends on us, live in peace, and God will take care of us without fail. To Madame Guérin she sent the Introduction to the Devout Life. To her sister, she multiplies the words of comfort.
It's that she feels close to death. The consumption contracted in his youth wakes up every winter, with bouts of coughing, fever, hemoptysis. From 1875, abscesses on his foot, accompanied by swelling, made it difficult for him to walk. She had to cling to her staff, lean on her nurses, to drag herself to the choir and "seek the good Lord" every day, as she has the signal privilege. She also proclaims herself “the happiest patient in the world”.
At Christmas 1876, we think we see her leave. She receives Extreme Unction. His peace is ineffable. Didn't she say to her Superior: “Thank God, it seems to me that I have never committed a completely voluntary fault”. She will confide to him later the two imperfections that she has to admit: "I want to die too much, and then I asked questions to know if I was not far from it". The Bishop of Le Mans, Mgr d'Outremont, brings her a final blessing: “My daughter, have no fear; where the tree falls, it remains; you are going to fall on the Heart of Jesus to remain there eternally”. The nun, fulfilled beyond her wishes, concluded: “I am not afraid of anything. Our Lord sustains me. I have the grace of the moment, I will have it until the end”.
Sister Marie-Dosithée would have liked to see her Léonie again. She exercised an astonishing prestige over her. Sometimes, to put an end to a scene, it was enough to threaten to tell the religious aunt about it...unless the exasperated child then prevented his mother from writing. However, it was impossible to drive her to Le Mans where the disease was in full swing. It will nevertheless be at the center of the interview that will have, on January 8, 1877, the Visitandine and Mrs. Martin.
"Here," writes the latter, "the commissions for Heaven that I gave to my sister. I said to her: As soon as you are in Paradise, go find the Blessed Virgin and tell her: My good Mother, you have played a funny trick on my sister by giving her this poor Léonie; she hadn't asked for a child like that; you have to fix it. »
“Then you will go find Blessed Margaret Mary and you will say to her: Why did you miraculously heal her? It would have been better to let her die, you are bound in conscience to repair the misfortune. »
“She scolded me for speaking like this, but I had no bad intentions, the good Lord knows that. No matter, I may have done wrong, and I'm afraid, for my trouble, of not being answered. »
The poor woman could reassure herself. Her direct tone, in which one perceives a Teresian flavor, must have pleased the Lord, for here is Léonie who in turn wants to pass the instructions on to the one whom the parents willingly call “the holy girl”. And to ask what? The religious vocation. We joke about it; she is holding up. And the paper is blackened with good ink.
“My dear aunt, I still keep as a relic the image you gave me. I watch her every day as you told me, to become obedient. Marie framed it for me.
“My dear aunt, when you are in Heaven, please ask the good Lord that he grant me the grace to convert, and also that he give me the vocation to become a true nun, because I think about it every day. I beg you, don't forget my little commission, because I'm sure the good Lord will hear you..."
Marie quibbles over the expression “a true nun”. “What could that possibly mean? But the little one doesn't budge. She knows the weight of words. “It means that I want to be a completely good nun and finally be a saint. “Although doubting such a success, the mother admits to being moved by this initiative of Léonie. "It's his future that worries me the most. I say to myself: 'What will become of Elijah if he misses me?' I dare not think about it. But I assure you that this little letter awakens my courage and I begin to hope that, perhaps, God has plans of mercy on this child. If it only took the sacrifice of my life for her to become a saint, I would do it with a good heart. »
The signs of conversion do not yet appear on the horizon. “The poor child is covered with faults like a coat. We don't know where to take it. Some day, the mother invites him to make sacrifices to overcome his bad mood. Slices of cork, deposited in a drawer, will count the efforts. Wasted effort. “She had done everything at worst,” says Ms. Martin. I was not happy and I reproached her bitterly, telling her that it suited her well to ask to be a nun, under those conditions. Then the tears flow, and the next day, a few discs make a fleeting appearance in the treasure of the “practices”. During a retreat at Notre-Dame, Léonie had the courage to wake up on her own to attend the instructions at six in the morning. One day, she runs there in her slippers, for fear of being late.
The mother spies on these slightest good movements. The fate of this child obsesses him. “When my eyes fall on her, I feel extreme pain, she always does what I don't want; the more she grows, the more it hurts me. »
Pauline will illuminate this drama with a profound word when, to her sister who has become Visitandine, she will write: “You are more privileged than us, because, more than all of us, you have been in danger. I shudder when I think of your childhood, because you were like coming out of the family nest.
In Le Mans, we continued to pray for "the predestined". But here, too, the news was getting darker. On February 20, 1877, Sister Marie-Dosithée went to bed never to get up again. Despite the growing oppression, she remained unfailingly serene. “I am not even concerned with the last sufferings,” she said, “nor with my agony; I am so convinced that the good Lord will give me his grace that I have no worries about it. » And again «: I only know how to love, confide and abandon myself. Help me to thank God for it”. On the 24th, a Saturday, the anniversary of her Taking the Habit, after having blessed her relatives from Alençon and Lisieux from afar, at half past seven in the morning, she expired quietly, in her forty-ninth year.
The family shares their memories. They take on the value of relics. Mrs. Martin mourns the soul mate who served as her confidante and guide. But she knows, as Thérèse will say, one day that “everything is grace”. Haunted more than ever by the thought of eternity, she finds herself on the same level with the deceased. She expects a radical change from that "which is always a very heavy cross to bear". It won't take long.
Twenty days had not elapsed since the disappearance of the Visitandine when Marie saw clearly Louise's game with Leonie. The sounds of muffled voices intrigued him: threats of correction if the little girl did not blindly carry out the orders received, double punishment if she went out with her mother. The child, frightened, bowed, while feigning a particular affection for the one who persecuted her. Sufficiently edified, the eldest pressed her with questions and ended up snatching the dreaded secret from her. As soon as she was informed, Ms. Martin reacted with indignation. She signified her leave to Louise, forbade her to speak to her victim henceforth and tenderly took over the child's education,
The servant groaned, wept, begged, arguing about her good intentions and the service she thought she was rendering by breaking an invincible stubbornness. The mother, ulcerated, retorted that “brutality has never converted anyone; she only makes slaves, and that's what happened to this poor child”. She suffers from having been deceived by the one in whom she had put her trust. "However," she adds, "I have nothing to reproach myself for, the good Lord sees clearly that I did the best that I could... I had work for four, which would not have wasted their time yet. I led a rough life, it would cost me a lot to start it over again, I think I would lack courage. Authoritative voices advised him to keep Louise for a while, as she loved her employer enough not to want to give in to anyone else the trouble of caring for her to the end. This mother in peril of death, who could surround her like the unhappy daughter, who, after all, had above all the fault of being unintelligent? All she has to do is stop worrying about Léonie. Mrs. Martin will allow herself to be softened, but by demanding that, as soon as she dies, the other ceases her functions. As long as she herself lives, there is nothing to fear. Who knows, moreover, if the method of rigor so awkwardly implemented will not contribute, by contrast, to the success of the tactic of softness which is now essential? This is at least the hypothesis that slips into a letter to Madame Guérin: "I believe that the good Lord has allowed this ill treatment that I was unaware of, in order first to tame this strange character and soften it, so that the task is easier at a given time, otherwise she would never have known the price of gentleness and friendship, but it was important that this cease as soon as possible, otherwise she would have been lost”.
Helped by her husband, who uses the argument of authority if necessary, Mrs. Martin demonstrates a new youth and treasures of patience to repair the damage in the soul of her daughter. The principles which guided them to elevate the whole household to God find their full effectiveness here, since the bad spell has been exorcised. Léonie was not immediately converted. She remains whimsical, irascible, sulky, but she loves, she opens up, she makes an effort, she regrets her escapades, she tries to please Jesus. What more can one ask for? She no longer wants to leave her mother, kisses her until she is suffocated, spends days working by her side. Having accompanied her to the Glarisses, she whispered to her: "Ask that those who are cloistered pray for me so that I may be a nun." She aspires to communion and prepares for it as best she can.
In her letters, the mother complacently notes the symptoms of these beginnings of conversion. “Yes, I see for her a ray of hope shining which portends to me a complete change to come. All the efforts I had made so far to attach it to me had been unsuccessful, but it is not the same today. She loves me as much as it is possible to love and, with this love, the love of God penetrates little by little into her heart. She has unlimited confidence in me and goes so far as to reveal her slightest faults to me, she really wants to change her life and makes many efforts that no one can appreciate like me. »
«... Léonie continues to become a good child, but it is a difficult land to clear, we absolutely need the dew from Heaven which, I am sure, we will not miss. I do my best to cultivate it well, the good Lord will make flowers and fruits grow. This little one has a heart of gold; you just have to know how to take it, very gently. I use it as long as there is fault with it, but I know what I'm doing and don't listen to these critics. »
Mrs. Martin hopes that Sister Marie-Dosithée, to whom she attributes this moral miracle, will help her complete her mission. “It is for this, she writes, that now I have a desire to live that I had not known until this day. I am very necessary to this child; after me, she will be too unhappy and no one will be able to make her obey except the one who martyred her, but no, it will not be, because when I am dead, she will have to leave immediately; I believe that no one will refuse to execute my last wishes in this way.
“But I trust in God, I now ask him for the grace to let me live. I don't mind that he doesn't take my pain away from me and die of it, but that he gives me enough time so that Léonie no longer needs me. »
The thought of her daughter haunts Mme Martin, in the crusade of prayers which prepares the trip to Lourdes. She wants to take him with her. “At least, if the Blessed Virgin does not heal me, I will beg her to heal my child, to open his intelligence and make him a saint. Both left Alençon on Sunday June 17, 1877, went to Le Mans, Marie and Pauline, to join the Maine-et-Loire pilgrimage in Angers. It won't be fun. All excursions will be prohibited; collective exercises will be strictly followed. The mother will generously face a long series of unfortunate incidents, will carry with a smile the throbbing pain which constantly twists her side, and will completely forget herself for her daughters. As for Léonie, she doesn't have enough eyes to devour the landscape; all this movement annoys him to the point of giving him nocturnal nightmares; it must be installed in a corner, near the door.
Barely landed, we go to the cave. On four occasions, not without dread, Mrs. Martin bathed in the pool. She doesn't suffer there, but, as soon as she leaves, unease seizes her again. The words of the Virgin to the clairvoyant impose themselves more and more on her: “I will make you happy, not in this world, but in the next”. She consoles herself for her disappointment by taking her children to the presbytery of the priest Peyramale, with whom she has corresponded; in his absence, she hears the servant talking about the moving spectacle, which she witnessed, of Bernadette in ecstasy. She rubs Léonie's forehead with water from the Massabielle spring, asking that the little one correct herself and blossom. On this point, she acquires the intimate certainty of being heard. Marian grace permeates all hearts. As for the long-awaited miracle that does not come, we must rely on God, who directs everything with love and for the good of his children. On June 23, the family, minus the boarders, found themselves on the Quai d'Alençon. A veil of melancholy darkens the faces, but the mother quickly chases away the black butterflies. Life goes on.
The health reports, however, will be darker week by week. Mrs. Martin clings to state duty with fierce energy. It is liquidating the last orders from Point d'Alençon. Léonie is constantly at his side, tender and eager to the point of being importunate. It is for her that the patient suppresses her desire for eternity, as she writes to Pauline: “Well! I am still waiting for this miracle of the goodness and omnipotence of God, through the intercession of his Blessed Mother. Not that I'm asking him to completely take away my pain, but only to let me live for a few years, to have time to bring up my children, and especially this poor Léonie, who needs me so much and who makes me so much pity.
“She is less privileged than you with the gifts of nature, but despite that, she has a heart that asks to love and to be loved, and only a mother can show her affection at all times. she craves, and follow her close enough to do her good.
"This dear child acts with me with boundless tenderness: she runs ahead of my desires, nothing costs her, she looks into my eyes to guess what could please me, she almost does too much.
“But as soon as the others ask him something, his face darkens, his face changes instantly. Little by little I manage to get her through this, although she still often forgets herself. However, over time, I'm almost sure I'll be able to make him love God very much and be agreeable to everyone. »
Time is what will be lacking in her whom the finger of death marks in her flesh more and more cruelly. The ravages of cancer are spreading with frightening rapidity; the tortures are at times intolerable. The neck is as if crossed by strokes of a stiletto. "A miracle now seems very doubtful to me," wrote the patient. I have made up my mind and try to act as if I were to die. It is absolutely necessary that I do not waste the little time I have left to live, these are days of salvation that will never come back again, I want to take advantage of them. »
Will we believe that this almost dying woman still finds the strength to write long epistles in Le Mans and Lisieux, which she peppers with reflections and humorous episodes? Thus she puts in scene “Leonie who read in the Catholic Week that a holy soul had offered her life for the Pope and that she had been answered. She has not lost sight of this; here she is beginning novenas to die in my place. Thursday morning, she went to find Marie and said to her: 'I am going to die, the good Lord has answered me, I feel sick'.
“Marie contented herself with laughing, but that mortified Léonie who was speaking seriously, she began to cry. A quarter of an hour later, her tears had dried up, and, with her fickle spirit, she had something else in mind, she needed tapestry slippers. "I said to him: 'But since you want to die, it will be wasted money.' She remained silent, no doubt hoping to still have time to wear out her slippers; she might have put that on her terms and made them last a long time, only wearing them at big parties. »
Last effort to smile in the face of death. How many times, during her painful insomnia, does this mother review her whole world. It is now as if installed in a prelude to death. She has her family made into mourning clothes. To a friend who asks her, in a pitiful tone: “Aren't you worried about your children? “, she answers with a sweet serenity:” The good Lord will take care of it “. The eyes only get wet when it comes to the third. Her eldest overhears this anguished complaint: “Ah! when I'm gone, who will take care of my poor Léonie? This cannot be the role of a father, however good he may be. Who will love her like a mother? » – « O mother, it will be me, I promise you! exclaimed Marie, who must have kept her word magnificently. "But," she added, telling the story to her aunt in Lisieux, "I hope much more from the protection of my holy mother than from my feeble efforts to complete, from the heights of Heaven, the transformation of my poor little sister. ..”
To her daughters, Mrs. Martin will bequeath the highest of lessons: the rise of abandonment in the crescendo of suffering, stubbornness in hard work, concern for others pushed to the point of heroism, assiduity in prayer. , the effort to go one last time to mass, Friday, August 3, clinging to her husband, stopping at every step. On Thursday, August 16, 1877, his correspondence stopped with these words addressed to his brother: "If the Blessed Virgin does not heal me, it is because my time is up and the good Lord wants me to rest elsewhere than on Earth ". On August 26, as a family, she receives the last rites. Two days later, at half past midnight, it goes out slowly.
Louise Marais, who had asked for a reprieve only to receive her last breath, knowing full well that she would then have to step aside, would later pay her the most poignant homage. Writing on several occasions to the daughters of Mrs. Martin, on their retreat from Carmel, she spoke to them – let us quote the key phrase – “of your good and holy mother, whose qualities I did not appreciate until after her death. This cult, rendered by a simple and good-willed soul, who had redeemed her errors by boundless devotion, situates in all its nobility the image of this mother who, after having given Thérèse to the world, offered for Léonie her ultimate sacrifice.
Between the world and the cloister
Wouldn't the premature death of the mother introduce a new cause of imbalance into Léonie's life? The posthumous action of the deceased averts this danger. On September 10, Pauline testifies that the teenager "studies herself to be very nice". Nevertheless, she adds: "Its sky is sometimes covered with dark clouds whose downpour we have to endure." On November 16, the situation is much more optimistic. “I notice, writes Marie to her father, that Léonie has been changing from day to day for some time now... I am sure that it is our dear mother who obtains this grace for us and I am convinced that our Léonie will give us a comfort day. »
On this date, the family has just moved to Lisieux, in the gracious cottage of Les Buissonnets, where our heroine will occupy, upstairs, separated from the bedroom of the youngest by a thin partition, the space now reserved at the toy exhibition. From the beginning of 1878, she entered the Benedictines of the Abbey as a boarder, frequented by her cousins Jeanne and Marie Guérin. Her moral metamorphosis is accentuated to the point that she easily adapts to the constraints of discipline. Yesterday's gaps will not be fully filled; the instruction will always remain somewhat truncated, but the student, in spite of frequent headaches, applies himself and makes an effort; in his French compositions – Mother François de Sales is careful to point this out – the delicacy of feelings happily contrasts with multiple discrepancies in syntax and spelling.
During holidays and days off, the young girl tasted the sweetness of family intimacy, such as the Teresian autobiography depicts. She will never completely rid herself of a certain reserve, which, together with the memory of past difficulties and the weighing of complexes not yet exorcised, explains an innate taste for solitude. But it is no longer the savage, bristling at the slightest incident. Mr. Martin, who has a taste for pseudonyms and qualifiers, calls her his “good Léonie”. He urges his daughters to wrap him in gentleness and indulgence. The charm of the hearth heals the wounds and erases the bad folds. If the tears still flow too easily, the background of melancholy fades little by little.
Léonie left the Benedictines at the age of eighteen, during the holidays of 1881, when Thérèse took over, as an extern, like Céline. She remained very attached to her mistresses, meeting them faithfully at meetings of the children of Mary, willingly returning to consult them, and in long conversations full of mystery, which earned her the teasing of her eldest, who called her " the Abbey lover" and sings to him: "Abbaye, mes amours! His time will henceforth be spent in housework, reading, meditation, visits to relatives, works of charity. His heart drew him to the most humble. She became the voluntary nurse for a poor old woman who was wasting away, not far from Les Buissonnets, abandoned by everyone and eaten away with vermin. She took care of her, looked after her linen and, after her death, insisted on burying her with her own hands. In this she resembled Therese, whom nothing will put off.
Marie guided her and stimulated her as needed, with the touch of originality that was in her character. It was nevertheless to the "little queen" that Léonie's predilections went. Somewhat flirtatious for herself, she liked to see her youngest in her finest attire. The child, who called her "Lolo," returned her tenderness; she received from her, at the Apostolic Process, a magnificent eulogy. “My little sister was always very sweet and perfectly in control of herself. I don't remember ever seeing her show signs of impatience, let alone get angry; nor did she seek out treats like other children. The deposition at the Diocesan Process showed her “very affectionate, even calm”. She added this trait which marks both the clairvoyance and the scrupulous sincerity of the witness: “Even in her early childhood, I don't remember having seen her angry, but she was sometimes a bit stubborn then. This defect disappeared very quickly, and at Les Buissonnets she was very obedient”.
Léonie will always keep very fresh in her memory the vision of Thérèse ecstatic before the mystery of Christmas. "She prepared herself, each year, for this feast with a novena, during which she did nine practices of virtue each day... To see her, one guessed that she was already conversing with her Jesus in burning colloquies, very intimate however, for nothing appeared on the outside, except the brilliance of his face, which took on a quite celestial expression. The big sister still evokes the emotion of the child when, at the age of eight, she attended midnight Mass for the first time. She shows her, in front of the crib, immersed in a kind of rapture. "We couldn't get him out of it. It is there that she took her celestial doctrine where she reveals herself as a master. »
The same jubilation when the procession of the Blessed Sacrament paraded through the streets of the city. “At the Processions of Corpus Christi, Thérèse, being part of the children's troupe, was the wisest and the most collected. It was the same in the church, during the long services. The good young lady, in charge of looking after the little girls in the chapel where the children were gathered, could not tire of admiring her. She spoke about it to us several times, to my sisters and to me, in the most complimentary terms. »
Sometimes more picturesque features come from the past. Léonie took pleasure in telling Céline the adventure of Tom, the splendid spaniel, Thérèse's favourite, who, slumped in the laundry room, his eyes glassy, refusing all food, regained a taste for life when his kind mistress introduced him, clogged with bite, bread wrapped in a little meat. Her strength returned, with the exuberance of yesteryear, and the little queen marched triumphantly through the streets, more faithful than ever, her pretty survivor.
More serious thoughts occupied Léonie. The idea of a religious vocation does not leave her. Pauline's entry into the Carmel on October 2, 1882, can only reinforce her desires. She knows, however, that her character must still mature before the divine deadline. This is how she will witness the family drama that will be Thérèse's illness. With M. Martin and Marie, she had gone to the Capital for Holy Week at the end of March 1883. Visits to shrines, exploration of museums and artistic monuments alternated with liturgical services, all crowned by the great Easter communion at Notre-Dame. An anguished call interrupted the trip: in Lisieux, the "little queen", struck down by a strange illness, demanded the presence of her relatives.
Léonie would later relate the doctor's words: "It's a nervous illness... I don't understand anything about it... Perhaps she will remain in this state..." She will cite scenes, to which she attended, delirious demonstrations: “One Sunday, I was left alone to watch her during high mass. Seeing her very calm, I ventured to leave her for a few moments. Returning to her, I found her stretched out on the pavement: she had jumped over the head of her bed and fallen between the bed and the wall. She could have killed herself or seriously injured herself; but, thank God, she didn't even have a scratch”. Beneath his apparent insensitivity, and even in the hallucinatory adventures, the child remains lucid enough to perceive the devotion and affliction of those around him. "Leonie, she would write later, was... very good to me, trying to amuse me as best she could, I sometimes hurt her because she saw clearly that Marie could not be replaced with me. ... »
On Pentecost Sunday, May 13, 1883, when the illness reached its paroxysm and the child cast anxious glances around her that no longer embraced reality, it was Léonie who took her in her arms and carried her to the window overlooking the garden from which Marie calls him, holding out her hands to him. Wasted effort. Stray eyes no longer recognize anyone. “It was then, underlines our witness, that Mary and I fell on our knees at the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin, our hearts filled with hope, conjuring our heavenly Mother to heal our little sister. Of the prodigy that followed, Léonie understood only the miraculous outcome. “I remained sobbing, my head in my hands, so I did not see the ecstatic expression of the little patient, favored by the apparition of the Most Blessed Virgin. Only, when I got up from my prayer, I found our little Thérèse perfectly cured. Her face had regained its calm and its beauty, and never since has any trace of this strange illness reappeared. »
No trace: isn't that saying too much? The meticulous Léonie questions herself and identifies two slight after-effects which she reports very faithfully, although the story does not put her in the spotlight. The doctor, who had recommended a hydrotherapeutic treatment without valid result, prescribed, faced with the transfiguration of his young client, to create a climate of calm around her; M. Guérin recommended, in order to hasten convalescence, not to contradict her in any way. Leonie somewhat forgot the instructions. "In the month following the cure," she said, "it happened to me twice to upset her, quite wrongly. She then fell and remained lying for a short space of time (several minutes) with a state of rigidity of the limbs and the trunk, which ceased of its own accord. There did not then occur a delirious state, as during his illness, nor violent movements. These two phenomena were the only ones that occurred. Afterwards, there never appeared traces of this evil again. »
Léonie will also be associated with the religious events of Thérèse's childhood. “She prepared, she said, for her First Communion with extraordinary fervor, above all multiplying for that purpose the small sacrifices and the acts of God's love, which she wrote down very precisely in a little notebook. I had the opportunity to see her during her preparatory retreat: she was in deep recollection and completely penetrated by the thought of the imminent coming of Our Lord within her. On the day of her First Communion, the entirely celestial and angelic expression of her features showed that she was more in Heaven than on earth. Thérèse records in her Manuscripts that she received from Léonie on this occasion the “large crucifix” which during the spiritual exercises at the Abbey, she put in her belt, “in the manner of the missionaries”. When she recalls the memory of her Confirmation, which took place on Saturday June 14, 1884, she specifies: "It was my dear little Léonie who served as my godmother, she was so moved that she could not prevent her tears from flowing all the time of the ceremony". Alongside this privileged child, was the young girl thinking of her own past, which sometimes still obsessed her? Not at all. She is getting more and more used to thinking about others. She herself analyzes her impressions of her youngest child: "I was more than any other able to judge, in this circumstance, of her contemplation and her attitude, which was more angelic than human: having had the honor of being her godmother of Confirmation, I followed her step by step to the altar, holding my hand on her shoulder. You could see that she was deeply penetrated by the great mystery that was about to be accomplished in her soul. Ordinarily, at this age, the child, not understanding the full scope of this Sacrament, receives it very lightly. Therese, on the contrary, was completely absorbed in the love that was already consuming her. I had difficulty in containing my emotion, accompanying this darling child to the altar”. That same day, Léonie gave her goddaughter a multi-panel image, dedicated to the Eucharistic mystery, which would remind her of the dates of the most beautiful days of her life. It was she again who, later on, would offer her youngest, when she was received into the Congregation of the Children of Mary, the traditional medal and ribbon.
The years go by. The summer of 1886 was completely darkened, at Les Buissonnets, by the forthcoming departure of the eldest, who intended to join Pauline in Carmel on the feast of Saint Thérèse of Avila, on October 15. This prospect awakens in Léonie the desire to immolate herself in her turn. Her dreams directed her towards the Monastery of the Poor Clares of Alençon, which, transplanted to rue de la Demi-Lune after the Revolution, owes its origin to a project by Duke René, carried out in 1497 by his widow, the blessed Marguerite of Lorraine. Mr. Martin liked to bring the produce of his peaches there. The young girl had often accompanied her mother there. Fond of austerity, the regime of poverty hardly frightened her. She loved Saint Francis. During the great Lexovian mission, she had resolutely separated herself from her family, to go and hear the Friars Minor who were preaching at Saint-Jacques. She seems to have opened up about her intentions to Father Crété, parish priest of Montsort, who had been Madame Martin's confessor, then, after the latter's death, to her young vicar, Father Bernouis. Mr. Martin, kept informed, puts forward the objection of health, but shows himself too respectful of the divine plan for his home to thwart a vocation. No doubt he relived in thought all the drama of his wife, worried about Leonie's future, and who would have blessed God for such an outcome.
Things rushed during the stay that the whole family made in Alençon, at the beginning of October 1886, to allow Marie to go and pray one last time at her mother's grave. On the 7th of this month, we leave for a time in the parlor of the Poor Ladies Léonie, who wishes to communicate his intentions and negotiate his possible entry. Spectacular turn of events ! When we come back, the young girl is on the other side of the gate, already dressed in the postulants' little habit. Did she give in to a thoughtless movement? The Abbess, who once knew her mood swings, does she think she is doing her a favor by rushing fate? “I was taken like a mouse in a mousetrap, will say later the victim of this adventure. If M. Martin, with his usual kindness, overcomes his legitimate astonishment and even undertakes to defend the improvised nun with supernatural arguments, Marie is less easily put up with this unusual procedure and strongly expresses her dissatisfaction. As for the youngest, they had trouble holding back their tears. Léonie, "very nice in her new costume", as Thérèse would write, tried to lighten the atmosphere and invited her family to take a good look at her beautiful blue eyes, which she would keep lowered later during visits. It is understandable that the young Saint kept a bad memory of an episode worthy of the Middle Ages. This is what will introduce into his Autobiography an inaccurate note, based on an entirely subjective impression, to the address "of the sad rue de la Demi-Lune", where one nevertheless lived, in joy, the evangelical ideal of the Seraphim of Assisi.
On their return to Lisieux, M. Guérin soothed the emotion with a word. “Don't worry, she won't be there long. Indeed, after a few weeks, the forces of the young aspirant gave signs of weakening. Glands appeared under the arms. On contact with the homespun tunic, the eczema flared up furiously. "I thought I had a bushel of fleas on my back," said the unfortunate Léonie. She had to face the facts. On December 1 – the experiment had lasted seven weeks – Mr. Martin came in person to fetch his daughter and showed her so much joy and affection that she calmed down somewhat. She left reluctantly, a mantilla on her head to hide her cut hair. A visit to Doctor Notta reassured her about the physical consequences of a somewhat reckless generosity. Throughout her life, Léonie was to retain the friendship of choice for the nuns she had approached. She will like to see again, in their rounds of quests, the Tourières Sisters of the small Alencon convent. She even made it a pleasure to "cook like the Poor Clares". She understood, however, that on this side the horizon was walled up for her.
Somewhat shaken by the event, and morally depressed, the young girl begged Céline, who, when Marie left, had assumed the government of the house, to keep the responsibility. She herself had little aptitude for leadership. She willingly went about the most ordinary household chores. She also liked to retire to her room to pray. "She was good, gentle and humble," wrote Céline in her diary; she did not seek to appear... This love of retirement did not, however, prevent her from devoting herself to works of charity; she was going to bury the dead among the poor families in the neighborhood. »
Cheerfulness quickly regained its rights in contact with Mr. Martin, who combined a mysticism of good quality with solid reserves of enthusiasm and good humor. As for the two youngest, they were both mischievous and teasing. Having noticed that the "Solitaire", as they called her, had difficulty resisting the temptation of a siesta, they took advantage of a temporary absence to transform her apartment into a monastic cell, furnished with austere mottoes, among which a long cartouche in which blazed this sentence: "My eyes close in the light of day, when, after my dinner, I do not take a walk! Leonie laughed wholeheartedly... and went on again.
Determined to return sooner or later to some convent better suited to her possibilities, she took advantage of this forced respite to perfect a barely sketched culture. Therese, who had left the Abbey a year earlier for health reasons and was taking private lessons from Madame Papinau, was a useful help to her eldest. "I was particularly touched by the great delicacy with which she acted towards me," Léonie later declared. I was then twenty-three years old, and she only thirteen, but I was very behind in my studies and my training; my little sister lent herself to instruct me with great charity and exquisite tact so as not to humiliate me. It was no doubt this same concern not to awaken painful memories that led the “little queen” to defer the confession of her own vocation to Léonie. We have testimony on this at the Trial: “I don't remember that the Servant of God confided in me about her plans for religious life; I also said that she poured out less with me than with my older sisters who were like her mothers, and than with Céline who was almost her age. But the announcement of his plan to enter the Carmel did not surprise me at all. It was not difficult to foresee, by her attitude and her virtues, that she was made for religious life”.
The Taking of the Habit of Mary, March 19, 1887, the authorization given, May 29, to Thérèse, by her father, to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, kindled Léonie's nostalgia for the cloister. She remembered Sister Marie-Dosithée, who had never despaired of her. She thought of the Seer of Paray-le-Monial, who had cured her in her childhood. The information she obtained about the Visitation persuaded her that there would be no presumption in knocking at this door. Isn't its founder Saint Francis de Sales, the suave Doctor who called himself “as much a man as nothing more” and who advocated a “human and treatable” devotion? Wasn't his intention to make religious life accessible to any soul of good will, accessible even to weak temperaments? The constitutive texts, established with the help of Saint Jeanne de Chantal, did they not arrange a harmoniously balanced regime, where very moderate physical mortifications were combined with an interior mortification at all times? What a guarantee of wisdom was this statement of the Doctor of Geneva to Mother Angelica, the reformer of Port-Royal, who, alas! too few cases! “Eating little, working a lot, having a lot of mental worries and refusing sleep to the body, is to want to get a lot out of a horse that is lean and without feeding it. » To the ironists who reproached him for opening, not a convent, but a hospital, the Saint answered: « What do you want, I am the partisan of the infirm ».
Léonie didn't ask for so much to be convinced. There was in the diocese of Bayeux, in Caen, a Monastery of Visitandines. She visited there around June 20, 1887. The steps were carried out smoothly. After a final family trip to the Exhibition in Le Havre and to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace in Honfleur, the young girl crossed the closing gate, on the feast of the Virgin of Carmel, Saturday July 16, 1887. Ten days later, she was admitted to the postulancy.
The little care, the fine attentions were born, it is said, among the Visitandines. The providential meeting François de Sales the Bishop of Geneva and Jeanne-Françoise Fremyot, widow at twenty-eight of the Baron de Rabutin-Chantal, had led, on June 6, 1610, to the creation, in Annecy, of the Daughters of the Visitation Sainte-Marie: institute of contemplatives, which, in the thought of the founder, was intended to include, as a hors d'oeuvre, the visit of the sick, but had to, under the pressure of the opinion of the time and by the intervention of the Archbishop of Lyon, to submit very early to papal closure.
In dependence on the Rules of the Institute of Saint Augustine for the Sisters, the Constitutions and the Spiritual Directory methodically define the aims, the means, the spirit which are imposed on the nuns. “Let their whole life and exercises be to unite with God, to help with prayers and good examples the Holy Church and the salvation of our neighbour. The model is Nazareth, with its stamp of simplicity and gentleness, of humility and annihilation. Francis de Sales, who distrusts penitential exploits as if from a beautiful precipice, but "who does not like half-dead hearts", wants "evangelical girls", "girls of prayer", oriented towards "the absolute of love" by detachment from within and the fervor of love. They will devote themselves, specifies M. de Margerie, "more to interior recollection than to the multitude of prayers, more to disappropriation than to poverty, more to charity than to solitude, more to obedience than to 'to painful observances'.
The diet is healthy and plentiful, comprising two daily meals, sufficient sleep, fasting limited to the prescriptions of the Church, plus a few feast days, recreation time designed and organized in such a way as to largely relax and recreate. But everything is planned to break the self-will and subject it entirely to divine will. Time is fragmented and chopped into multiple occupations. Jobs and duties change frequently. You have to ask permission for everything. On New Year's Eve, a number is drawn, with the name of a patron, which assigns a cell for the year, as well as a place in the choir, in the refectory, in the Community. The bed, the furniture, the objects of piety are subject to the same mutations and transfers. It is, with the breaking of habits, the complete uprooting with regard to the accessory, with a view to establishing and fixing in “the only necessary”. To animate such asceticism and to blossom it in God, a robust and sober spirituality. No “rose water devotions”, no “tenderness”: Mass, frequent Communion, the Office of the Virgin, the hour of daily prayer, pious readings either in private or by mode of collective exchanges and the individual retreat in solitude for ten days.
In this mode of life as it is recalled here, the last decades have introduced certain modifications. The general line is entirely safeguarded, the spirit remains the same, but more account is taken of the necessities of hygiene, of the current need for culture and of active participation in religious ceremonies, of the obligation finally to earn one's living by a work less fragmented and technically better conducted. Educational methods have become more flexible. There is more breadth in the granting of permissions and dispensations. The external Sisters wear the same habit as the cloisters. Interviews in the visiting room are conducted without the presence of witnesses. The Monasteries, while remaining autonomous, now enjoy the possibilities of openness authorized by the erection of the Federations. The Order of the Visitation has wisely adapted to the healthy demands of modern life. Needless to add that account has been taken of the innovations brought by the Church in matters of the Office and reception of Communion, such as with regard to sung masses and liturgical reforms.
In this style of religious life, we recognize both the gently demanding genius of the one whom Mr. Olier called "the most mortifying of the Saints", and the organizing sense as well as the strength of the one who was pleased to call the " Perfect Lady”. The craze for their work was evident from the outset. Thirteen monasteries existed when François de Sales expired on December 28, 1622. There were eighty-seven in 1641, on the death of Jeanne de Chantal. The seventeenth century will not end without the family thus planted receiving from Heaven itself a sort of mystical investiture. The Doctor of Love had given her as her coat of arms "a single heart, pierced by two arrows, enclosed in a crown of thorns". – “Truly,” he said, “our little congregation is a work of the Heart of Jesus and Mary. The dying Savior gave birth to us through the opening of his Sacred Heart. » Presentiment or prophecy which will be confirmed, in the cloister of Paray-le-Monial, in the series of famous apparitions to Marguerite-Marie.
The Monastery where Léonie Martin began her apprenticeship in religious life dates back to the beginnings of the Order. Opened in Dol in 1627, transferred to Bourg-l'Abbé in Caen on July 16, 1631, it had been initiated by several nuns on whom Saint Jeanne de Chantal in person had imposed the Habit, at the convent of Paris. Among them was Marie Catherine Camus, the sister of the Bishop of Belley, whom the Chronicles point out as "very devoted to the precious Heart of our divine Saviour, often greeting him, in imitation of Saint Gertrude, and regarding him as the treasure of all the graces and riches of God”. That is to say that the movement sprung from Paray will find favorable ground there. From 1697, a chapel of the Sacred Heart, the first in the diocese, was erected in the conventual church. Even before this date, Mother Françoise d'Harcourt will have obtained permission to solemnly celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart. May 23, 1699, will be established, under the same name, a brotherhood which will take root in the region, and first at the Monastery of Our Lady of Charity of Caen. The Visitandines will resist heroically all the attacks of Jansenism. Closely linked to Saint John Eudes, they will contribute to the formation of the Congregation of Women born from the great missionary of the West.
The dominant note of the Community of the rue de l'Abbatiale was, from the outset, charity. This is how, from 1635 to 1641, the nuns imposed fasts on themselves to relieve the scarcity of the Sisters established in Lorraine: for which the Foundress congratulated them, predicting in return that the Visitation of Caen would survive all storms. The storm par excellence was the French Revolution, which brought about the State's seizure of the conventual buildings and the dispersal of the thirty-five occupants. These survived clandestinely in small groups, came together in 1804, and six years later acquired part of the buildings of the Abbaye-aux-hommes, built long ago by the sons of Saint Benedict.
So here they are now installed at No. 3 rue de l'Abbatiale, in the heart of old Caen. House and garden - the whole is less than one hectare - are dominated by the high towers of the Saint-Etienne church, this masterpiece of Romanesque art, erected in the eleventh century, with the help of the scholar Abbé Lanfranc, by the munificence of William the Conqueror, who has his tomb there. The Visitandines will not be able to admire the majestic simplicity of the facade, nor the exterior chevet with superimposed planes, bristling with a forest of turrets, but the octagonal arrows which point eighty meters high will make their recreations hover, in the alleys and groves, a vision of grandeur and beauty.
The material installation is no less precarious, in this year 1887 when the superiority is in the hands of Mother Marie-Stéphanie Lejeune, who will die the following year. The cracked walls threaten to collapse; the roofs make water everywhere. A restoration is necessary; but is it still possible? In the Community, illnesses and deaths follow one another. The director of the novitiate, Mother Marie de Sales Lefrançois, who was not yet thirty years old, was remarkable for her concern for observance and her austerity. Perhaps she lacks this indulgence, this breadth of vision, the concern also to spare the transitions to the unseasoned forces of beginners, in short, these qualities of experience that age alone confers. It is unaware of the handling of dispensations, which François de Sales had nevertheless foreseen. Thus, from Saint Michael's Day to Easter, we strictly adhered to the two daily meals of 10 a.m. and 18 p.m., without allowing breakfast, however modest. Just a little liquid. No account was taken of the rigors of winter. The spirit of the Founder in this respect seemed somewhat forgotten. The result of these excesses, which in fact constituted deviations, was recorded in the decline of health. In eighteen months, two Superiors died, aged forty-six and forty-eight, while a whole series of young vocations passed away.
Léonie had valiantly begun the postulancy, which was in principle six months. There was no longer any trace in her of that instinct of indiscipline which had disturbed her childhood. She was no longer reluctant to obey. His piety was lively and deep. But she remained physically fragile, fickle in character. Not very muscular, of weak constitution, she remained prone to eczema and very sensitive in the bronchial tubes. Especially the humidity and the frost exhausted him. Pale complexion, shaken by chilly tremors, she could only moan: “I am pierced with cold”.
Des Buissonnets and Carmel received valuable encouragement. The eldest Marie and Pauline stimulated her, although inwardly they hardly bet on her perseverance. Céline and Thérèse surround him with their prayers. She reads and rereads these messages, which a severe instruction then orders her to destroy, which will notably deprive us of Thérèse's letters during the trip to Rome. She herself replies when she is given permission to do so, even though she finds writing neither easy nor attractive.
The note addressed to Thérèse on July 20, 1887 is all about optimism. It is the euphoria of the first days. “I am very happy, my darling little sister, in the midst of my new family... The good Lord has given me great graces, for it is He who has led me here, as if by the hand; I think that's really where he wants me... Our cell overlooks the courtyard where I see a beautiful Calvary which was placed this year, on Passion Sunday. Oh ! how it gives courage to suffer all that is most bitter, when we consider a God who has suffered so much for us. I also see the two steeples of Saint-Etienne and I think that the good Lord is very close to me, since he is really present in our churches. So you see that I am very happy; envy my happiness, that is permitted to you, for it is indeed the only one worthy of being envied on earth; all the rest is nothing. »
The letter sent on October 15 to his youngest, for the feast of his Patroness of Avila, already betrays, for those who know how to read, the difficulties that are piling up. Léonie speaks of “the thorns that tear her heart”. “There is much to do, she said, to make me a saint. But, little by little, we succeed all the same with the grace of God. Does his overly keen sensitivity suffer from some repressed tenderness? We could augur it, through this confession. “Because our heart is made only for God, only He can fill it fully. He's too big for the world, so what folly, isn't it, to have too much attachment to creatures. You know that, I can judge from my own experience, because until now I have not been able to possess my poor heart. You, darling little sister, the good Lord knew so how to delight your heart so pure that you did not know all the anguish that is born of mad affections. »
After the humble confidence in which floats some anxiety: "You know that it takes me longer than another to write, and I have such difficulty explaining myself that you're going to have trouble understanding me", the correspondent ends by evoking the visionary of Paray who once cured her: “Pray her well for me, so that, if necessary, she will obtain a second miracle for me so that I may become a Saint Visitandine”.
The hour of such a prodigy had not yet come. As winter approached, the difficulties increased, the physical forces weakened; morale finally gave way. On January 6, 1888, the young girl found herself in the parlor, in the arms of her father, who comforted her with his supernatural kindness. Thérèse emphasizes this in her autobiography: "When Léonie left the Visitation, he was not distressed, did not reproach the good Lord for not having answered the prayers he had made to her to obtain the vocation of her dear daughter, it was even with a certain joy that he went to look for her..."
The links with the cloister were broken, but Léonie wanted to attach herself to God by the vow of chastity. She will also keep in touch with the Visitation of Caen. When the latter, in January 1891, acquired a terracotta statue representing Saint Francis de Sales, the former postulant made a point of assuming the expense. Many times, her imagination will come to prowl around the poor Monastery, where she had left the best of her heart and where she intended to return without delay.
She returns to Les Buissonnets to witness Thérèse's departure. This one mentions it in the story where the farewell meal of Sunday April 8, 1888 is mentioned: “My dear little Léonie, who came back from the Visitation a few months ago, showered me with even more kisses and caresses”. Léonie herself will provide a moving account of these heartbreaking hours. “I was singularly struck by his fortitude in this circumstance. Alone, she was calm. Silent tears only spoke of the pain she felt at leaving our father whom she loved so much and whose old age she consoled. I told him to think carefully before entering religion, adding that my experience of it had shown me that this life required a lot of sacrifices and that it should not be undertaken lightly. The answer she gave me and the expression on her face made me understand that she expected all the sacrifices and that she accepted them with joy. The same lucidity of the young Thérèse, the same peaceful energy, the next day, when crossing the closing gate: “Her attitude above her age, her angelic face, everything about her told me so many things”.
Léonie admired no less the man who in town was often called "the Patriarch." “At the entrance to the Carmel, Thérèse knelt at the feet of our incomparable father to receive his blessing; but he, as far as I remember, would only give it to her on his knees. God alone could measure the extent of his sacrifice, but for this great and generous Christian, knowing the holy will of God and doing it were the same thing. » It is still « the angelic and radiant air of Thérèse », that the young girl underlines, when, at the Taking of the Veil of Mary, the following May 23, she sees, from the grille of the choir, the little queen posing on the forehead of her eldest the traditional crown of flowers.
Events would soon become more tragic. From June 1888, Mr. Martin's state of health worsened. Attacks of arteriosclerosis, no doubt complicated by attacks of uraemia, determine, at times, hallucinatory phenomena with attacks of amnesia and fugues. For Léonie and Céline, it's the beginning of a long ordeal. They worry when, without warning, their father extends a stay in the capital in an unusual way. They were even more alarmed when, on June 23, he disappeared for four days, without giving any sign of life. Alerted by a map, Mr. Guérin and Céline find him in Le Havre, but, while the search continues, a fire devours the Gervais house, adjoining Les Buissonnets, which is threatened for a moment and which Léonie, panicked, must quickly evacuate.
Everything seems to be in order. Mr. Martin is more tender than ever. He makes plans for the future. We settle in a rented chalet in Auteuil. Nostalgia for Lisieux quickly interrupts the experience. Anxiety hovers over this happiness that one feels is so threatened. On August 12, a new onslaught of illness, then, after a period of remission, on October 31, near Notre-Dame de Grâce in Honfleur, during a trip to greet Father Pichon, ready to embark for Canada is a more terrible crisis, of which young girls are helpless witnesses. “Leonie and I, writes Céline, we suffered martyrdom. »
The lull returns once more, authorizing the unmitigated joy of Thérèse's Taking the Habit. But on February 12, 1889, we had to resign ourselves to the inevitable: the transfer of the old man to the Bon Sauveur nursing home in Caen. This establishment, located rue Caponière, and run by nuns, was at the forefront in the treatment of mental disorders. The story of the Chevalier des Touches by Barbey d'Aurevilly had pointed this out to scholars. M. Martin would be treated with the utmost respect. He who dreamed of eremitism, however, it was not this kind of seclusion that he had coveted. When the heavy doors closed behind him, his daughters touched the bottom of human pain. Céline expresses it in one sentence: “Léonie and I, dumb, we kept silent all the time, we were destroyed, broken...”
To pay frequent visits to the dear patient, thanks to the complicity of Mother Costard, they ask for lodging and food, nearby, rue de Bayeux, at the Daughters of Charity, who ran an orphanage and received ladies boarders. Every day, their hearts beating with emotion, they went for the news. The echo was immediately transmitted to the Carmelite]. Céline handled the pen more willingly, but Léonie did not shy away from the duty of informing her sisters. The mail brought her, in return, messages of supernatural compassion, which made her more valiant in the ordeal. There is no trace of this correspondence in the fifteen letters she has kept from Thérèse. No doubt she sacrificed it when she returned to the Monastery. Leonie had another kind of consolation. The Visitation was only separated from the Good Savior by the width of a street. The young girl liked to take refuge there to pray. She asked in the parlor for her former mistress of novices, Sister Marie de Sales Lefrançois, who had become Superior, barely thirty years old, on the previous March 5. Very attached to her, despite her rigid demeanor, Léonie retained complete confidence in her and rediscovered, through contact with her, the meaning of a great vocation.
When, the period of adaptation being over, they had to limit themselves to weekly visits, the two exiles returned to Lisieux on May 14, 1889. It was to live there under the same roof as the Guérins, first at Les Buissonnets, soon in a mansion, 19, rue Paul-Banaston. They participated with them in the trip to Paris for the International Exhibition, then, in May 1890, in the vast journey which took them from the oratory of the Holy Face in Tours to the North of Spain, passing through the main cities in the West and South of France. Léonie, who still suffered from eczema, took advantage of a trip to Lourdes to beg for her cure.
The two sisters were more and more united. Every week, for a few hours, they took the road back to Caen, without omitting, at least as far as our heroine was concerned, the restful stop in the rue de l'Abbatiale. The Carmel parlor offered another shelter of comfort and hope. On September 8, 1890, Thérèse made her profession. The Prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, had told her to ask for her father's healing, when she was lying down for the great prostration. “But she contented herself with saying: My God, let dad heal if it is your will, since our Mother told me to ask you, but, for Léonie, let it be your will that she be. Visitandine, and if she doesn't have the vocation, I ask you to give it to her. You cannot deny me that. » On September 24, Léonie attends, moved, her sister's Prize de Voile, which revives in her many nagging memories.
Despite the tenderness with which her family surrounds her, she feels out of place. It especially costs him, between July 15 and August 1888, alternately with Céline, to keep Madame Guérin company, at the gates of Evreux, in the splendid estate of La Musse, which the Lexovian pharmacist, in 1890, had inherited. of his cousin Auguste David. There, distractions and receptions followed one another without interruption, which did not delight the young girl, who was not at ease in social circles. She had to control herself to put on a good face at the festivities which surrounded the marriage of her cousin, Jeanne Guérin, to Doctor Francis La Néele, on October XNUMX, XNUMX. Her young relative holding a medical practice on rue de l'Oratoire in Caen in any case the occasion of less rapid stays in the vicinity of the Bon Sauveur and the Visitation. Intimate meetings will bring together, on Thursday, at a relative of Mr. Guérin, a whole band of friends, most of them destined for the cloister. A witness, Mr. Pougheol, showing photos of the group, told us how Léonie showed herself to be modest and somewhat naive, laughing and a tad talkative, rolling the r in the fashion of Alençon when she lively in conversation, above all good and helpful.
Paternal deprivation, although accepted, is the prevalent concern. The young girl opened up about it to Céline, who had stayed a few days at Jeanne La Néele's home. “The good Lord may want to prolong our ordeal even further, I am inclined to believe it; the best thing for us is to snuggle up in the Heart of Jesus and to entrust ourselves to him for everything that concerns us. There, only, we will take again courage to support the pains of the life which, certainly, do not fail us. But let's not complain, we are more than friends of Jesus, we are his spouses of desire. In Heaven, we will see our beloved father, so humbled here below, filled with glory for eternity! Let us be his crown, let us make ourselves worthy of such a father! »
The celebrations of the second centenary of the death of Blessed Marguerite-Marie – she was not yet canonized – prompted Céline and Léonie to go to Paray-le-Monial. The first would have liked to travel privately and enjoy, apart from the crowds, the interior charm of the Chapel of the Apparitions. Finally, they took part, with Canon Domin and some friends from Caen, in the pilgrimage to the dioceses of Bayeux and Coutances, which began on October 8, 1890, under the presidency of Mgr Germain, Bishop of La Manche. Thérèse told Léonie of her certainty that she would receive many graces there. We guess however, in the letter that she addressed to Céline, that the massive character of reparation given then to this kind of demonstration did not correspond to her personal genius: "You know, I don't see the Sacred Heart as everyone. I think that my Spouse's Heart is mine alone, as mine is His alone, and I speak to him then in solitude of this delicious heart to heart, while waiting to contemplate him one day face to face”.
Thérèse must have been pleased when Léonie gave her the text of the meditation given on October 15 by Father Tissot, Superior General of the Missionaries of Saint Francis de Sales in Annecy. These thoughts were so in line with his budding spirituality! Let us rather judge: “Why remind you of what I forgot? asks Our Lord to a soul that endlessly stirs up all its past. “No, no, do not measure the Heart of Jesus... Throw this weakness into him. No sooner is she in this fiery furnace than she is already consumed... Think about it, the measure of your confidence, that is to say of your love, will be the measure of God's love for your soul..." The allegory follows, with a pre-Theresian and, to tell the truth, Salesian accent, which depicts a mother and her two young children: one who embraces the mother's neck and surrenders to her embraces , the other who stiffens, cries and resists. And yet, don't they both need to be fully supported? “Oh! I beg you, let yourself be carried away! These reflections seem to have touched Leonie's heart deliciously, for they will be found, entirely copied by her, in the few meager papers which at her death formed the whole treasure of her cell. Still too obsessed with the difficulties of yesteryear, and marked by a guilt complex, everything that aroused confidence had echoed in her soul.
At that time, Thérèse did not exercise over her the prestige and authority that her astonishing maturity would soon bring her. She gave way to her elders. Léonie will point this out at the Trial. “When I came to see my sisters in the visiting room, I noticed that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus showed herself to be particularly humble and discreet, willingly letting others speak. She was also very regular, retiring first when the hourglass indicated that the time granted for the visiting room had passed. – “Even in the visiting room, her humility kept her small and hidden. She willingly remained silent when my other sisters were there, and this deep humility of the Servant of God was all the more remarkable as she possessed to a high degree all the gifts of mind and heart. »
Léonie and Céline's greatest dream was to take the humiliated father back and take care of him themselves. Satisfaction was given to them on May 10, 1892. Mr. Guérin brought back to Lisieux the old man who, with both legs completely paralyzed, could no longer yield to the desire to escape, and whose mental state was that of a soul on the slumber, conscious enough to observe and react, in a spirit of resigned gentleness and supernatural surrender. The young girls settled down with their patient in rue Labbey, near the Guérin family. Was it over with the breakaways to Caen? No, thanks to the kindness of Céline, who facilitated her sister's much-desired escapes. Thus, at the end of July 1892, the latter made a closed retreat in rue de l'Abbatiale. “Everyone takes his pleasure where he finds it, wrote this fine fly of Céline to Mrs. La Néele; I find it at La Musse, Léonie, at the Visitation. Sweet Madame Guérin was a little annoyed; and, later, Céline herself had to reassure her poor sister, who reproached herself for having sometimes left her alone with her father, to run to her pious loves. It was becoming more and more obvious that the obstinate Léonie would sooner or later try a new cloistered experience.
Failure and holiness
That you trained for your third child.
God heard you, for she is on earth,
Like its sisters, a beautiful, very shiny Lys.
The Visitation hides her from the eyes of the world,
But she loves Jesus, it is his peace that floods her.
Of her ardent desires and of all her sighs
Reminds you !....
When the poem was published in the Story of a Soul, in 1898, Léonie having then left the Habit, Mother Agnès of Jesus modified the fifth line as follows: “She would also like to separate herself from the world. Léonie received a new shock and a new encouragement when she learned of Celine's imminent departure for the cloister, freed from her family duties. She confided to him on August 28, 1894: “All the five nuns! Our dear mother's wishes are fulfilled. Hadn't she asked God in her great faith, and among other things a Visitandine? But her poor little Visitandine is quite unworthy of it, by her cowardice and her long delays in giving herself up fully to love. Finally, I will end up surrendering, I hope...” What she does not write, but which she admits to Jeanne Guérin in person, is that the recitation of the Divine Office weighs on her and that she suffers from doubts against the Real Presence: phenomena of fatigue to which she is inclined to attach too much importance.
Thérèse is always there, who stimulates her by speaking to her in the language of faith. Since we know your trials our fervor is very great, I assure you, all our thoughts and our prayers are for you. I have great confidence that my dear little Visitandine will emerge victorious from all her great trials and that she will one day be a model nun. The good Lord has already granted him so many graces; could he abandon her now that she seems to have arrived in port? No, Jesus sleeps while his poor wife struggles against the waves of temptation,
but we are going to call Him so tenderly, that He will soon wake up, commanding the wind and the storm, and calm will be restored... Darling little sister, you will see that joy will follow trial and that, more later, you will be happy to have suffered..."
Léonie's profession was normally to be fixed for the first suitable day after April 6, 1895. A reprieve was imposed on her. She suffered from it to the point of considering a transfer to the Visitation of Le Mans, where she hoped, the memory of Sister Marie-Dosithée helping, to find more understanding and indulgence. It is Thérèse again who denounces the devastating idea as a trap. She alleges her own example, and how, delayed for the issuance of her vows, after a time of desolation, she had collected herself and had considered the delay as a means of completing her “wedding dress”. Speaking of herself, she discovers to her sister, to drag her along, the familiar landscapes of spiritual childhood, in particular the need for humble abandonment.
"You may remember that in the past, I liked to call myself 'Jesus' little toy.' Even now I am happy to be, only I thought that the divine Child had many other souls filled with sublime virtues who called themselves "his toys", so I thought that they were his beautiful toys and that my poor soul was just a worthless little toy. To console myself, I said to myself that often children have more pleasure with small toys which they can leave or take, break or kiss at their whim, than with others of greater value than they do. hardly dare to touch. So I rejoiced at being poor, I wanted to become more so each day, so that each day Jesus would take more pleasure in playing with me. »
The lesson was transparent. Thérèse – who, in this, is very much a woman – can add: “I gave you my direction”. It is actually that of her sister that she has just done, and from the same pen which then wrote the Manuscript to Mother Agnès of Jesus, the first of her Autobiography.
Léonie strained her energies for a supreme step, but her physical stamina was exhausted, and with her the moral spring. On July 18, 1895, M. Guérin adjured his niece to try another three-month trial. "It is a poor nature, incapable of reacting", he wrote to Mother Agnès. Two days later, he went to look for Léonie, who was giving up her arms, as one of her friends from Caen had done a year earlier, and for the same reasons. On this occasion he showed all his greatness of soul, immediately going to Carmel to explain the situation and to comfort hearts, welcoming with kindness to his home the one who was watching for a nervous breakdown. Marie Guérin, for her part, busied herself in cheering up her cousin and escorted her to the parlor in the rue de Livarot, where the poor girl, amid her tears, could barely put in a word. Léonie's emotion was rekindled on August 15 of the same year, when she kissed her companion for the last time, at the gate of the Carmel, and, even more, on March 17, 1896, where she attended, in the morning , at Celine's Prize de Voile, in the afternoon, at Marie Guérin's Vêture, and this in the presence of Mgr Hugonin, the same who, a year earlier, had presided over his own Prize d'Habit. She found herself alone, at her uncle's, with her regrets, despite everything shot through with hope, for, her weakness going hand in hand with a certain stubbornness, she was still thinking and all the same of returning one day to the Monastery, where her second passage had left only deep sympathy.
For now, Léonie organizes her life in Lisieux and, in a slightly different style, at the Château de La Musse where she goes in the summer. Solitude retains all its attractions. It is without enthusiasm that she mingles with the receptions to which Mr. Guérin lends himself willingly. She cannot escape the many guests who parade in fine weather, especially when Francis La Néele leads the rounds, organizing boat parties, pistol shooting, horse riding exercises, races in the forest paths, but she allows her frequent migraines to justify her reclusive tastes. From her repeated failures, she retains a penchant for sadness and a certain tendency to scruples. Mme Guérin, who is sweetness and kindness personified, M. Guérin, who considers his nieces as his own children, both contrive to comfort, to distract, to tear from her morbid daydreams, the one who is now their only permanent company.
The correspondence with the Carmel, the conversations in the visiting room, serve as an outlet for the young girl. In April for Saint-Léon, Thérèse sends him her best wishes. She puts more affection into it than ever: “I cannot tell you all that my heart contains of deep thoughts which relate to you; the only thing I want to repeat to you is this: I love you a thousand times more tenderly than ordinary sisters love each other, since I can love you with the Heart of our heavenly Spouse”.
Thérèse entered a year ago in the phase of full development of her religious genius. On June 9, 1895, she had had the inspiration for the Act of Offering to Merciful Love. She was then writing the story of her memories for Mother Agnès. She will soon be grappling with the triple martyrdom of body, mind and heart. To her novices, to her spiritual brothers, in her last writings, she is called to deliver her ultimate teachings. Who knows if she didn't come to think that Léonie herself had been returned for a time to a secular life only so that she could freely mold her soul in the direction of the Path of Childhood? Age differences no longer matter. Thérèse speaks “as having authority”, and Léonie, perfectly conscious of the superiority of her youngest child, places herself humbly under her guidance. Let us judge by this letter sent from La Musse, July 1896, XNUMX, and where we find, with the sense of eternity, so characteristic of the Martin family, the confessions and the impulses of a trembling soul who calls for help.
“If you only knew how I always think of you, and your memory is so sweet to me, it brings me closer to God and I understand your desire to go see him soon to lose yourself eternally in Him: I too desire it like you , I like to hear about death and I don't understand people who like this life of continual suffering and death. For you, my darling, you are ready to go and see the good Lord, surely you will be well received; but me, alas! I will arrive empty-handed and yet I have the temerity not to be afraid, do you understand that? it's incredible ; I know it and I agree, but I can't help it...
"When you write to me,... speak to me of the good God and of all that can make me progress in virtue, that is the only thing that pleases me and that I expect from the beloved Carmel . If you only knew how I must be helped so as not to indulge myself in the pleasures and vanities of the world, because despite all the good will possible, one lets oneself be imperceptibly drawn into it and if one does not find death there, the less piety and pure love for Jesus is much altered there; all that is left to offer this dear Beloved is faded flowers; myself, how many times have I not offered him. Sister darling, you'll stop me, won't you? to start over; I am so weak; you know that I'm counting on you.
“How happy I am not to go to the Maudelonde wedding, thank you! THANKS ! because you always know how to stop your little runaway horse... I beg you, ask the good Lord especially to deliver me from my scruples; always withdrawn into myself, that hurts me horribly and certainly delays me in perfection: be sure that I put my finger on the wound to show it to you. »
Same echo, on July 9, in a missive intended for Céline: “Only twenty days left to spend at La Musse, I am not sorry, although I have made the same life there as in Lisieux. More and more, I see the nothingness of everything that is happening and that makes me feel good and detaches me little by little, but I still have this background of sadness that I cannot completely overcome. While feeling for the moment where God wants me, I suffer, and even a lot, my exile seems long to me... Jesus alone knows the price”.
Thérèse relied on these two letters, in such a personal tone, to send her sister, on Sunday, July 12, 1896, one of the finest presentations she had made of her “little doctrine”. Let us quote it almost entirely, because Léonie will penetrate to the marrow of these serene and strong thoughts.
“I assure you that the good Lord is much better than you think. He is satisfied with a look, a sigh of love... For me, I find perfection very easy to practice because I have understood that there is only to take Jesus by the heart . Look at a small child who has just upset his mother, by getting angry or disobeying her, if he hides in a corner with a sulky air and cries in fear of being punished, his mother does not will certainly not forgive him his fault; but if he comes to hold out his little arms to her, smiling and saying: "Kiss me, I won't do it again", won't his mother immediately press him to her heart with tenderness, forgetting all that he has do ?... "
Thérèse also designates the open sea of the apostolate to one who then tended to withdraw into herself. With the same clairvoyance, that of a mistress of novices accustomed to fixing the overall line from the minutiae, she teases Léonie about her dress coquetry. The other pleaded awkwardly for a dress that was too neat or a bodice that was too elegant: "You're going to leave that to me all the same!" But the Carmelite saw further; she was speaking in the name of the holy jealousy of Him who, she well felt, wanted her sister's heart all to himself. The person concerned, basically, was not mistaken: “In the visiting room, Thérèse encouraged me to persevere and diverted me from the smallest social events. She said that having put on the religious habit, even temporarily, I should not allow myself any pursuit of vanity in my toilet; moreover... she kept the hope, which came true, of my definitive consecration in the Order of the Visitation”.
It was also in the visiting room that, serving as a link between her sisters and the Guérin family, our heroine questioned anxiously about the evolution of Thérèse's illness. The ebbs and flows of pulmonary tuberculosis, medically badly discerned at the time and fought with the mediocre means of the time, disconcerted her somewhat. In November 1896, she associated herself with the novena to Théophane Vénard, which, far from leading to a cure, was followed by redoubled crises.
On June 2, 1897, Léonie attended the Taking of the Veil of her cousin Marie Guérin, who had become Sister Marie of the Eucharist. This day was for her all bathed in melancholy. Thérèse had shown herself in the parlor so pale and defeated, as if marked already with the sign of death, that that same night, Mother Agnès of Jesus would ask the Prioress to ask her to finish writing her autobiographical memoirs. Did the young Saint perceive, through the gates, and even in her silence, Léonie's immense distress? The very next day, she sent him a picture on the back of which she had written: “Dear little sister, how sweet it is for me to think that one day we will follow the Lamb together for all eternity! These lines awoke nostalgia for the cloister in the soul of the young girl, who, discouraged by her triple failure, thought for the time being of moving towards a secular life.
On June 5, the family and Carmel united their votes, in an ardent novena to Notre-Dame des Victoires, to snatch the healing of Thérèse from heaven. The response was hardly encouraging. Everything pointed to a fatal outcome. Léonie, who was leaving for La Musse on July 2, insisted on greeting the patient. “His face then seemed to me like diaphanous and celestial” she will testify later. Sensing that she would never see her again alive, she burst into tears. Therese herself had to console her, showing her that such a prospect should not be a cause for sadness. A note, written with a firm hand, was then to thank his sister for all her kindness and promise her, for all her intentions, Communion the next day.
In such circumstances, life in the chateau seemed heavier than ever to Léonie, despite the presence of the Carmel chaplain, Father Youf, who had been invited to rest for a few days at La Musse. It is true that this priest was at his wit's end – he was to die on October 8 – and that his quickly darkened mood was not ideal for boosting morale. Madame Guérin herself was ill, which will extend the stay beyond the scheduled date.
With what avidity do we watch for health reports from Lisieux! Marie Guérin announces that, on July 8, Doctor de Cornière diagnosing an extremely serious pulmonary congestion, Thérèse was installed in the infirmary, on the ground floor. She keeps smiling and composure. “I will be with you even more than before, she said, I will not leave you, it is I who will watch over my uncle, over my aunt, over my little Léonie, over everyone in short2...”
On the 16th, Mother Agnès of Jesus wrote that having spoken to the patient about eternal delights, she received this response: "This evening, I heard from afar, near the station, beautiful music and I thought that soon I was going to hear sweeter harmonies, but this feeling of joy was only temporary. For a long time now, moreover, I no longer know what lively joy is and it is impossible for me to enjoy enjoying myself; this is not what attracts me, I cannot think much of my happiness, I only think of the Love that I will receive and that which I will be able to give”.
Léonie copies for her use this document addressed to the inhabitants of La Musse. It will be one of the key texts that she will meditate on all her life. She herself valiantly bears the shock of the alarming news. The testimonies of her relatives show her to be quick to tears, but resigned, reasonable, courageous. A note from Thérèse, dated July 17, reminds her of the unique goal: “To please Jesus, to unite you more intimately with Him. You want me in Heaven to pray for you to the Sacred Heart, be sure that I will not forget to do your errands to him and to claim everything you will need to become a great saint. A Dieu, my dear sister, I would like the thought of my entry into Heaven to fill you with joy, since I will be able to love you even more”.
Léonie came to the point, like the Carmelites themselves, of wishing that the event would hasten, to shorten Thérèse's refined sufferings. On the 18th, she wrote to Céline: "...it will be one more angel for us in this beautiful sky that she will help us win." I envy her happiness and I can't ask God for her healing, I think that would be loving my little sister for me, going against the will of God...» But she longs to keep some relic. "If you could put everything she says in writing, how consoling it would be for me to have all this, because like you, beloved little sisters, I don't have the happiness of being with my dear sister. , but I am not worthy of it either, and perhaps I would be less courageous than you. Jesus does well to impose this sacrifice on me. This humbly expressed wish was already being realized. Mother Agnès of Jesus and Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face, leaning over the bedside of the dying woman, faithfully collected her final secrets.
On the evening of July 30, following terrible haemorrhages, and on the doctor's advice, the sacrament of Extreme Unction was administered to Thérèse. Léonie feeds on thoughts of faith. “My soul and my heart, she wrote to Céline, are constantly with you near the bed of our beloved angel, awaiting in anguish, but resigned at the same time, the moment of his departure for the Fatherland1. Therese, it is true, lectures those around her. "Why are you so sorry for me to go away?" So, me, I should have a lot of leaving you. If I thought of leaving you, I would, but since I tell you that I will be closer to you without my body than with my body!
Léonie piously collects the patient's mysterious remarks to her sister Céline: “You remember well the two little blue birds that I bought from you in Le Havre; they had never sung. As soon as the first died, the other began to chirp, he sang his sweetest song and then he died too”. Ah! if only she could, like Thérèse, sing the canticle of Love and die to herself!
The girl contrived to provide the patient with all sorts of treats. How, on this subject, not to quote the passage of a letter from Sister Geneviève: "Here is what my little patient, Thérèse, said to me at the moment: "I would really like something, but it doesn't Only my aunt or Léonie could give it to me. Since I am eating now, I would like a small chocolate cake. It's soft inside." So I quote him a chocolate bite. - " Oh ! no, it's much better, it's long, narrow, I think it's what was called a flash”... But only one, she says. »
On August 6, the summer visitors from La Musse returned to Lisieux. M. Guérin, prey to attacks of gout, went to Vichy for his annual cure, accompanied by his wife. Léonie was to leave for Lourdes with the La Néele household in the National Pilgrimage, but Francis, for greater certainty, asked to be able to judge for himself of his cousin's condition. In the absence of the attending doctor, this permission was granted to him on August 17th. A letter to M. Guérin gives an account of this interview, which lasted half an hour. “As soon as introduced, what a favour! I kissed our little patient on the forehead for you and mom and the whole family. I asked permission for the form, to the Mother Prioress, and without waiting for the answer that the rule perhaps forbade, I took what was due to you. What a celestial figure! What an angel with a radiant smile! It was moved to tears that I spoke to him, holding his diaphanous hands all burning with fever. After examining her, I made her sit down on her pillows. “Am I going to go see the good Lord soon, she said to me! – Not yet, my dear little sister, the good Lord wants you to wait a few more weeks for your crown to be more beautiful in heaven. - Oh ! no, I'm not thinking about it, it's to save souls that I still want to suffer. – Yes, that's quite true, but by saving souls, you will climb higher in Heaven, closer to God. The answer was a smile that lit up her face as if Heaven were opening before her eyes and flooding her with its divine light. »
The diagnosis was without remission: tuberculosis in the last degree, but the excruciatingly slow evolution authorized the envisaged pilgrimage. It was conducted briskly and devoted above all to interceding for the “little Queen”. As soon as they get back, Léonie rushes to Carmel with her carboy of Lourdes water. It is only to see that Thérèse's martyrdom is getting worse day by day. She can only pray and offer for the patient these small gifts by which the tenderness which suffers from its own impotence is expressed and relieved. She brings a hamper full of sweets. On September 8, it's a music box, whose tunes, although profane, are so sweet that Thérèse listens to them with tenderness. Seeing herself so pampered, she wept with gratitude: “It's because of God's delicacy towards me; outside, I am filled with it, and yet, inside, I am still in the test... but also in peace! »
It would take too long to recount here these interminable weeks where we constantly await the outcome initially dreaded and soon coveted, so much each passing day results in an increase in torture. Towards the end of September, Léonie went to Caen to take care of her cousin Jeanne, who was suffering from painful illnesses. She was however in Lisieux, on the evening of September 30, with Mr. and Mrs. Guérin, praying in the Carmel chapel during Thérèse's agony. It was there that they received this note hastily scribbled by Mother Agnes of Jesus: “Our Angel is in Heaven, she breathed her last at seven o'clock, pressing her Crucifix to her heart and saying: Oh! I love you ! She had just raised her eyes to Heaven. What did she see? »
The next day, all measures were taken so that the faithful could parade in front of the funeral remains. Léonie will share her impressions at the Trial: “I saw the body of the Servant of God exposed to the gate of the Choir. Her face struck me as extraordinarily beautiful and such as I have never seen in any dead woman. I would have stayed to contemplate her, but the influx of the faithful who came to see her body and pray prevented me. There were many people in the chapel, in the sanctuary and on the steps of the altar. It certainly comes much less to the death of the other Carmelites. I heard behind me: 'How beautiful she is! We find it hard to pray for her, we feel compelled to invoke her herself”.
Léonie's name appeared at the top of the announcement announcing Thérèse's death to family and friends. In the absence of Mr. Guérin, who was ill, she led the mourning on Monday, October 4, 1897.
The young girl will resume, more solitary than ever, her almost monastic life in the middle of the world. She piously maintains the memory of her deceased sister. A generous donation made to the Carmel, poor to the point of sometimes lacking the necessities, allows her to acquire and perhaps save, clothes worn by Thérèse: her last dress, her coat, her veils and a pair of sandals, ( alpargates as they are called). Incomparably more precious for her was the copy that was bequeathed to her of The Imitation of Jesus Christ, which never left Thérèse. As for her moral heritage, we can say that she lives on it. Each visit to the tomb is like a pilgrimage to the sources. When the Story of a Soul is published, on the first anniversary of death, she will devour these
pages which will reveal to her in a dazzling light the beloved face whose radiance had saved her from herself in difficult times. It will now be his bedside book. She will never stop penetrating its mysterious depths. At the same time, she feels like an indefinable hold exerted on her whole being leading her to total gift. Didn't Thérèse say about her, in an interview with Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart: “After my death, I will make her return to the Visitation, and she will persevere there. As the death of Mrs. Martin had been decisive for the "conversion" of Léonie, that of Thérèse put the seal on her vocation, so true is it that, in a family of this quality, the living necessarily enter into the movement of the dead. .
Final entry to the Visitation
The probationary period did not end with the vows. For another three years, the new professed remained dependent on the regime of the novitiate, characterized by the intensive effort of formation and by the piecemeal aspect of the activities. The schedule of the typical day betrays this deliberate fragmentation. Here it is as recorded at the time: 5 a.m. getting up, 5:30 a.m. Prayer to the Choir, 6:30 a.m. Prime, 6:45 a.m. Mass, 7:30 a.m. Labor, 8 a.m. Small Hours, 8:45 a.m. Lessons in Latin and French, 10 a.m. Meal, accompanied by readings, 10:45 a.m. Recreation in the garden or in the common room, 12 p.m. Directives from the Superior, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, instruction in the novitiate, personal work, 14 p.m. Reading in the garden or in the cell, 14 p.m. 30:15 a.m. Study of the Directory, 15:30 p.m. Vespers, 17:18 p.m. Conference on the readings, where each one communicates the thoughts gleaned along the way, 20:20 p.m. Compline and Oration, 30:20 p.m. Evening meal and recreation, 45:21 p.m. h 30 Great silence, XNUMX:XNUMX p.m. Matins and Lauds, XNUMX:XNUMX p.m. Bedtime. In winter, everything is moved back half an hour as far as the morning is concerned.
It is easy to understand the reflection of Sister Françoise-Thérèse, somewhat out of breath by this breathless rhythm: “Time is not only cut off, it is chopped up; this is what our life of renunciation consists most of, which causes Mother Nature to slowly die. So much the better ! We will have noticed in passing the part, modest in our modern eyes, but very important for this beginning of the century, reserved for religious culture, in the form of individual application, collective teaching or exchanges. The jobs – which, for the time being, have no lucrative concern – frequently change managers: which does not facilitate performance, but exercises detachment.
How, through this maze, did Léonie find her balance? The time has come to set her before us, in a first portrait, as the elders of the Visitation of Caen portrayed her, with a sympathy not without clairvoyance. She was of medium height, pale face, furrowed forehead, thick eyebrows, wide mouth, with irregularly set teeth, vigorous chin, hardly pretty, but lit by deep blue eyes with piercing sight, which enabled her, until the end and without fatigue, to mark all the linen of the Community. His health was frail, always threatened by bronchitis or eczema. With that, chilly and sleepy to the point of dozing off in the Choir, for which she asked forgiveness with the psalmist: “Lord, I am before you like a beast of burden”.
The Superiors said of her: “She is not very intelligent, but she has Norman good sense”. Deficient in spelling and calculation, she did not shine any more in the jousting of ideas. She had trouble reading Latin. Her judgment turned out to be correct, but with a real slowness, and a certain narrowness which sometimes made her obstinate in her points of view. She had the need for perfection in all things, the cult of order pushed to the point of superstition, the meticulous care to put everything in order: hence delays in execution, occasions of annoyance for those around her and minor conflicts always ending with apologies spontaneously offered and an admission without artifice: “You are right to correct me; it's true, I'm unbearable, and, moreover, unconvertible”. For all these reasons, Sister Françoise-Thérèse never worked except as an auxiliary, going through the whole range: refectory, infirmary, commissary, laundry, sacristy above all, her favorite lot.
The character, open and upright, grew stronger day by day. Sensitivity remained lively, somewhat demonstrative, without anything affected or excessive. Léonie knew nothing of the "good sister" type, nor of the "grande dame" look. If she got wet eyes easily, it didn't last long. As her fellow sisters would tell her, saluting her ephemeral royalty on an Epiphany day, she had merrily evolved “from the gift of tears to the holy joy of the children of God”. She was all the more sympathetic, having thoroughly understood the thoughts of Jeanne de Chantal, who closed her monasteries to melancholy souls. Her memory, used to the highest performances – she easily remembered some two hundred pages of the Constitutions and the Directory – put her in possession of all of Mr. Martin's repertoire, in terms of songs, poetry and anecdotes. She punctuated the meetings and the celebrations of the Community with great aptness, playing pleasantly with her weak but vibrant voice, with its harmonious timbre. In plays and stage plays, comic roles were her prerogative, as she brought verve and wholesome humor to them. Therese would no longer have recognized the "Solitaire" with its somber reveries. Saint Francis de Sales had been there: "Let them not wear sad and sad countenances at recreation, but a graceful and affable face" (Spiritual Directory, article VIII).
We teased her willingly. She lent herself to it with good grace, laughing first at her clumsiness at work or at her blunders at the office. Her companions liked to serve her a certain pink porridge, which she had found so succulent that she conscientiously scraped the bottom of the saucepan. An Epiphany vigil – the only day when we talk at the table – having drawn the bean, she was solemnly celebrated and found, ingeniously arranged in her cell, all the equipment for comfort and the fight against the cold, including six hot water bottles, which she hastened, jokingly, to distribute around.
Here is more piquant, and which brings out better how much Sister Françoise-Thérèse was simplicity itself. The brother of her friend from Caen having entered the fence during work, they both found themselves in his presence. As he came forward to kiss his sister, a workman said to him in a newsboy tone: "Above all, don't get the address wrong," to which our Léonie replied, not at all embarrassed: "After all, there wouldn't be many evil ". In the conversations in the visiting room, she served this companion as a third party, as a "listening sister", as the clever ones said. But, too happy to hear from her relatives, she sometimes overstepped her role and joined in the conversation.
She was natural in everything, in no way formal, and so good that no one held her against her little quirks. To render service without respect to anyone was his delight. She seemed not to compel herself to do so, but on the contrary to be surprised that anyone deigned to accept her help. It was because, under the influence of Thérèse and her Way of Childhood, she turned more and more into peaceful humility the inferiority complex which had always inhabited her and which could have paralyzed her. God had cast a veil of shadow over her, which hid from her her solid qualities and her virtues of pure metal. "Me, I have nothing," she said, "I'm a poor wreck." She cheerfully called herself "a little wet hen", or even "the little rag of Jesus". She did not hesitate, in the public self-accusation of external faults, to underline with an accent of deep contrition the secret motives of her pranks: I acted out of self-love. No one equaled her in submission. She asked permission for everything. His co-novices were surprised. The Superiors, wiser, brought up the thought of obedience which hid under this apparent pusillanimity. Léonie liked to quote article XXII of the Constitutions: “Humility is the epitome of all religious discipline, the foundation of the spiritual edifice, and the true character and infallible mark of the children of Jesus Christ. This is why the Sisters will pay particular attention to the practice of this virtue, doing all things in a spirit of deep, sincere and frank humility”.
Living faith, a family heritage, guided all the actions of our visitandine. It permeated his piety, which disdained frills, devotions, and went straight to the essential: the Mass, the Prayer, the Office, the sacraments, the rosary. Very gifted for contemplation, she used few methods, used books moderately. The Gospel was enough for him, together with the Salesian writings, without forgetting his beloved Story of a Soul.
In support of this appreciation, which, one guesses, goes a little beyond the beginning phase, let us quote the testimony addressed on February 12, 1901 to Mother Agnès of Jesus by Mother Marie-Aimée de Songnis, director of the novitiate: "Our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse is now placed as an assistant in the refectory. The active work of this employment is salutary to his health, which is really good, and no less perhaps to his religious life, by obliging him to continual and very meritorious efforts for punctuality and good use of time. Not having a minute to think about yourself cuts a lot of things short; also the tears, so frequent in the past, become relatively rare, and are often replaced by a good and frank laughter which throws its joyful note in the recreations. Then, it must be recognized, the thought of imitating her dear little Saint by devoting herself to the priests exercises a happy influence on our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse... How many small sacrifices, painful to her nature, are accepted in this apostolic goal! »
A note from the woman herself, written shortly after profession, confirmed this missionary orientation: “How I would like to have the soul of an apostle! The salvation of souls attracts me completely and stimulates me in all my actions. We are nuns only for that”. The Teresian imprint was not only on the surface.
She who had prayed so much for Léonie's vocation and perseverance could not forget her in the midst of glory. Not that she lavished on him sensible favors and prodigies; she was always stingy with those close to her, drawing them instead to the harsh school of naked faith. A gesture, however, came to attest that she had taken charge of her sister. She evoked it at the Apostolic Process: “Around the year 1900, in winter, in the evening, under an impression of boredom and disgust, I cowardly recited the Divine Office. Then, a luminous form which dazzled me appeared on our Book of Hours. I was not frightened by it, quite the contrary. After a moment, I realized that this luminous shape was a hand. I firmly believed that it was my little Thérèse; I was perfectly consoled and felt a delicious peace. Since then, this phenomenon has not occurred again. On September 30, the anniversary of the death of Sister Thérèse, I smelled, on two or three occasions, the smell of roses; four or five years ago; in other years, this favor was not renewed”.
If Léonie liked to talk about her sister, it was never to draw glory from her. "Noblesse oblige," she said, "I come from a family of saints, I mustn't make a spot." This thought tears him away from morbid withdrawal: "I feel that Our Lord has been working my soul a great deal for some time, detaching it and making it understand the void, the nothingness of all creation, of everything that is not Himself. ; and I expand under this impulse, I see things from higher, my heart constantly aspires to heavenly goods. I compare myself to a little bird always ready to take flight. It is of course to my little Thérèse that I owe this immense grace and I am counting on her promise that she will soon come to fetch me. This thought is my only consolation and makes me triumph over everything. »
When she was chosen to care for the sick in the Community, Léonie wrote to Céline: “If you saw how busy I am, it would amuse you a lot; really sometimes I don't recognize myself. Ah! that's all my secret: it's my darling Thérèse who is a nurse, and I'm just her little helper; you understand if we are doing a good job, but all the glory goes to her”. Céline invites her to renew the act of offering to Merciful Love, which she had done in the past on a temporary basis.
Above all, what Léonie asks of her Thérèse is to assimilate and live the essence of the “little doctrine”. In his cell is a naive and coarse image representing the Child Jesus holding a bunch of grapes. His ideal is there: to convert and become a child. At Thérèse's school, she first learned painstaking humility, which gradually yielded to active or passive exercises intended to mortify self-esteem. She will rise by degrees to happy humility, to the peaceful sight of that misery which once caused her suffering, and which, morosely chewed over, would have driven her to bitterness, discouragement, perhaps revolt. Over the years, she will sink deeper into the mystery of childhood, she will discover the depths of the abyss of Merciful Love and realize what is the central point of Teresian thought, namely that recognized misery, accepted, loved, is a title to the highest divine favors because it irresistibly touches the infinite goodness of God. It will no longer cease to rise in confidence and abandonment.
On this momentum, our nun easily joined the Father of the Visitation. She never gives the impression of being torn between two directions. “My spirituality, she confided later, is that of my Thérèse, and consequently that of our Holy Founder. His doctrine and his are one. She is the soul that our great Doctor dreamed of. Léonie Martin, so spontaneous, so incapable of swaying, therefore did not have to duplicate herself in order to respond both to the advice of her sister and to the impulses of her blessed Father. When the Talks and the Introduction were read in the refectory, when she took them up in the cell, instinctively she referred to what her Therese was saying to her. This community of spirit enchanted him. Léonie will be all together, and with an undivided soul, Teresian and Salesian.
The dialogue between Caen and Lisieux
In religious institutions where the essence of life is inside, external events only causing surface disturbances, only a diary or, failing that, a few retreat notes, excerpts of correspondence, certain detailed testimonies allow you to attempt a deep cut. For Sister Françoise-Thérèse, if the humility in which she confines herself discourages analysis, the notoriety that Teresian glory earned her, the epistolary exchanges that she maintains with her three sisters at the Carmel of Lisieux, make up for the lack of personal documents.
Our Visitandine left, towards the end of 1903, the period of formation. It now follows the normal cycle of community activities. With a good will which compensates for the lack of practical sense, she attends to the subordinate occupations which are successively entrusted to her. On October 1, 1905, she wrote to Mother Agnès of Jesus: “I have been appointed assistant to the bursar's office. I've been in this job for a month, which I really like. It's entirely my business to put things in order here and there, all over the house; I regard myself as the little donkey of the monastery and certainly I find my fate worthy of envy; What renunciations, what practices known to Jesus alone! How many souls I can save by these little nothings which are my humble harvest, very small like me! Oh ! especially the souls of priests! they have all my attraction”. On this "battlefield", she said willingly, "the little one will wield her sword of love".
At the porter's lodge, his unparalleled memory will be of great help to him. In the sacristy, the big jobs were reserved for her, where she would put all her piety, leaving the liturgical preparation of the Offices to those more competent than her. The lingerie will mobilize its services many times. She willingly offered herself to watch over the sick sisters. This is what will earn her to become a nurse, but under the supervision of the Assistant, who, to lighten her responsibilities, will replace her in medical consultations. The burden turned out to be very heavy, there were fourteen deaths in six years. When the influenza-like bronchitis epidemic occurred in 1913, a new nurse was appointed, of very lively character, of whom Sister Françoise-Thérèse remained the devoted auxiliary, although handled roughly. She always remained in the shadows, docile and even-tempered.
During the year 1905, Sister Françoise-Thérèse had the signal favor of approaching Fr. Alexis Prou, who had come to preach a triduum to the Community. This Franciscan – we said then Récollet – during a retreat given at the Carmel of Lisieux in October 1891, had “understood” and “guessed” Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus “in a marvelous way”. These are the very expressions of Thérèse, who adds: "He launched me with full sail on the waves of trust and love which attracted me so strongly but on which I dared not venture..." Léonie knew him from the Story of a Soul. She had surely already maintained him, because, guardian of the convent of Caen from 1898 to 1902, he had come to confess more than once at the Monastery. With him, it was one of the most beautiful pages of the Theresian adventure which came alive again in Léonie's eyes.
At that time, she really needed such comfort, showing herself to be excessively sensitive – her eldest, Marie, corrected her by letter – to the threats of dissolution hanging over the Community. In the autumn of 1904, in application of the law of July 1, 1901 on the Congregations, a liquidator known for his sectarianism had the doors locked, a search in the Monastery, the affixing of seals, then the 'inventory. An appeal was lodged, begging the Sacred Heart to defend its work. In the opinion of even the eminent jurists who took up the case, it was providential circumstances that delayed the trial and led to a favorable ruling by the Court. In July 1905, the affair rebounded; eviction followed by closure is scheduled for September 1. A retreat preached by Father de Causans must prepare hearts for the cruel deadline. New twist. The liquidator having appealed in cassation, it is necessary to await the sentence. This will be released on February 11, 1907, confirming the favorable judgment of the Court of Appeal. The persecutors were at their expense.
In the meantime, to secure a position of fallback, and, independently of this situation, to create across the Channel a foundation dedicated to extending the cult of the Sacred Heart, Mother Marie-Aimée de Songnis had acquired a villa at Hastings, that is to say, by a curious coincidence, at the historical place where William the Conqueror seized the crown of England by a decisive victory. A group of four Visitandines set sail from Dieppe on October 22, 1909. The “Petit Nid” developed slowly, but in 1920 recruitment difficulties and health problems led Bishop Lemonnier to request the closure of the English branch. , which was not yet canonically erected, and the repatriation of all the nuns.
Through these adventures, Léonie trembles for this religious life for which she paid so dearly. From Lisieux, where all the news was faithfully communicated, came to him pacifying advice. To tell the truth, we had gone through similar alarms there. Thanks to the intervention of Mr. Guérin, the Carmel had set up a place of refuge in Belgium. Mother Agnès of Jesus and Mother Marie de Gonzague were able to talk to the Sisters of the Visitation during their brief stay among them on April 15, 1903. On their way to Valognes, in the Manche department, to collect the money from a loan in a notary's office, they went down rue de l'Abbatiale. Admitted inside, they spent a whole day there and were warmly celebrated. While the former Prioress toured, not without emotion, the places where her years of boarding had passed, Mother Agnès answered the many questions of the Community on the life and death of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Each Visitandine received an illustrated biography of the Servant of God as a tribute.
During an hour-long conversation, Sister Françoise-Thérèse opened up to her sister in direction, showed her her spiritual notebook and solicited her advice. She too adopted Pauline for “Little Mother”. She could not repress her astonishment at the simplicity and humility of her confidante. She had once hailed the miracle of her vocation; she was now touching that of her inner transformation. Of this communion, the mail will be the privileged instrument. While Sister Marie de la Trinité, novice and disciple of Thérèse, liaises with that of her sisters who took the veil at the Visitation of Caen, Léonie deals with three correspondents. Every month, as well as on religious anniversaries and the feasts of Saint Leo and Saint Francis de Sales, she watches for the stamped envelope from Lisieux, which arrives with clockwork punctuality, to the point that she worries rare times there is a delay. From her Profession to 1905, she did not have permission to keep these precious sendings; some will eventually go astray. Hence a lot of gaps in the collection but the loot is no less suggestive.
Through this enormous mass of documents, a whole past comes to life, letting everyone's face shine through. With the Martins, the style is affective and effusive; we have a passion for concrete detail. A graphologist would delight in comparing handwriting; he would notably point out a kind of childish application in Léonie, the cursive characters of Céline, those more ample and cut in the blade of a sword, due to the pen of Mother Agnès. Marie is a positive, independent, original, non-conformist temperament; she speaks with a certain detachment of the "hurricane of glory" which excites others; in the face of difficulties, she armored herself with indifference; willingly, she pleads her birthright to make certain calls to order. Pauline appears as a mother quickly moved and tormented, but always consoling and so supernatural. As for Céline, she is the hard-working and dynamic "Intrépide", who rushes straight to the obstacle, brandishes the truth unvarnished and enamels her texts with sharp affirmations, cookie-cutter words and delicious tenderness. . Léonie herself uses a duller tone, but which touches with a constant concern for self-accusation and fervent gratitude. The destiny and the apotheosis of Thérèse serve for these epistolary exchanges as background; spiritual childhood is its soul.
By this way, Sister Françoise-Thérèse will learn the family news: the sickness and death so holy of her cousin, Sister Marie of the Eucharist, that no less edifying of the second father that Uncle Guérin was for her, the struggles elections of Francis La Néele and his death in 1916. The echo will quickly reach him of the miracles recorded in the "Rain of roses", of the devotion of the crowds, of the publications of the Carmel, of the pilgrimages of the soldiers to the Lexovian cemetery. Céline tells him in detail about her artistic work.
However, if we take Sister Françoise-Thérèse's words to her correspondents literally, we would get too gloomy an idea of her. It blurs its qualities and turns its deficiencies to black, it dwells on its past, it pitilessly raises its bouts of sadness, its phases of discouragement. For a little, one would believe her to be gloomy and tearful, eager for affection and consolation, prey offered to neurasthenia, while the successive Superiors, Mothers Marie-Aimée de Songnis, Jeanne-Marguerite Décarpentry and Marie-Thérèse de Colomby, paid homage to her bravery, and that those who survived her and who were edified witnesses of her monastic life, repeatedly underline her good humor, her undeniable kindness and the ease with which she took part in community exercises. Were the Carmelites duped by their sister's confession? Did they allow themselves to be taken in by the pious game of his humility? We see them in any case eager to relax and expand their Visitandine: which gives the dialogue a very Teresian flavor.
Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart does not like her self-esteem: “I see that your only desire is to please your Jesus. So he looks at you, not as his 'little colt', but as his beloved wife, who shares here below the humiliations of his hidden life, but who will share his glory in Heaven”. Mother Agnès appeals to Little Thérèse: “Become a saint, but not a fearful saint. Go to Jesus with trust and love. Don't cry over imperfections that you will keep all your life; it is useless at all. It's wasted time. We will always be miserable, lame, crippled anyway, but if the heart says to Jesus in the midst of his miseries: Have mercy on me! You are my everything, my joy and my love, everything is good for us”.
Céline does not want an “orchestra of mourners”. "We must lead our soul drum beating, sing warlike and spirited refrains to it. Like this, she runs much better in the way of suffering. She warns Léonie against excessive austerity and introspection. “It's not to blush the disciplines that counts, but to always give up in the little things. As for examining yourself as far as the eye can see and running after a director, what's the point when you're fifty years old, when you're not navigating extraordinary paths and when the Superiors are there? "Feeling the pulse of one's soul in this way is worthless, it's a useless occupation of oneself, it's looking for oneself, it's wasting one's time. » – « Always continue to guide yourself by this path of small things and you will not need directors... The 'made' souls who suffocate by need of effusion are souls who are not faithful... The fidelity in uniting with God makes the soul simple, so simplified that it would be impossible for it to split itself in speaking to men. »
Great was the joy of the three sisters of Lisieux when, on August 6, 1910, Céline received this news: I recited with great fervor. I renew it every day after my Communion, and I often repeat this with extreme confidence: 'In your eyes, time is nothing, a single day is like a thousand years, so you can in an instant prepare me to appear in front of you. »
The rest of the text explains the urgent interest that Léonie then attached to this perspective of eternity. For several weeks she had been suffering from anemia and malaise which, without being extremely serious, contributed to detach her more and more from the earth. “It is not the care that I lack, she writes, I am like a rooster in dough; but, don't worry, little sister, I'm not dying, far from it. I can drag on like this for a long time. My condition is more painful than if I had a well-characterized disease, but since Jesus wants me to be languishing, I am pleasing him in this way, I only want what he wants. Cloth ! Cloth ! and nothing more! And when he finds his little cloth to his liking, little Thérèse will come and take it to hide it in the opening of his Sacred Side forever... »
The health of our Visitandine recovered sufficiently for her to be able to intervene as a witness in the Cause of her youngest child. This prospect had surprised her at first. When the Superior advised her, in the garden where she was hanging out the linen, that there was serious question of a Trial, she began by protesting. “Therese! She was very nice! But, a Saint! all the same!... – Did you notice anything extraordinary about her? – For that, no, but we had nothing to reproach him for. She stuck to the canons of hagiography of the time, for which the halo was supposed to cling only to the forehead of ecstatics.
On February 10, 1910, Mgr Lemonnier, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, began the process of researching the Writings of the Carmelite. Léonie copied out, for sending to the Responsible Authority, the fourteen letters she had kept from her sister. On August 3, the ecclesiastical judges were appointed, who would instruct the Informative Process, called the Ordinary. The thought of having to testify in front of such serious characters plunges Sister Françoise-Thérèse into a reverential fear. Céline reassures her and tells her that, as long as she has not taken the oath, she can be assisted. By sending him the Articles written by the vice-postulator, Msgr. de Teil, a kind of preparatory outline on the life and virtues of the Servant of God, she pointed out to him certain inaccuracies concerning alleged charismatic events. “Our Thérèse remained what you knew her to be, and that to the end. “She specifies that if their sister had to suffer from the entourage, it is without any malignant intention, and because of the presence of several depressed or unbalanced patients.
Léonie bravely sets to work, arranging and classifying her memories, which are extremely precise. “Our Mother is for me of an unparalleled devotion, she wrote to the Carmel, I am touched to tears to have so much assistance; I would never get out of trouble without it, I humbly agree. Finally, provided that I have enough spirit to love the good God with all my strength; to live only on love and humility, that is enough for me!...” She also benefits from help from on high: “Thérèse is working my soul a lot at the moment on humility. The more I see her elevated in glory, the more I feel the need to humble myself. I thirst to disappear, to be counted for nothing. What Grace ! »
On September 6, there was the official recognition of the remains of the Servant of God. Doctor Francis La Néele, who played an active role in it, recounted it in a letter addressed to Léonie on the 10th of the same month: “The exhumation of our little Thérèse went very well. The body was whole, but there were only the dry bones, without skin or flesh. His sheaf (sterilized green plant) was very well preserved. I took it off, along with as many clothes as I could. The veil no longer existed. The cross of her rosary was in her fingers, I had it offered to Monsignor, who was very happy with this memory. When the coffin was taken out, Monsignor chanted with all the priests present the Laudate pueri and sprinkled holy water.
“I dressed Thérèse in new clothes which cover her ashes, I put several bouquets in the coffin and I placed a new veil on her head. The tarps that hid the Carmel cemetery were lowered, at the request I made to Monsignor, and the open coffin was exposed in front of the door. Everyone, seven to eight hundred people, who had been waiting and praying for two hours, marched in front and touched a crowd of objects. Monseigneur was in a choir habit, as well as the Abbe Quirié and the priest of Saint-Jacques. There were plenty of priests. Then, the lead coffin was welded and sealed with the arms of Mgr de Bayeux, and Mgr de Teil. »
On September 6, when the first exhumation of Thérèse's body took place, a fragment detached from the coffin was sent to the Visitandine, who was preparing to face the examination deemed by her formidable. She was cited in Bayeux for November 28, 1910. The day before, a car picked her up at the convent door, along with Mother Jeanne-Marguerite Décarpentry who was accompanying her. No stop on the way, not even the desired visit to the Cathedral. The Bishop did not think he had to authorize it. We didn't trifle with the spirit of closure. They were lodged in rue Saint-Loup by the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament, who gave them a fraternal welcome. Housed in the Despallières house, reserved for female boarders, they had the happy surprise of being served by the former servant of the Guérins, Marcelline Husé, who had become Sister Marie-Josèphe de la Croix, who was herself to testify at the Trial . The interrogations took place in a large room on the ground floor. Our Visitandine impressed those around her with her humility and self-effacing attitude. Invited to take part in a recreation of the Community, she showed herself to be very cheerful, very relaxed, answering cordially the questions which arose everywhere. In the interval left by the sessions, she was seen spending long periods kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.
While in Lisieux the Veni Creator was being sung for her, our nun confronted her judges. Court very benevolent, it must be said, but picky by duty. The Promoter of the Faith was Canon Théophile Dubosq. Léonie appeared at seven sessions grouped into four sessions; his deposition, inserted in the Lexovian copy of the Trial (folios 89 to 144), actually occupies thirty-eight pages of text. Here is the thread of the interrogation: taking the oath, presentation of the witness, sources of his knowledge – family origins of the Servant of God – childhood, adolescence, education at home and at the Abbey – entry into Carmel – heroic virtues: faith, hope, love for God and neighbour, prudence, justice, strength, temperance, secondary virtues, religious vows – illness and death – writings of the Servant of God – supernatural gifts – reputation for holiness. It is obvious that the testimony of Sister Françoise-Thérèse can only relate to the period when she lived alongside her sister.
This is not the place to analyze such a document. Let us emphasize only the precision and the obvious accent of sincerity. She strongly insists on two character traits where one can easily find her herself: “The little children delighted Thérèse's pure heart. I will never forget her angelic smile and the caresses she lavished on them, especially on poor children; these had her preferences, and she lost no opportunity to speak to them of the good Lord, placing herself within their reach with appropriateness and charming grace”. – "She had a special ability to counterfeit the tone of voice and the manners of others, but never, to my knowledge, has this little amusement degenerated into mockery and resulted in the slightest breach of charity: she knew how to stop at the right time, with perfect tact".
On December 4, the two nuns returned to Caen. The Trial continued for a year. The closure was pronounced on December 12, 1911. Sister Françoise-Thérèse followed with passionate attention all the events of the cause. Sometimes a visitor came to talk to him about it in the visiting room. She thus received Father Pichon, Father Taylor, who in Scotland made himself the knight-servant of the "little flower", Bishop de Nardo, closely involved in the observation of the miracle of the Carmel of Gallipoli in Italy. The anniversary of Thérèse's death was commemorated privately. In 1912, it earned Léonie a grace of choice, which she announced on October 7 in a letter to the Carmel. “On September 30, Thérèse visited me in the evening with the sweet and penetrating smell of roses. I was extremely consoled by it, although it had only lasted a few moments, so much so that, in my joy, I found myself saying: O my beloved little sister, you are there near me, I I'm sure Since then, I feel more fervent. The 'little nothing' would also like to become holy. Alas! sometimes he revolts, he finds it difficult to practice smallness and humility. »
If she only receives very few perceptible favors for herself, Léonie easily obtains some for others. A postulant, who entered the Monastery on September 27, 1913, immediately fell into a fit of tears that lasted several days. Everything seems strange to him in this new environment. Tempted to escape, she clings to the divine will, and on the anniversary of Thérèse's death, she begs him to come to her aid. In the evening, after the Office, on returning to her cell, she felt watched as she passed, embraced by maternal arms and encouraged by a gaze of love. It was Léonie who was leaning tenderly over this child in whom she was reliving her past struggles. This attention touched the young girl so much that, seeing it as a sign from above, she pulled herself together. Her tears ceased immediately and on October 4 she entered the novitiate.
The mail from Lisieux swelled ever more with the posthumous glory of Therese. Some were already contemplating an imminent glorification and insisted that the Servant of God's entire family, including the cloistered, should witness her triumph under the cupola of Saint Peter. Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart affirmed her preferences for an entirely interior, invisible and distant presence. On the other hand, she bent over with delight the portraits and souvenirs of Thérèse. Thus she sends to Caen the image of her goddaughter in her early childhood, with this graceful comment: “She was always curly to go to the Abbey; on Sundays, I took the trouble to curl it also around the forehead. I took no pride in that; it was only to please our dear little father, who, if you remember, could not suffer me to cut even a piece of his little Queen's hair. It was his glory. As for Thérèse, she didn't think she was pretty, she says so herself, and in fact, we managed to prevent vanity from entering her heart”.
When war was declared, one wondered if the procedure in the Court of Rome would not be interrupted. Providence decided otherwise, and many soldiers placed themselves under the protection of the young Carmelite. Léonie did not hesitate to tell a faithful friend from Caen that, thanks to Thérèse, he would return safe and sound; to another who recommended her mobilized sons to her, she replied: “I will entrust them to our little Saint, and you will find them all”. Both predictions came true, despite being frontline fighters for four years. The plebiscite of the hairy people was added to that of the missionaries to hasten the course of events. On June 10, 1914, Pius X signed the Introduction to the Cause. On August 19, Letters of Remission instructed the Bishop of Bayeux to constitute a Tribunal to instruct the Apostolic Process. Business, far from getting bogged down, was advancing by leaps and bounds.
Faced with this triumphal march, Léonie expresses her joy, but in the minor key that characterizes her. “The more I see our glorified Angel, the more I feel the need to go into exile. It is a suffering to find myself in company, so much I am in a hurry to be alone with my Jesus, in order to savor my happiness with him: only there do I enjoy, I am at peace. » She wishes to die before the Beatification, « because it is such an honor that others turn pale before this one.
I am too weak. It would make me dizzy”. What attracts him the most is to imitate Thérèse, to discover her spirit, not on the surface, but from within. On November 1, 1914, she wrote to her Carmelites: “To be able to please Jesus, how sweet! And that, throwing flowers under his feet... Is there a more lovable and more gracious way of practicing the thousand virtues that one encounters in a single day, for life is but one fabric of sacrifices? One of Thérèse's thoughts that I like the most is this: “I thought that contempt was still too glorious for me, so I became passionate about forgetting”. Is it not to have arrived at the last rung of humility? I think so. And on the other hand, it must be, according to my little judgement, consummate holiness. You see, my little sisters, our Thérèse is my ideal”.
On March 17, 1915, the first session of the Apostolic Process was held in the sacristy of Bayeux Cathedral. Sister Françoise-Thérèse would have liked to avoid the trip. When Bishop Lemonnier entered the cloister for the feast of the Visitation, she ventured to ask him if he could not be questioned in the visiting room. “We are not going to disturb a whole tribunal for you”, exclaimed the Bishop. Shortly after, she was notified that she was being cited at the Carmel of Lisieux.
She went there on September 11. The meeting of the four sisters under the sign of Thérèse had something overwhelming. Léonie, silent for a while with emotion, then kept repeating, clasping her hands: “Oh! I'm so happy " ! She lodged in the cell of Mother Agnes of Jesus, the latter having settled near the infirmary where the Sub-Prioress, Mother Thérèse of the Eucharist, was bedridden never to get up again. In the refectory, she was placed near Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, in one of the places formerly occupied by Thérèse. She wanted to see everything, to know everything about her youngest child. She kissed the objects that had been for her use. She prayed on her knees in front of the pallet and meditated for a long time where she had suffered. The Story of a Soul, so often read and meditated on, came to life and came to life before his eyes with new relief and inexpressible color. The sacristy, the choir, the oratory, the alley of the chestnut trees, the wash-house, the hermitages, the cemetery: everything spoke to him of the dear deceased. The novices formed by Thérèse were there: one of them, Sister Marie-Madeleine du Saint-Sacrement, also ill and near her end. Léonie, with holy envy, appealed to their memories. But it was mostly with her sisters that she conversed, either on the steps overlooking the garden, or in some solitary corner under the trees. To Mother Agnès of Jesus, whom she kissed to the point of suffocation, she shared the evolution of her soul in recent years. They all found her very comfortable, willing to speak, both deliciously simple and touchingly humble. An unfortunate fall, which she made in the yard, and which, fortunately, had no result, in no way disturbed her happiness.
In this fraternal atmosphere, it was easier to bear the fire of the questions of the ecclesiastical judges, with whom, moreover, Léonie was now familiar. The nuns questioned were in the enclosure, on the platform, in what is called the oratory; the Tribunal sat on the other side of the wall, in the sacristy, where an opening fitted with a grille had been made for the occasion. Our Visitandine, who numbered among the witnesses in the seventh rank at the Trial of the Ordinary, occupied here the eleventh. His deposition, spread over four sessions, in sessions 46 and 47 of September 13 and 14, 1915, takes up thirty-three pages (439 to 452, 463 to 483) of the Lexovian copy of the Apostolic Process. She dwells at length on the moral physiognomy of Thérèse, in her childhood and adolescence.
A few formulas are worth noting: "As far as I have been able to observe the life of my little sister, I have never noticed, in her conduct, the slightest infraction of any duty or obligation, nor any laxity in the practice of virtues”. – “She very punctually followed the little rules that at the age of thirteen and fourteen she imposed on herself for the use of her time and the order of her reading. She never challenged and submitted her judgment with great ease. – “She faithfully avoided showing off and seemed to ignore her great qualities of soul and the physical beauty with which God had endowed her. She says in her notes that her nature was proud, but she dominated her so well that, if she hadn't written it, I believe I would have always ignored it”.
Concerning the reputation of holiness of the Carmelite, Léonie brings a testimony that touches her closely: “In my Community of the Visitation of Caen, we are unanimous in recognizing that Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is a Saint. Undoubtedly the enthusiasm is not to the same degree among all our nuns, but all agree in recognizing her holiness”. Relieved of the worry of interrogations, the last Carmelite days of our Visitandine were the most radiant. Several photographs were taken where she appeared, either alone or surrounded by her three sisters. She attended two screening sessions on Teresian themes: biographical episodes and miracles. A sort of scenic play in verse was performed for her, composed by Mother Isabelle of the Sacred Heart, on the theme of the Way of Childhood. On Saturday the 18th, shortly before the departure of Sister Françoise-Thérèse, the novices sang a few stanzas to her, in which they said to her in particular:
You are our sister, because your soul is the same
To those of the little ones who live in love.
That was the impression she left in Lisieux. The farewells were accompanied by tears. Mother Agnes of Jesus then confessed: “Oh! You should never do that again!... It's too heartbreaking”! Léonie was no less happy to find the rue de l'Abbatiale and the slender silhouette of the spiers of Saint-Etienne. At noon recreation and during the pious exchange called Assembly, which takes place between four and five p.m., she related in great detail her trip, her observations, the words heard, involving all her sisters on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Thérèse.
From September 20, she wrote to Lisieux: “Here I am back in the sweet Visitandin nest, but completely transformed. Pray that it lasts until my last breath, because I am much more afraid of myself than of the devil. My exile weighs on me more than before, it's inevitable. But, on the other hand, how many delightful memories and how many ways to sanctify me ever more! Now, I will embark with full sails on the little and very lovable "Way" of my celestial little sister. Like her, I always want to hold the hand of Jesus and let myself be carried by Him”.
She admits at times that she gives in to nostalgia for those days in Heaven, but Céline is quick to remind her that "a sad Saint is a sad Saint" and that she must banish all melancholy. Made more fully aware of the controversies, touching the way in which Thérèse was represented, and her defined personality, she is vehemently indignant: “I can't; not to understand that people refuse to believe us, the sisters of Thérèse, who knew her better than anyone, to give credence to fanciful criticism, both for her portraits and for her character”.
In the presence of the photographs taken in Lisieux, Léonie wrote to Céline, who apologized for certain imperfections in the pose: "It's not your fault if I'm so ugly and so poorly haired, it's mine". She adds humbly: “If I hadn't been afraid of hurting you, I would have returned my portraits to you, because what do you want the Community to do with them? Isn't it enough, not to say too much, to have the poor character, without having the image of it!... It is only a simple supposition, which has no foundation, for I believe myself loved, although I am hardly lovable. Finally, darling sisters, if you find me well, I feel well too, because the very little one feels so poor, so inferior to you in every way”. We can see that the beautiful Theresian adventure did not intoxicate our heroine.
Léonie and the Teresian triumph
An account is told to her, in great detail, of the second exhumation of Thérèse's mortal remains, on August 10, 1917. Sister Geneviève attended with another Carmelite. She was able to kiss her sister's skull on the forehead, wrap the bones in silk sachets and place them in a box. It was forbidden to take anything from the skeleton, but, a molar having completely detached from the head of the Servant of God, they did not hesitate to put it aside for Léonie. This one wanted so much a relic insignia! She lamented with such beautiful naivety that her sister's heart had not been preserved. Her eldest jokes about it, she who has always been reluctant to see "the heart of such a famous mystic immersed in liquid", and who declares outright: "The bones of the Saints only exercise my faith, here All " !
The celebrations of the canonization of Marguerite-Marie in 1920 constitute for Sister Françoise-Thérèse a foretaste of the expected triumph. The Saint took fifty-six years to complete the last stage, our Visitandine hopes that her sister will advance at a faster pace. On May 24, 1921, Mother Agnès of Jesus told her correspondent of the visit that, in the company of her sisters, she had made to Les Buissonnets to fit out the house intended to soon welcome pilgrims. A flood of memories rises from the past; all are now adorned with the aureole of the “little Queen”. Marie lingers in the Liliputian garden, the one-penny statues placed in front of the crib, the hooks of the swing still riveted to the beams of the shed. Tom's barking is no longer heard. M. Martin no longer meditates at the belvedere window. The child's clear laughter has disappeared from the groves, but his image is present everywhere. The emotion is sometimes tinged with humor. “Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart and I looked at each other in the bedroom mirror. We laughed a lot when we saw the metamorphosis for nearly forty years! It was in front of this same mirror that we had admired ourselves as young girls. The eternal feminine never loses her rights.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse is more and more in unison with her sisters in Lisieux. She participates with them in a prayer crusade for Russia. She is kept informed of the progress of the Cause. The imposing mail which assailed the Carmel – then more than eight hundred letters a day – made his peaceful retirement more dear to him. What would become of her if she found herself mixed up in this fever? "Fortunately," she says willingly, "my sisters are better gifted than me!" The good Lord has done all things well. Over there, with my tiny means, I would be completely lost. “Aware of the essentials, she has the impression of enjoying the feast without paying the price. His joy was immense when the Decree of the heroicity of virtues was promulgated on August 14, 1921. She redoubles when she receives the speech delivered on this occasion by Benedict XV, which is a splendid exposition of the Way of Childhood. It is not only Therese that the Church glorifies; it is his message that is magnified and offered for the devotion of the faithful. Léonie rejoiced in it all the more because she found in it the essential outlines of the doctrine of her Blessed Father. She had the opportunity to experience this during the triduum which, at the end of 1922, celebrated the tercentenary of the death of François de Sales.
The Roman procedure is rushing at an accelerated pace. On March 26 and 27, 1923, in a great crowd of people, the celebrations of the transfer of the relics of Thérèse, from the city cemetery to the Chapel of Carmel, took place in Lisieux, and their official recognition. The artistically decorated chariot that was used for the ceremony was driven to Caen, in the outer courtyard of the Monastery, with its team of mules caparisoned in white, so that Léonie could see it from the window of a parlor. The organizer of the convoy went so far as to offer him one of the four badges that adorned the vehicle.
On April 29, 1923, at St. Peter's in Rome, there was the solemn promulgation of the Brief of beatification. On this occasion, Pope Pius XI, who had made Thérèse “the Star of his Pontificate”, sent a special blessing to the four sisters of the new Blessed. Sister Françoise-Thérèse hoped and, all together, dreaded this deadline. Because of family solidarity, Roman splendor necessarily reflects on her. At La Chapelle, it's the pomp of great days. In the refectory, Léonie took her place next to the Superior, at the table all strewn with rose petals, under the portrait of the Carmelite, adorned with flowers and greenery. The same goes for September 4, when we commemorate in community the centenary of the birth of Mr. Martin, then at the triduum of September 22, 23 and 24, where the panegyrist draws a parallel between Thérèse and the Virgin. Bishop Lemonnier and a whole escort of priests enter the enclosure. All eyes are on Léonie, who is undergoing the ordeal with her customary simplicity. "She has the natural ease of childhood," one could say of her. Thinking neither of shining nor of hiding, she answered questions without affectation or embarrassment, questioning in her turn, laughing willingly and slipping away at the right moment.
To her Carmelites, however, she confessed her confusion. “My emotion is very great, my weak heart cannot bear it, so I would rather see from heaven all these glories of our Thérèse. I had said to our Mother: I would like to be in a desert, I long to hide, to fade away, to go unnoticed, to be counted for nothing. - Well ! my little child, she answered me, it will be for tomorrow! There is only one way to overcome the ordeal: to escape from above. “What immense glory for the good God! This is the best part of the deal. What charmed her the most was a notable relic brought especially for her by the tourières of the Visitation, delegates to the Lexovian festivities.
A few weeks later, our nun learned of the death of the one who had made her suffer so much in her childhood. Louise Marais, who had become a good mother under the name of Madame Legendre, had remained in correspondence with the Carmel. She had unforgettable memories of Mrs. Martin. In her crude and picturesque language, she canonized her, evoking her generosity, her kindness, her intrepid courage in the face of death. Tormented herself by excruciating pain from articular rheumatism, she never ceased to invoke the admirable nurse who had once cured her of a first attack of this illness. She was to end her days at the Gacé hospice at the beginning of December 1923, edifying by her resignation and her faith the nuns who assisted her. Léonie was very happy with such an outcome. Incapable of the slightest grudge, she had long since forgotten the miseries of yesteryear. She would no longer think of Louise except in complete serenity, and to pray for her.
Other events demanded his attention. On July 25, 1923, Pius XI had given his official consent to the resumption of the Cause with a view to Canonization. Congregations and Consistories succeeded each other without interruption. On April 22, 1925, the Sovereign Pontiff officially set May 17 as the date of the ceremony. It depended on Thérèse's four sisters to go to the Eternal City for this apotheosis; the required permissions were offered to them. Unanimously, they declined the offer. Sister Françoise-Thérèse did not care to perform in the turmoil of the crowd. "I am much happier here than being in Rome," she confided to her Superior. I'd rather be in my last place than in the middle of all this jumble. »
She did shed a few tears as she joined in the prestigious rites that took place in Saint-Pierre from afar, but she was less upset than at the Beatification. She was getting used to the glory of her little sister. Those who, knowing her so sensitive, feared for her the shock of these repeated emotions, were not a little surprised to see her so calm, so mistress of herself.
At the Monastery, there was sung mass in the morning, salutation and panegyric in the evening, festivity in the refectory, singing for the occasion, an influx of congratulations and supplications. Thanks to the generosity of the Carmel, a tourière sister from Caen had taken her place among the pilgrims of Bayeux. At the solemn audience, she had asked to kiss the Pope's mule, in the name of Léonie. “Yes, answered Pius XI smiling, I want it because it's an act of faith. » Sister Marie-Germaine brought back to our Visitandine a rose specially blessed by the Holy Father. Back on May 26, she told the Community the story of her trip, while the bishop, Mgr Lemonnier, entered in turn to give his impressions.
A triduum was celebrated on September 22, 23 and 24. On the 27th, there was a procession, in union with the grandiose festivities taking place in Lisieux. Distinguished visitors showed up, including Cardinals Bourne, of Westminster, Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Superior General of the Carmelites, Father Marie-Bernard, of La Grande Trappe de Soligny, who had sculpted several statues of Thérèse. On September 28, Cardinal Vico arrives in person, papal legate. He was ahead of schedule; the Fellowship assembled in haste. From the threshold of the enclosure door, he called: "And Léonie?" She arrives, out of breath, in the Chapter hall and kneels down, smiling. The Prince of the Church told her that he was coming to see her in the name of the Pope, asked her about her family, her relations with Thérèse, her vocation, and kindly added that, knowing that she was celebrating her twenties five years of Profession, he brought her a present. Mgr Dante, from the suite of the Cardinal, exhibits a magnificent portrait of Pius XI. The Bishop of Bayeux takes advantage of the circumstance to obtain the inscription of the Office and the Mass of Saint Marguerite-Marie in the calendar of the diocese. On the suggestion of the Superior, Sister Françoise-Thérèse went further and asked that the feast be elevated for the Order to the second class rite and extended to the universal Church.
The procession then reaches the garden where, on the terrace, the legate, always accompanied by Léonie, blesses a statue of Saint Thérèse offered by the Carmel. What perhaps touched Sister Françoise-Thérèse the most was the enthusiastic account given to her of the events in Lisieux by her godmother, Mme Tifenne, the old friend of the family, who stayed at her house when she returned to Alençon in the past. at his mother's grave. This octogenarian, who affirmed that one is always twenty years old in some corner of the heart, said she was in love with little Thérèse.
Léonie learns little by little that the feast of Thérèse is extended to the universal Church, then that on December 14, 1927, her sister is declared Patroness of the Missions, and that on September 30, 1929 the first stone of the Basilica in Lisieux was laid. , on the very hill which once saw M. Martin and his daughters pass by so many times.
The influential pilgrims who, after the stage in Lisieux, pushed on to Caen to greet Léonie, were struck by her desire for self-effacement. She suffered from having to go frequently to the visiting room. "Those who can't see my sisters are catching up with me," she sighed. I am like a curious animal. But whenever she could, she gave way to intruders. On a certain day when she was serving as an assistant at the door, conversing without being seen by what is called Le Tour, an ecclesiastic asks for an interview with Léonie. “I'm going to talk to our Mother about it, she replies, but I don't think it's possible. - Oh ! how I would regret! replied the priest. - Frankly ! You're welcome. You won't lose anything. And she slipped away, never to reappear. After a while, the Abbot leaves disappointed and somewhat scandalized. Passing in the street his friend, Mr. Enault, confessor of the house, he told him of his amazement at such reflection. The other laughs: “My poor Abbot, but you have been tricked! You had to deal with Léonie herself! »
A Cardinal having said to her with obvious interest: “So you are Thérèse’s sister? Our nun humbly replied: “Yes, Your Eminence, but that does not make me holy at all”. To a nun who questioned her about how she felt when the Story of a Soul was read in the refectory, she said in a tone of surprise: “Oh! the good Lord placed Thérèse in our family, but he could have placed her elsewhere. To us, that gives us nothing”. A colleague whispering in her ear to tease her: “I really like Saint Thérèse, but I still prefer Saint Bernadette”, she burst out laughing: “Oh! I imagine that in Heaven they must get along so well! »
Besides, she had a very high idea of the virtues of her Carmelite. She called her "my little Therese" by right of kinship, but she took those who used the same adjective. She feared – and the facts proved her somewhat right – that this strong personality would be devalued by a diminutive and that her message would be assimilated to a spirituality for lymphatics.
If she benefited from attention, from a service, she had a mysterious way of saying: “My little Thérèse will pay it back to you”. Likewise, when someone confided some intention to her: "I'll talk about it to my little Thérèse." She will provide for that, be sure of that.” This happened very frequently. Nevertheless, when in 1928 Leonie, suffering from her legs, was immobilized for some time, the powerful Thaumaturge left her to her ordeal. Msgr. Suhard, who had succeeded Msgr. Lemonnier in the see of Bayeux, meeting her at the fence in his sick car, said to her, feigning surprise: “What! these are the roses she gives you”! – “She knows what is good for me” was the whole answer.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse became more and more a soul of disciple. She had read the biography of her Carmelite by Mgr Laveille. "I am touched," she wrote then, "to see with what delicacy he speaks of the 'little devil-of-four', because my childhood was detestable, very likely to spoil our beautiful and so holy family. The more he liked the publications of Fr. Martin and the theological synthesis produced by Fr. Petitot. Contrary to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, who sticks to the sole Story of a Soul, she devours everything that can shed light on Teresian thought.
It still happens to him to weaken a little, to "give audience to sadness", as Marie gently reproaches him, to feel a touch of bitterness, when, in official speeches, his name is kept silent by evoking the sisters of Therese. She reacts to suffering “by clinging”. Let us collect a few bulletins which reflect the constant effort to trust in God and, if something fails, "to fall like a child", as Thérèse said, that is to say without drama and to get up again immediately with a full will:
Here, dated February 24, 1927, is a note to Mother Agnès of Jesus: “I am often a bit melancholy; it is the basis of my character, you know it; you don't have to pay attention to it. I find the exile very long; it is laziness. I would like to rest, enjoy the good Lord without having deserved it, finally arrive empty-handed. Jesus knows well that, if I were to live a thousand years, I would be just as poor. I abandon myself to his mercy since I am the little victim of his Merciful Love”.
The following year, on June 27, a word betrayed both his inner night and the secret of his strength: “How I love the feast of Pentecost! Our God is a consuming fire. This thought delights me and inflames me, but, to tell the truth, it is only in the will, because my heart is frozen: nothing but disgust, boredom, weariness”.
On November 21, 1929, the renewal of vows on the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin inspired Léonie with this cry of gratitude: "The prayer of our incomparable mother has been fully answered since the five children who remained to her are all consecrated, even the little devil-to-four: a real miracle obtained by our two Saints: our aunt Visitandine and Thérèse of the Child Jesus. It is up to me more than any other to immerse myself in my little nothingness and melt with love and gratitude towards the good God”.
The rising life
Sister Françoise-Thérèse had reached that uncertain age that is called “a certain age”. Since the winter of 1927 his health had visibly declined; she became more and more chilly: "A bird for the cat", people said in her entourage. The flu epidemic of December 1930 caused her to have a double pulmonary congestion which brought her to the edge of the grave. Immense is her joy when she thinks she sees, on the feast of the Immaculate, the end of her exile. A night of insomnia where death threatens, she squeezes, she kisses Thérèse's crucifix and applies pain and prayers to the conversion of Russia. One cannot help admiring her faith, her patience, the delicacy she shows to her nurses. The then Bishop of Bayeux, Mgr Suhard, was impressed. Having come in person to bless her, he wrote to Mother Agnès of Jesus on December 10: “The dear Sister is truly in the hands of God, and from the very short conversation I had with her, I came away fully edified. It's like an echo of Heaven. It is good to live in this atmosphere”.
The Visitation of Caen was not resigned to the outcome that the Faculty predicted. In a beautiful surge of confidence, at the very bedside of the patient, the former director of the novitiate of Léonie, Sister Marie-Aimée, begged Thérèse of Lisieux to intervene; she immediately acquired the certainty of being heard. The improvement was not long in coming. Sister Françoise-Thérèse, who had received a telegram from Pius XI, would later write to her sisters: “I end up believing that it is the blessing of the Holy Father that keeps me on earth; so, I beg of you, if I am sick again, be careful not to let him know”. Thereafter, she will better realize where this unexpected survival came from.
The recovery was painful and long. The violence of the cupping and poultice treatment awoke the still latent eczema. Our Visitandine complained about it on January 2, 1931: “He dresses me in a hair shirt from head to toe, because of the itching that prevents me from closing my eyes; if I have the misfortune to relieve myself even a little, they are real burns. I think I would see others if I were in purgatory, so I offer my sufferings for all the great causes that particularly touch the heart of our beloved Pontiff and Father. Finally, all these desires for the apostolate help me to be generous”. On February 11, she will say again: “The remedies roasted me like Saint Laurent on his grill. I thought I was going crazy." On several occasions, a supernatural presence, that of her Thérèse, comforted her in her ordeal. She consoled her for the estrangement, which was then very cruel to her, of her Carmelite sisters. Above all, she benefited from the devotion of her Community. "I didn't think I was so loved," she confessed naively. On March 26, 1931, she was finally able to leave the infirmary. We saw her again in the cloisters, still energetic, trotting with her short step, but more bent, her gait heavy, traversed by nervous tremors.
The correspondence with Lisieux accuses the disappointment of the missed rendezvous with Heaven: “I can no longer acclimatize on this sad earth. Everything is a subject of boredom and weariness to me, pray well – this is addressed to Céline – for your poor little coward, because in short it is pure cowardice to no longer want to suffer for the good God, even though he is more offended than ever... I cling as much as I can to his will, which I love and want above all, but all my meager efforts are fruitless and often leave me in indescribable suffering. The Carmel stimulates her with the optimistic reminder of the Teresian doctrine: "It is not a question of seeing our victories and of feeling strong and courageous, but of agreeing to feel nothing, to hold ourselves humbly in the will of the good God ".
Mother Agnès of Jesus, to soften Léonie's disillusion, resorts to the last words, to the novissima verba, picked up at her sister's bedside: “I suffered as if I were to die. Well ! if I don't die, I'll start again another time, that's all”. – “I missed that train, yes, but I won't miss them all. » – « I will have to pass like the others, no doubt, through the temptations of the devil at the hour of death... But no, for the little ones, he cannot, and I am very little. »
To hunt the birds of darkness, Pauline evokes childhood memories, family evenings, the mysterious charm of Les Buissonnets. " Christmas ! Christmas ! The little midnight candle! Do you remember daddy used to sing that to us once? And it was gay, and our little Thérèse laughed and repeated so nicely. How, after that, to take offense at what Mother Agnès calls her “sermon”. “The fable makes the precept pass with itself. »
Léonie calms down, to the point of writing to her Carmelites: “I am completely abandoned to live until the end of the world, if such is the good pleasure of God! It's what he does that I love, and I'll be willing to watch the three of you die before me, if that's his will. As you know me, you will find this heroic, I am sure”.
Life therefore resumes, with its exercises, its labors, its pains, to the rhythm of the bell, to the step of the regulations, this cloistered existence without escape, of which the profane, failing to grasp the hidden spring, dreads the implacable monotony , where only the cycle of liturgical feasts throw a note of diversity and for each nun, the multiple aspects of the interior landscape in the passionate pursuit of Christ. For Léonie, there is another element of variety that she would gladly do without: this parade of ecclesiastical dignitaries eager to talk to the sister of a Saint and to wring from her, if not an interview, at least some new feature. They are unanimous in admiring his humility. But with the Bishop of the place, she put herself at the expense of kindness: when Mgr Picaud, appointed to Bayeux in 1931, entered the cloister for the feast of Saint Francis de Sales or for a canonical visit, she approached him spontaneously, asks about his health, his sleep, offers to take his intentions.
On August 4, 1932, a Grand of Spain, Cardinal Ségura, arrived unexpectedly. Léonie, as soon as she was informed, cheerfully maintained it, the time to gather all the Sisters to the Chapter. There, he confides to the Community that in Lisieux, at the tomb of Thérèse, he renounced his office as Primate, the Pope having asked him for this sacrifice for the purpose of conciliation, because of a persistent tension between political authorities. and nuns. “The young thaumaturge, he admits, sent me beautiful roses, but there were also a lot of thorns. »
On May 8, 1934, an event of another kind, we united in Caen, with the golden jubilee of Mother Agnès of Jesus, at the same time as we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Thérèse's first communion. Léonie, after having answered the prayers of the mass, has the honors of the day. She who was called, not without a touch of emphasis, “our living relic”, considered herself happy to find at the Visitation, so fraternally united were the two Monasteries, the atmosphere of Carmel.
February 17, 1935, new alert. For the past few weeks, bouts of "trembling", as Léonie calls them, have become more frequent. The heart weakens; the nausea worsens to the point of prohibiting the reception of the Eucharist. Is it finally liberation? Sister Françoise-Thérèse is no longer in a condition to enjoy this perspective. Anguish tears her apart; darkness invades it. It is like a veil that hides the sky from him; it enters in its turn into the trial of faith. “I am in perfect abandonment, notes the patient, on March 3. Jesus will come and rob me whenever he wants. And six weeks later, the crisis averted: “Alas! in the depths of my soul I am sad, while singing the Alleluia, which I would have liked eternal in the face to face with my Beloved; but since he doesn't want it, I don't want it either. It's what he does that I love above all else. Poor nature makes me languish, while strongly loving the will of her God”. It can be compared to a "shaky castle", the collapse of which cannot be long in coming. Only good care put it back on its feet, but "my poor cracked window" will end up breaking.
Old age is accompanied by all sorts of infirmities. Céline, who calls them her "ten leopards", alluding to the guardian-executioners of the martyr Ignatius of Antioch, readily jokes about the ravages of time, which wrinkles the forehead, breaks the line and bends the waist: "It's equal , you can't say otherwise, we are now three good women, and there is a fourth in Caen...” – Well! adds Mother Agnès, so much the worse for the good women! Their hearts are even younger than when they were twenty, because their feelings are deeper. »
Death, which took away Jeanne La Néele on April 25, 1938, now awaits Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. The independent, the savage, who could not sit still and preferred gardening to indoor work, the "gypsy", as Mr. Martin called her, has been immobilized for many years, reduced to impotence. Nailed to her eternal wheelchair, only her hands half free, also deformed by articular rheumatism, she toils without looking up, arranging relics and memories in frames and sachets. The vivacity of yesteryear blunted by long suffering, she remained affable towards all, particularly attentive to the needs of ordinary people, eager to help them. "It's a grace to have misery," she repeats willingly. Like Céline, like Léonie, she longs for the beyond; Mother Agnès shares this desire for Heaven, but, being more nervous, the thought of death frightens her, as do night storms and unforeseeable calamities. Incidentally, the four of them train each other mutually to get in tune with God's good pleasure.
From 1936, Sister Françoise-Thérèse was, in her turn, the prey of rheumatic tortures. The feet swell and twist, giving her, as she puts it, a “stunted little woman” gait. The vertebrae and ribs fuse together, making breathing difficult and the slightest touch painful. Ankylosis will gain from year to year. It takes all the courage of the Visitandine and her astonishing resistance to suffering so that she can still follow the common regime with heroism. Too well cared for, she dreads “living like this until she is a hundred years old. What a calamity! she continues. Won't I go to the end of the world? I'm more afraid than I want to. » The last word remains abandoned: « Let us love the will of God, let us love only it, and of the earth we will make a Heaven ».
A grace, to which she is very sensitive, falls to her at the conventual elections of 1939. One of her dear friends, Sister Marie-Agnès Debon, receives the office of superior. This nun, well known to Pauline, had dreamed of joining her in Carmel. Having had to give it up for health reasons, in 1918 she was referred by the Prioress of Lisieux to the Monastery where Léonie lived. She had shown her a real veneration. And now, by a delicacy of Providence, she received, at the age of forty-six, the mission of surrounding Thérèse's sister with affection in her old age, to whom she would close her eyes.
Léonie was not indifferent to the religious emotions aroused by the growth of the Theresian cult. By correspondence and in conversations in the visiting room, Bishop Germain kept her informed of all his undertakings. Through the letters of her sisters, she followed, in all its adventures, the rapid erection of the Basilica in Lisieux. On July 11, 1937, on the occasion of the National Eucharistic Congress, the building was solemnly blessed by Cardinal Pacelli, Papal Legate. Pius XI had expressed the desire that the Saint's family could hear his message. A post was lent to the two communities of Lisieux and Caen, which were able to join in all the festivities. Léonie listened on her knees to the speech of the Holy Father; she couldn't hold back her tears. She was informed by her sisters of the circumstances of the visit made to Carmel by the future Pius XII. Would he come to her? We hoped for a moment. The rigors of the official itinerary did not allow this. More sensitive to him was the omission of his name in the report in which Bishop Picaud spoke of Thérèse's sisters. She quickly consoled herself and confined herself to saying: "Mother Agnès of Jesus will be more pained than me." She will have better luck on March 20, 1939, when the Nuncio in Paris, His Excellency Mgr Valerio Valeri, will come to Caen for the fiftieth anniversary of the Work of Saint-Pierre Apostle. He insisted on speaking before the Community, conversed familiarly with Sister Françoise-Thérèse and had this charming word for her: "In the sky, there are stars of different sizes, but which are all very beautiful and all in the designs of God ".
Theresian literature, more abundant day by day, was the delight of Léonie. And the confidences of Lisieux have a particular weight. Léonie collects them and underlines them jealously. Mother Agnès took exquisite care of her. She sends him the crucifix which the aunt of Le Mans, Sister Marie-Dosithée, never parted with in her last illness and which she still embraced at the hour of death. She draws, to distract her or to edify her, from the superabundant treasure of her sister's words and gestures. Admitting that she herself constantly takes up as a resolution for retreat that of fraternal charity lived internally and externally, she writes:
“It's incredible how at the end of my life, I understand better what our holy little Thérèse writes on this subject. When she asked me what to write about her memories, I replied: 'Talk about the novices, your missionary brothers, etc. And she replied: 'I don't mind, but I have something much more important to write. It's about fraternal charity, I have so many lights about it'. Unfortunately, she was tormented a great deal when she was writing. The novices, the nurses constantly disturbed her. She then said to me: Everything I wrote was very muddled! Finally ! the good Lord will make up for it, he knows that I have had no peace of mind, he will put his grace where I have not spoken clearly as I understand... speak around me, and above all to practice fraternal charity, and I find there a source of peace... When I say a few words at the Chapter, I always come back to that...”
The world would soon be plunged into a bath of hatred and blood. War is unleashed, which will throw entire populations onto the roads. Communities will not be immune. From September 1939, the Visitation of Caen had to set up rooms to receive possible refugees from the capital. We visit a castle in the countryside where to evacuate, if necessary. The Monastery welcomes Visitandines from Paris, Rouen, Carmelites from Gravigny near Evreux. The lightning speed of the invasion surprised the nuns in a state of alert and spared them the horrors of the exodus. The only consolation in the midst of mourning and ruins: the discreet arrival of two German soldiers, Benedictine and Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales, bringing the fraternal message of several Communities of Visitandines from across the Rhine, who were worried about the fate of their sisters of France. It was good to rediscover, beyond the borders, and in spite of Hitler's contamination, the sense of charity and unity in Christ.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse, who once worried feverishly about threats of expulsion, is now astonishing by her composure and her peace of mind. She is already as if detached from the earth. If events bruise her, because she is not for nothing the daughter of this ardent patriot who was Mr. Martin, she believes with Pius XI that “the desperate hour is God's hour”. All that remains is to turn to Him in a supplication that is all the more confident because the situation is humanly hopeless. We pray in the cloister as we have never prayed.
Death striking everywhere invited this attitude of supernatural stripping. On February 8, 1941, it was to take away the Chaplain, Father Heurtevent, who would soon be succeeded by Father Hue. On January 19, 1940, she kidnapped Sister Marie from the Sacred Heart. The eldest of the family had succumbed to pulmonary congestion; she had passed away softly, murmuring a prayer. Her last letter, addressed to Mother Agnès of Jesus, for her feast day of January 21, contained this cry of hope, with a very Teresian accent: "It is not too much eternity to know the infinite goodness of the good God, his infinite power, his infinite mercy, his infinite love for us. These are our eternal delights which will know no satiety; our heart is made to understand them and be nourished by them”. The departure of Marie, who, since Madame Martin's death, had assumed an almost maternal role towards her, seemed to Léonie a prelude to her approaching death. The thought of the great meeting will never leave her.
* * *
The mystery of Christmas attracted him irresistibly like the irruption and bursting, in the midst of human history, of Merciful Love. Every year there was some young professed mischievous enough to beg her to reproduce the dialogue that took place between Jesus and Saint Jerome in the grotto of Bethlehem where the fierce penitent painfully brooded over the memories of his worldly life. It was on the eve of the Nativity.
– Jerome, what are you giving me for my birthday?
– Divine Child, I give you my heart.
“That's fine, but give me something more.
“I send you all my prayers, all my affections.
- I want more.
– I give you all that I have, all that I am.
– That's still too little.
– Divine Child, I have nothing; what more do you want me to give you?
“Jerome, give me your sins.
– What do you want to do with it?
– Give me your sins, so that I can forgive you all of them.
- Oh ! Divine Child, you make me cry!
At the last words, the narrator herself burst into tears. And we had fun and were edified all together by this tenderness. If Thérèse had known this story, she too would have had wet eyes. By the way, perhaps she read it in the Liturgical Year of Dom Guéranger.
The concept of childhood, for Léonie as for her holy little sister, went far beyond the limits of the first age. He recovered that state of impotence, of fragility, of misery, of which the annihilation of Calvary presented the overwhelming face. “My resolution, she writes, is the obedience of proper judgment, without if without but imitating as perfectly as possible that of my adorable Savior during his mortal life, but especially during his very painful Passion.”
No doubt in order to better accredit the very low idea that she has of herself, God has allowed her to have innocent quirks, which those around her prefer to smile rather than take offense: she is "picky", s seizing everything that seems to be dormant to put it back in its place, even if they are objects that the user has put down for a moment, to take them back later. “It was out of place,” she explains; nothing should be left lying around. She takes scrupulous care to check every evening that the windows are properly closed. Very slow, at the table as in her jobs – she took an hour to finish her first bag of relics – she is easily overwhelmed in the event of the unexpected. Her concern to lead everything to perfection, not to abandon anything that is in disorder, makes her the eternal latecomer, whom some spy on with a shrewd air: frequent occasion for painful remarks, but also, on her part, for humbly requested apologies and pardons.
Despite these slight shortcomings, our Visitandine is loved and esteemed by the Community. In the eyes of all, she embodied charity, bringing out the qualities of others, at the same time as she veiled their faults, welcoming any anguish, always quick to help. One did not sense in her that anonymous and conventional benevolence which keeps timid and suffering people at a distance and freezes them. She was very attentive to the person. The hard experience of his withdrawal at the time of his adolescence helped him to guess the secret wounds. She understands, having experienced them, the difficulties of the postulants. To the one who is frightened at having broken a lot of dishes, she says maternally: “It's a sign of a vocation. Stay happy”.
To another who is worried about suddenly feeling the awakening of self-esteem: “Don't be surprised; you think you've left him at the door on your way home, but you don't take long to find him”. To help out the one who does not know how to unfasten her cape, she does not hesitate to break the silence. To console the one who, in time of war, cries over her family continually exposed, she whispers in her ear: “Don't worry. I entrust them to little Thérèse; she will watch over them, she will keep them”. Shortly before his death, a young girl admitted inside to make an election retreat, solicits his prayers. “I will ask the good Lord, she replies, that he do his holy will in you. »
The predilection of Sister Françoise-Thérèse went to the "white sisters", occupied with domestic work. She gladly joined them, enlivening them with her anecdotes and her songs, emphasizing the nobility of their mission: “You are doing as the Blessed Virgin did in Nazareth, she would tell them. Moreover, choir nuns or not, all are equal in the eyes of God. »
As long as she had the physical capacity, she worked actively to relieve the sick. Mother Jeanne-Marie Décarpentry gave her this testimony: “Sister Françoise-Thérèse surrounds my old age with multiple and affectionate attentions, coming to pick me up to drive me in a wheelchair to the Choir and to the Community assemblies with perfect accuracy”. Let us underline the last feature, which marks a heroic effort not to inflict on a former Superior the humiliation of being late. When the strength fails, it is in the visit to the infirm that the delicacy of the heart is expressed. If they go through an acute crisis, Léonie agrees to part with Thérèse's crucifix for them, which she keeps jealously. Seeing the nurse somewhat overworked, grappling with an agitated patient, she said to her: “I am going to ask my holy little Sister to become her own nurse”.
Community recreation is the testing ground par excellence for charity. In these moments of free relaxation, the personalities manifest themselves more spontaneously, and sometimes clash with their differences in temperaments, tastes, education, aptitudes, made more sensitive by the existence in a closed environment, without external derivatives, without the possibility of setting sail... except on the side of God. Léonie clearly feels the difficulty and the danger. "Since patience is the touchstone of humility, I must embrace it with all my strength, especially during recess, watching over my character, prone to be troubled, to be annoyed, towards those that I don't like. »
Like Thérèse at the Carmel, she largely practices this good humor, this communicative cheerfulness. We tease her; she retaliates in the same tone, for she has a lively repartee. She is pushed onto a subject where she catches fire and flame, stubbornly persisting in her ideas, even if it means then apologizing for this stubbornness by alleging her lack of intelligence. She likes to joke, like the day when she imagined an ingenious way to straighten out the finances of the Monastery, then very indebted. “They would put me in the parlor on an armchair with a sign: Come and see the sister of Saint Thérèse. Good people would pay an entrance fee. There would be a recipe... and the clever ones would protest when they left: “Really, there was no point in coming to admire this old painting; it's not worth our money! »
Sometimes incidents happen. A sister was taken to task rather sharply; she repressed her pain. Léonie finds a way to approach him afterwards to heal the wound: “How happy I was to see you keep the smile and peace of charity! She herself is occasionally the victim of these mood swings. A nun exclaims aloud that there is too much noise around Saint Thérèse, that there is an unpleasant montage in these celebrations. Our Visitandine pretends not to hear and does not depart from her calm. A widow, of a difficult and authoritarian character, who had taken the veil belatedly, and, for lack of judgment, multiplied blunders and disgraceful gestures, willingly took it out on Sister Françoise-Thérèse. She bowed without saying a word and remained for a few moments, her gaze distant, as if lost in God. One day when the attack had been more biting, bruised to the bottom of her heart, she let out this complaint in an aside with her neighbor: “But what have I done to her? Madame Martin would no longer have recognized in this virtue, master of herself, the one whose vivacity formerly stirred up so many storms and darkened the family atmosphere.
It is because the Spirit of God guided our Visitandine. Every day, she recited the Veni Creator, loving to stop at each word to exhaust its sap. Great was his joy when the little annual preparatory retreat for Pentecost returned. She opens up to her Carmel sisters: “How I savor these words: “The good God works in us, there is no need to see him, to feel him Fortunately, because I am always more and more a poor log; I ask Jesus to set it on fire and the Spirit of Love to activate it. Finally, any little one only wants to love, she doesn't know what else to say and do because she is too little, and this littleness is all her happiness and all her strength.
At Community Assemblies, when she did not bring the fruit of her reading, her companions often had the impression that she remained "tranquil in the hands of the tranquil God", as Saint Bernard said, and that "in contemplating the One who is Rest, she was resting. Not that she neglected to help herself by having recourse to good books. She had in her cell the classics of the Visitation, the Imitation of Jesus Christ, the Christian Manual, a compendium of Gospel texts, the writings of Therese, the Breviary of the Sacred Heart. But, like her youngest, more than anything she relished the Gospel.
She had gradually become disillusioned with the search for spiritual facilities. At the end of a retreat, as he was asked: "What is the weather like in the desert?" “, she answered with humor:” The four seasons “. Juggling ideas was not his style; meditation did not suit him; she remained silent, praying, loving.
However, it seemed that the aridity did not resist the contemplation of the Host. “Where are you from, Sister Françoise-Thérèse? they asked her, when she arrived at recess, all beaming – “But, to have adored the Blessed Sacrament! On feast days she made long stops in this way. Everything about the altar captivated her. His joy was to mark all the linen in the sacristy, especially the pales, the purificatories, the corporals, which more closely touch the Holy Species. She worked at it until she was seventy-five, and without the need for glasses. They would have pained her if they had deprived her of responding to the second mass. “I would rather drag myself on my knees than miss a communion,” she assured. And in a letter to the Carmel: “What an immense blessing our daily communion! What would become of us without Jesus? Life would no longer be tenable, and the best preparation, it seems to me, the most effective, is to take communion, because Jesus, the God of all purity, Himself prepares our heart, his beloved tabernacle”.
Mr. Martin had instilled in him a devotion to the Pope. In an interior oratory was an effigy of Saint Peter whose feet she kissed every day. The statue having disappeared on the occasion of a development, she had no rest until it was found and put back in place of honor. His memory faithfully retained the anniversaries of the Holy Father, the capital dates of his Pontificate; she evoked them in her prayer and recalled them to the Community. In the same way she commented with ardor on the outstanding passages of the History of the Church. It was enough, to provoke his ire – some made a game of it – to speak of the enemies of religion by mitigating their wrongs or by invoking their good faith. She literally raged against those she called "Satan's henchmen." She then armed herself with the wrath of Saint Jerome or the vengeful fire of Elijah... only to calm down afterwards and conclude, as a worthy daughter of François de Sales, that placed in the same conditions, she would undoubtedly have gone astray even more. .
These scenes of indignation generally ended in filial recourse to the Mother of the Church. Towards the end of her life, Léonie always had the rosary in her hand. She obtained from the Carmel that of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. “It is my happiness, she declared, to sow Hail Marys. » She had copied the words of Father Eymard, where she found the image of the Madonna as Thérèse painted her in her canticle: « If Mary has ravished God by her purity, she has become his Mother by her humility ». She was less sensitive to the sublimity of the Virgin than to her proximity.
Léonie suffered a lot and suffered with courage. She had learned at a good school the significance of the ordeal. We read in her retreat notes of October 1933: “My holy little sister wrote to me: We must live by sacrifices, without that would life be meritorious? Our holy Sister Marguerite-Marie used to say: 'A life without a cross is a life without love'. Sister Françoise-Thérèse valiantly carried the burden of her physical infirmities, her deficiencies, the multiple failures of the past; she mortified herself with tenacity without ever relaxing her effort, to the point that her desires and her tastes were ignored; she accepted to appear in the eyes of the world as “the poor relative” of this Martin family, who were surrounded by Teresian prestige; she faced with gentleness the troubles, the helplessness, the throbbing pains that age brought on her. One day that she had opened up about it, as if from a need of the heart, she suddenly broke off, raised her arms and exclaimed, her face both lit up and streaming with tears: "But you fill me with joy, Lord, by all you do! »
His overly impressionable nature seemed gifted for feeling deeply the involuntary clashes and awkward words that all communal life inevitably entails. A cheerful refrain hid the intimate wound. Same courage in illness. You had to be cunning to get him some relief. The nun charged with helping him, on the twilight of his life, made an outbreak of fire in his cell. Otherwise, Léonie would have endured the cold which tormented her stoically. When they operated on her feet, cut raw, tears came to her eyes, but she gritted her teeth without complaining, even refusing to be carried to her bed, and went there of her own accord. walking on heels.
At the beginning of 1941, Sister Françoise-Thérèse was permanently installed on the ground floor, in the infirmary. A window overlooked the chapel. At night, in her long insomnia, she turned to God. “I do like my Therese, I can't pray, I love. During the day, she still dragged herself to the exercises, bent over, skirting the walls. "Yes, I'm in a lot of pain, she admitted, but I don't want to stop, I want to go all the way..." To those who felt sorry for herself, she said jokingly: "I'm just a poor little old woman, I atone for my vanities, for I was very coquettish, I liked dressing. Now I only love the will of God. I'm going to the Father's house. Oh ! how good it will be up there! »
His last letters bear the mark of clarity and candor. If she still deplores her “very tough pride, her extreme sensitivity”, the fear of judgment does not touch her. She has no enemies. His heart is in charity. Thinking of Louise Marais, she notes in a detached tone: “I forgive my executioner with all my heart and I am grateful to him for having treated our dear mother so well in her last illness, with affection and true devotion”. Then, coming to herself: “I could very well die suddenly. The heart is compressed by the ribs which are on top of each other. I choke when I cough and sneeze; it's almost screaming. I am too small to damn myself; little children are not damned. I intend to fall into the arms of Jesus Love and Mercy; I am not afraid of him ".
A month later, she resumed: “A little word from my soul, so great a sinner and which cannot be afraid of the good Lord! On the contrary, it is my extreme misery that gives me this confidence, and I think with joy that in leaving the dear and so maternal arms of our beloved Mother, I will fall quite naturally into those of Jesus and my mother in Heaven. . What audacity ! »
In April, Léonie goes through a dark phase. She had written to Lisieux: “My infirmities are increasing, I no longer have anything healthy except my eyes, my heart and my head, thank God; but He can take everything, everything is His! Complete abandonment, even for my very small and poor intelligence”. The final word betrayed a secret anguish. Thinking of her father, who had spent more than three years in the Bon Sauveur nursing home, facing the walls of the Visitation garden, she had, in front of a colleague, let out this worrying cry: "Go do I have to go across the street? Then, resigning himself to the worst: “Ah! if it is the will of God, it will have to be done”. This sacrifice was not asked of him. She remained entirely lucid, straining her energies to serve herself, remaining faithful to small observances, refusing all sweets on fasting days, forbidding the nurse to spend the night in the same room as her, because this nun was uncomfortable sleeping with the window closed.
Around May 15, an influenza-bronchitis forced her to take to her bed. She was choking. She had to accept that the Superior slept by her side, but found it hard to bear her getting up to help her. This crisis acutely posed the question of the place of his future burial. Mother Agnès of Jesus wanted her sister to be brought back to Lisieux and buried near Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, under the Shrine of Saint Thérèse. " Oh ! no, replied the patient, as soon as she was informed of this proposal. They're going to go out of their way to get me there. And then, I am Visitandine, I want to stay at the Visitation. She heard him from the enclosure reserved for the nuns, in the cemetery of Caen. It was decided, through an old friend of Léonie, to seek permission from the municipal administration for a burial on the spot, in the enclosure, in the crypt of the Chapel. The process succeeds. Sister Françoise-Thérèse was both delighted and confused. "Think about it! A poor little nothingness like me! »
On July 2, 1941, she would celebrate her forty-one years of Profession. It was obvious that she would not reach her golden wedding anniversary. Taking advantage of an improvement in his condition, it was therefore decided to celebrate his golden jubilee, which had gone unnoticed during the painful events of the summer of 1940. eighteenth birthday. The ceremony took place in private: mass, renovation
vows, coronation, congratulations from the Community, occasional meal and recreation, where the jubilee figured alongside the Superior. In the evening, they escorted her in procession to the infirmary, singing to her:
To the sky ! To the sky ! To the sky !
Through your gentle path, Thérèse, guide us.
Two prize gifts enhanced the luster of the day. Bishop Natucci sent a special blessing from Rome from Pius XII, Leonie's beloved Pastor, who thanked him in a long letter, the last she wrote. As for the Carmel, it definitively conceded to the Community of Caen, with supporting paper, the precious crucifix that the Visitandine had only received for life. It was the profession crucifix of the “Little Queen”, on the back of which were engraved these lines: “This crucifix was worn for several weeks by Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She often kissed him and showered him with flowers. It was placed in his hands after his death”. To facilitate the exhibition, Sister Geneviève de la Sainte-Face had laid out, painted and decorated a tabor, adorned with jewels from the Martin family, which was given on the occasion of the feast of June 3.
Leonie was overjoyed. However, she had no illusions about the future. “It's over, I won't be going back to the refectory anymore... The divine Thief is at the door, and I say to him: this way! this way !" – “I seem to be getting better, but I feel a destruction in my whole being; yes, my exile is over!” – “I tell my Jesus to prepare myself for his coming, not wanting to get involved in anything, because I would do nothing but spoil everything. »
On the eve of Corpus Christi, she took part in recreation with her unaltered gaiety. At the Community Assembly, she underlined the profound meaning of this passage from the Act of Offering to Merciful Love: "I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are you not Almighty? Stay in me as in the Tabernacle, never move away from your little host”. She emphasized and weighed every word. Did she foresee that it would no longer be possible for her to receive the Eucharist? That same day, confessing to the Chaplain, she said to him: “I am not feeling bad at all, but what I thank God for is that I kept my head”.
The next day, as she got up very early, as usual, to be ready when the Chaplain would bring her the Blessed Sacrament, she collapsed, stricken with congestion. She regained consciousness, but without recovering the use of speech. She no longer unites herself to the prayers recited around her except by the movement of her eyes, inarticulate words and sketchy gestures. Paralysis invaded him gradually, without however taking away his lucidity. After receiving absolution and Extreme Unction that very morning, she was to remain five days in this painful impotence. Clutching her eldest's rosary and Therese's crucifix in her hands, she kissed them in turn. They had placed in front of her a copy of the statue of the Virgin of the Smile who had cured her youngest child; she stretched out her arms to him, while they murmured the beautiful verses of Thérèse's poetry:
You who came to smile at me in the morning of my life,
Come and smile at me again, Mother, here is the evening.
To the Visitandines, who told the Rosary, were joined two Tourières Sisters from Lisieux. They brought roses from the Carmel garden; the patient stripped them from her crucifix. Sometimes, one guessed on his lips the word: "Mom!" During this interminable wait, she never lost her patience or her kindness. The Superior wrote to Mother Agnès of Jesus on June 15: “I would like you to be able to build yourselves, like us, with her calm, serene, abandoned dignity... It is touching and solemn! We feel approaching the great silence of eternity”. The dying woman was especially animated when, in a low voice, syllable by syllable, the Act of Offering was repeated in her ear. An embrace, a look showed that she made this oblation her own, in which she joined for ever the soul of her Thérèse.
On the evening of Monday, June 16, 1940, it appeared that the end was imminent. The dying woman, lulled by the prayers of those around her, kept all her conscience, under an appearance of torpor. Around XNUMX:XNUMX p.m., the eyelids dilated widely. She stared for a long time with her luminous eyes at Mother Marie-Agnès and the two Lexovian Carmelites kneeling at her side. The Superior blessed her, kissed her in the name of Pauline and Céline, made her kiss the cross saying: “My God, I love you” and, after a few light sighs, Léonie fell asleep for eternity.
On the desire expressed by the deceased, the Community immediately intoned this song of gratitude which is at the same time the canticle of spiritual childhood: the Magnificat. The body, rolled by suffering, regained all its suppleness. The face took on an expression of joy and ineffable peace. Léonie, in death, appeared truly beautiful.
The news of the death was transmitted by radio all over the world. From all sides, messages of sympathy poured in. Pius XII personally offered the Holy Sacrifice for the intention of the deceased. Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris, who, during his visit to the siege of Bayeux, had repeatedly entertained and appreciated Léonie, immediately sent his condolences. "Yes," he said, "she was a humble violet, voluntarily shielded from all eyes, and who drew attention to herself only by the perfume of the virtues which adorned her life. Thus I knew her during the visits I made in the past to her Monastery of Caen, and of which I retain such vivid memories. It is such lives that build here below, in silence, the edifice of holiness, the true city of God. They are also the ones who attract Heaven's blessing, not only to the place where they live, but to the entire universe. »
On Friday, it was exposed to the choir, in the coffin which would not be closed until ten minutes before the funeral. The crowd marched past the funeral remains, provoking an uninterrupted queue of visitors in the peaceful rue de l'Abbatiale, which drew the concerned attention of the occupants: we were at war. Thousands of people lined up at the gate. Four nuns were employed all day to touch rosaries, crosses, medals to the one whom everyone venerated as the sister of Saint Thérèse. Despite the extreme heat, there were no signs of decomposition. The vigil passed in an atmosphere of extraordinary religious fervor.
The burial Mass was celebrated on Saturday June 21 at XNUMX:XNUMX a.m. by Bishop Germain, director of the Pilgrimage of Lisieux. Then, in the absence of the sick Bishop, the highest authorities of the Diocese and about thirty priests escorted our Visitandine to the interior Crypt of the Monastery where she would rest under a slab, at the foot of an altar dedicated to the Virgin.
She had fully realized the desire she expressed in her childhood, when she wrote, in January 1877, to her aunt in Le Mans: "Ask the good Lord...that he give me the vocation to become a true nun". .