The Grace of the Last Place
Story of the Servant of God, Sister Françoise-Thérèse Martin: “Léonie” Sister of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
A Translation of the Circular Letter by the Visitation Sisters
Copyright © 2016 Second Federation of the Visitation Sisters
Sister Françoise-Thérèse “Léonie” Martin, sister of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, is now a Servant of God. Her cause was opened in Caen, France on July 2, 2016, the anniversary of her profession (1900) in the Order of the Visitation.
The title, The Grace of the Last Place, comes from the term used by the postulator, Father Antonio Sangalli. The term was also used by Dr. Anne-Marie Pelletier in a conference given in 1999 (in French) called: “Léonie and Her Family or the Grace of the Last Place.”
Léonie Martin was born on June 3, 1863 to Louis and Zélie Martin (now Saints). She was baptized the next day, which was the Feast of Corpus Christi. On this same feast, some 78 years later on June 17, 1941, she received her passport for Heaven, through the Sacrament of Extreme Unction in the Monastery of the Visitation of Caen. Léonie began her life in extreme sickness, a sickness which was miraculously healed through the fervent prayers of her parents. However, her childhood was marked with trial and her family was left with a weight to bear (it is possible that the measles and convulsions she suffered greatly contributed to some minor brain damage, which would account for many of her childhood problems and struggles). At the age of nine, her aunt (a Visitation nun) said of her:
Léonie, for the short time that I have had her, has given me good hope for the future. She is a difficult child to raise, whose childhood will give no comfort, but I believe that later she will be worth as much as her sisters. She has a heart of gold, her understanding is not developed and remains below her age; nevertheless, she is not wanting in powers and I find in her good judgment, together with admirable strength of character. When this little one has the use of reason and sees her duty nothing will stop her; difficulties, however great they may be, will be nothing for her; she will overcome all obstacles, which will not be wanting in her path, for she is built for that. Finally, she has a strong and generous nature, entirely to my liking, but if the grace of God was not there, what would she be?
A religious vocation was certainly in God’s plans. It was to this same aunt that Léonie had written these words:
Dear Aunt, when you go to Heaven, ask the good God, if you please, to grant me the grace to be converted, and also to give me a vocation to become a true religious, for I think of it every day. I beg you not to forget my little commission, for I am sure that the good God will hear you.
In 1890, Léonie was on a pilgrimage with one of her sisters there she begged Blessed Margaret Mary to pray for her to receive the grace of belonging entirely to God as a fervent and devout religious. These prayers were certainly efficacious. Her perseverance in the faith stands before us today as an example of what it means to follow God with one’s whole heart. Léonie and her family struggled through her difficult childhood, and she endured much suffering in the pursuit of religious life, and before entering into eternal rest with the Heavenly Father. It is for this very reason that people often send letters and make pilgrimages to Caen seeking Léonie’s prayers for difficult children, family situations, and vocations.
An interesting observation was made by the postulator for Leoni’s cause, Father Antonio Sangalli:
One can define “Léonie” as “the grace of the last place” …the place that no one wants to occupy. We do not know how God distributes our talents, what criteria He employs to give “to one person, five talents; to another, two talents; and to a third, only one” (Matt. 25:15). Surely, to each, “according to his capacity.” Surely, we often spend our time—for some, their entire lives—by pursuing, if not regretting, the talent that we have not received; while we should be happy for the talent we have received… This is what the Servant of God did all her life, she who had no fear and did not run away to bury her talent in the ground (cf. Matt. 25:25).
Léonie made four tries at religious life. One with the Poor Clares – her health broke. Then with the Visitation – again her health gave way. There was a second try at the Visitation. This time she received the habit. The time for profession came and went and eventually she had to leave. Some of her novitiate companions also left, due to the rigors of the life. However, with a new superior and novice mistress from another monastery who believed in gradually introducing the candidate to the religious life, Léonie asked to return and this time she persevered.
Léonie herself wrote in a letter to Mother Marie de Gonzague, the prioress at the Lisieux Carmel: “Our dear Mistress has told me many times that I was born for the Visitation. When, in the world, people kept telling me I didn’t have a religious vocation, it broke my heart and one day, shortly before I joined, I said to my sisters, “I’ll only believe I’m not called to the Visitation after having made another attempt under the direction of the Mothers of Boulogne.
Thérèse said that after her death, Léonie would reenter the Visitation; she would persevere; and she would take the name of St Francis de Sales and of Thérèse. At her clothing Léonie received the name Sister Françoise-Thérèse.
Prayer to the Servant of God Sister Françoise-Thérèse
Lord our God,
Through the example of
“the Servant of God, Sister Françoise-Thérèse,”
Léonie Martin, You have given us an understanding
of the mercy and the tenderness of Your Love.
You watched over her fragile health
from the first hours of her life.
You supported her in the difficult times
of her childhood and adolescence.
You called her to the consecrated life,
and You sustained her
on the delicate path of her response.
You inspired her to lead a hidden and humble life,
to accept her limitations and to offer herself
as a gift to Your love as a Visitation nun at Caen,
Lord, if such is your will,
deign to grant us the grace
that we ask of you (……)
through the intercession of Sister Françoise-Thérèse.
May she, one day, be counted
among the Venerables of your Church.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Below is a translation from the French of the Circular Letter sent out after Léonie’s death by the Visitation Sisters’ monastery in Caen, France. It was translated by a Visitandine Sister.
Thanks to the Visitation Sisters in Caen for permission to use many of the photographs here.
LIVE + JESUS!
Abridgment of the Life and Virtues of our
Venerated and beloved
Sister Françoise Thérèse Martin,
Sister of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus,
Deceased in the Monastery of the Visitation of Caen, June 16, 1941,
78 years of age,
41 years of Religious Profession:
of the Rank of Choir Sisters,
passed to that of Associated Sisters.
(1941) Translation provided by our Monastery
of Richmond, Virginia, now located in
Sister Françoise-Thérèse Martin
“The sparrow hath found herself a house,
And the turtle a nest for herself where she
May lay her young ones; but I have chosen Thy
Altars, my King and my God.”
After having, at different times, sought shelter near the tabernacles of the Lord, it was in the shadow of our sanctuary that our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse settled forever, embracing the hidden life of the Visitation in all the joy of her heart.
Marie Léonie was the third of the nine children granted by God to M. and Mme. Martin. We need not speak in praise of her virtuous parents, since they have been made known through the most beautiful flower of their crown: “Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”
Marie and Pauline already rejoiced the paternal home when this third lily blossomed in the blessed garden, the 3rd of June 1863. She was welcomed with the warmest tenderness, and the following day regenerated in the waters of Baptism on the beautiful Feast of the Blessed Sacrament; a holy coincidence which always rejoiced the profoundly Eucharistic soul of our beloved Sister. Let us remark that on this same feast she received her passport for Heaven, through the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
Nevertheless, instead of expanding, the white flower soon bowed its corolla; the child’s wavering health caused continual anxiety to her good Mother, who for 16 months saw her hovering between life and death.
A pilgrimage, made on foot by her father, to Our Lady of Séez, and a Novena to
Blessed Margaret Mary, finally obtained from Heaven the desired improvement. “If she must one day become a saint, cure her,” M and Mme. Martin had said in a transport of supernatural faith.
But the Lord, in His impenetrable designs, was again to make these two great Christians pass through the crucible of trial. As the child developed they realized with sorrow that she was less gifted than her sisters. When she was old enough to begin her studies, she appeared very playful, drawing no profit from the lessons which were given her, thinking rather of amusing herself and of teasing her little companions. With sincere humility, she admitted later that she was a very bad pupil, for example, understanding nothing of arithmetic, above all of division, she contented herself with making rows of numbers at random, one under the other, thus causing much grief to her Mistress.
The pious Madame Martin continually recommended her third daughter, who caused her so much anxiety, to her sister, a religious at the Visitation of le Mans. After Léonie had spent some time at the Boarding School of the Monastery, the dear Aunt thus expressed her appreciation of her little niece, then 9 years old:
Léonie, for the short time that I have had her, has given me good hope for the future. She is a difficult child to raise, whose childhood will give no comfort, but I believe that later she will be worth as much as her sisters. She has a heart of gold, her understanding is not developed and remains below her age; nevertheless, she is not wanting in powers and I find in her good judgment, together with admirable strength of character. When this little one has the use of reason and sees her duty nothing will stop her; difficulties, however great they may be, will be nothing for her; she will overcome all obstacles, which will not be wanting in her path, for she is built for that. Finally, she has a strong and generous nature, entirely to my liking, but if the grace of God was not there, what would she be?…
May 28, 1875, feast of the Holy Trinity, she made her First Holy Communion in the Church of Our Lady of Alençon, a souvenir which was so deeply imprinted in the memory of her Saintly little sister that she would relate it later in her admirable autobiography: The Story of a Soul.
M. and Mme. Martin again tried to make Léonie benefit by the good education which Marie and Pauline received at the Visitation of le Mans, where their aunt Sister Marie Dosithée Guérin, surrounded them with the most maternal solicitude. But our little girl, too undisciplined to bend to the Rule of the Boarding School, returned to Alençon, and there received private lessons. Realizing her inferiority, she suffered from it silently; later she told us: “For a long time I believed I had been changed by my nurse, until the day when my Mother assured me that she had never placed me out to nurse; this was a true relief for me!”
Her affectionate soul dilated in the warm family atmosphere, where she happily lavished her tenderness upon each of her dear ones, especially the two dear benjamins, who fully returned it.
My dear little Léonie,” Saint Thérèse would say, “held a very large place in my heart; she loved me much; in the evening when returning from her lessons, she wished to take care of me, while the family went for a walk, I still seem to hear the pretty songs she would sing, in her sweet voice, to put me to sleep.
About the year 1876, Mme. Martin had her last visit with her beloved Visitandine sister, who was rapidly consummating her sanctification in the cloister. She begged her, to let them feel her credit with the good God, after her death, by taking pity on her poor child.
While the family was speaking sadly of the approaching death of the venerated aunt, Léonie said to Marie: “I wish to write to her before she dies and give her my commissions for Heaven; I wish her to ask the good God for a religious vocation for me.” The dear elder Sister, at the time, paid no serious attention to this desire which she believed without foundation, but our determined little one composed her letter all alone, in these terms:
My dear Aunt,
I keep as a relic, the picture you gave me, and look at it every day, as you told me, in order to become obedient. Marie framed it for me. Dear Aunt, when you go to Heaven, ask the good God, if you please, to grant me the grace to be converted, and also to give me a vocation to become a true religious, for I think of it every day. I beg you not to forget my little commission, for I am sure that the good God will hear you.
Good-bye, dear and beloved Aunt, I embrace you with all my heart.”
Your very affectionate niece,
On reading these lines, Madame Martin, greatly surprised by this spontaneous declaration, communicated it to her sister-in-law of Lisieux, Mme. Guérin, adding: “But where did she get those ideas? I surely did not put them into her head. I am even persuaded that without a miracle, my Léonie will never enter a Community. I admit to you that this little letter awakens my courage and I
have hopes that perhaps God has some merciful designs upon this child. If the sacrifice of my life were necessary for her to become a saint, I would make it with a good heart.”
Relating the story of the letter to her daughter Pauline, then a boarder at the Visitation, the dear Mama states precisely:
I said that evening to Marie: ‘There is one thing that astonishes me, that she wrote: “a true religious.” Marie, also much surprised, answered me: ‘I wished that she erase “true”; I told her that that signified nothing, but she held firm, saying: “I beg you, let me leave it, I wish it to be that way.
Marie asked her the next day: “What does that mean: a true religious?” Léonie answered her: “That means that I wish to be an entirely good religious and finally to be a saint.”
A few weeks later, February 24, 1877, the venerated Sister Marie Dosithée rendered her beautiful soul to God, leaving her religious family embalmed with the perfume of her eminent virtues. It was then that a notable change was manifested in our Léonie; they were not slow in recognizing in her rare qualities of judgment and of heart which always supplied for her rather mediocre instruction; the intervention of Heaven was manifest.
The following June, Madame Martin, attacked with an incurable malady, made a pilgrimage to Lourdes to solicit her cure, accompanied by her three daughters, Marie, Pauline and Léonie. In her profound faith, she hoped also to attract upon her third child, the powerful assistance of her divine Mother. She wrote to her sister-in-law: “I am going to take Léonie, and will bathe her forehead in the miraculous water that the Blessed Virgin might enlighten her understanding.” This confidence could not be deceived.
Shortly after, August 28, 1877, this true and admirable Christian, Mme. Martin, exhausted by suffering and feeling death near, placed her young and numerous family in the hands of the good God, with the most perfect abandonment. She left them plunged in deep sorrow but wholly impregnated with the example of her noble life which made them justly compare her to the “strong woman” praised in Holy Scripture.
From the abode of the blessed, this worthy Mother finished what the Visitandine Aunt had begun, so that Léonie from that time became a subject of consolation for her good Father and her sisters.
Monsieur Martin, anxious about the happiness and the future of his daughters wished to procure for them the tender and vigilant direction of their Aunt Mme. Guérin, and therefore came to settle at Lisieux, where Léonie could finish her education at the Boarding School of the Benedictine Ladies.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus describes for us with exquisite charm the intimacy of one of those evenings when the little family were gathered together under the soft lamp light, the venerated father, like a true patriarch, holding on his knees his “little Queen,” watching over the duties of his “good Léonie,” as he was pleased to call her. The incident of her offering to her little sisters her doll, basket, and trousseau, related in The Story of a Soul, admiring any object belonging to her without spontaneously offering it to them.
In 1883, she shared the deep affliction of her family when “little Thérèse” was attacked by the mysterious illness. With her older sisters she passed painful hours at the bedside of the sweet Sick One, striving to distract and recreate her. The day when they realized that the child no longer recognized Marie, full of distress, she carried her to the window from which the little girl could see her older sister holding out her arms to her. A vain attempt, after which the three desolate young girls, fell on their knees praying and supplicating the assistance of the Queen of Heaven with indescribable fervor. She then had the joy of contemplating in the features of the cured child, the heavenly radiance of the Immaculate Virgin’s ineffable smile to her “Little Flower.”
The following year the privileged child of Mary had the inexpressible happiness of uniting herself to Jesus for the first time and of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. “It was my dear little Léonie who was my godmother on that day, she wrote later. She was so moved that she could not keep back her tears during the whole ceremony.”
Formerly, Léonie had accompanied Mme. Martin to the meetings of the tertiaries of St. Francis of Assisi, and secretly cherished the desire of consecrating herself to God in the seraphic Order. October 7, 1886, she obtained permission to make a trial of the religious life in the Monastery of the Reverend Mothers of St. Clare of Alençon. Alas! The austerity of the Rule was too much for her delicate health, and on the following 1st of December, she had to leave this fervent Monastery.
Urged nevertheless by the intimate desire “to dwell in the house of the Lord,” and not being able to think of joining her elder sisters, Marie and Pauline, at Carmel, Mlle. Léonie turned towards our Monastery of the Visitation, where she sought entrance on July 16, 1887. A few months’ sojourn showed that the hour of God had not yet sounded, her health not being sufficiently restored. She then returned to les Buissonnets, where her beloved family welcomed her with compassion and tenderness.
During her absence, Monsieur Martin with his two last daughters, Céline and Thérèse, had made the pilgrimage to Rome; thus what interesting and pious souvenirs were related to the dear older sister, who, little by little, dilated in this sweet intimacy.
Another very great void was about to be made in this privileged family. The “little Queen,” so tenderly loved, was preparing to take her flight to the blessed mountain which she was to embalm with the “unique” charm of her holiness. The eve of her departure, while they scarcely dared speak of it through fear of betraying too much emotion, Léonie, pressing her tenderly to her heart, gave her some affectionate advice to put her on her guard against a possible deception, like to that which she had just experienced. But Divine Wisdom had upon these two souls very different designs, it was a final farewell that “little Thérèse” said to her dear ones the next day when crossing the threshold of Carmel.
After this supreme sacrifice, M. Martin, who, in his generous faith, esteemed himself honored in seeing all his children marked with the divine choice, offered himself to the Lord, consecrating his last years to His glory alone. With admirable resignation, he accepted the trial of the painful sickness which was to bring him to the end of his exile. Léonie and Céline surrounded their good father with the most delicate attentions, endeavoring by their filial piety to supply for the absence of those affectionate hearts, which, from the depth of their cloister, invisibly enveloped him with tenderness and prayers. They often went to the grilles of Carmel to seek the counsels and comfort of which they had great need.
In 1890, the two sisters had the consolation of making a pilgrimage to Parayle-Monial, and there, our dear Léonie, who did not lose sight of her ardent desire for the religious life, begged Blessed Margaret Mary to obtain for her the grace of finally belonging wholly to God.
By constituting herself the Guardian Angel of their dear father, Mlle. Céline permitted her sister again to enter our Monastery, June 24, 1893. After a generous postulantship, her reception of the holy habit satisfied her ardent desires. She received the name of Sister Thérèse- Dosithée, her Visitandine Aunt. Her happiness was so much the greater as her beloved Céline could assist at the ceremony, while at Carmel all hearts beat in unison with hers.
Happy to see her bear her name, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote to her, in a holy emulation:
Which Thérèse will be most fervent? The one who will be most humble, most united to Jesus, most faithful to do all her actions through love. Let us allow no sacrifice to pass by, all is so great in the religious life.
Nevertheless, in spite of her good will, the dear novice could not long sustain the effort she had displayed until then. At this time our former Mothers, demanded of the young sisters, the integral accomplishment of the Rule, and they permitted no mitigations, now recognized as indispensable in the formation of subjects. Thus several of them, of delicate health, had to admit themselves incapable of persevering, and our poor child was of the number.
When she returned to Lisieux, her venerated father had exchanged earth for heaven. The Lord had recalled His faithful servant to Himself, July 29, 1894, to reward him with the crown of glory and immortal felicity so nobly merited. Two months later Mlle. Céline, having finished her task of filial devotedness, in her turn embraced the life of Carmel.
Mlle. Léonie, then, was affectionately welcomed by her Aunt and Uncle, M. and Mme. Guérin, and with them found relief in her pain. She felt at home there, for both had always surrounded their nieces with the same solicitude as their own children.
Their elder daughter had married Dr. La Néele, and the last, Marie, was soon to leave them to be a Carmelite. Thus Léonie was tenderly cared for by her good relatives, as a beloved daughter, and at the same time she was a sweet consolation to them.
But at Carmel, sisterly hearts followed with compassion the successive disappointments of the poor exile and joined their prayers to hers. On the day of her profession, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, ardently desiring to see her sister share the happiness she herself enjoyed, made this prayer:
O Jesus! May it be Thy will that Léonie be a Visitandine and if she has not a vocation, I beg You to give it to her. You cannot refuse me that.
This daring request of the “little Queen” touched the heart of the Divine King.
After her death, the difficulties, which had until then kept our dove out of the Ark, were soothed away and she could repeat with the Psalmist: “Lord, You have broken my bonds; I will offer You a host of praise.”
A change had taken place in our religious family; repeated losses had obliged us to have recourse to our Monastery of Boulogne-sur-Mer, which charitably responded to our appeal by sending us two Very Honored Sisters destined alternately to govern our Community. They brought from their dear cradle of profession different views concerning the progressive adaptation of the young sisters to our Holy Rule. Thus several former postulants again solicited their admission. Encouraged by this example, Mlle. Léonie, entered definitively among us January 28, 1899.
Her departure caused a great void in her adopted family. M. Guérin, who had prudently prolonged his nieces sojourn in the world for some months, brought her to the cloister himself, in spite of the pain that he felt at this last separation. The next day, in an affectionate letter, Mme. Guérin thus expressed her sentiments:
My dear little Léonie, I saw that you suffered much in the world and I suffered at your pain. Now at last you have arrived at the end of your desires, may the good God continue to guide your little bark until it arrives safely at port. Your year of trial is ended, now a new life is beginning for you, a life which you partly know already. Advance courageously; count much on the good God, confide all to Him as you do, moreover expect all from Him. We will help you. Oh! yes I assure you, the Lord will often hear your name in our poor prayers.
After only four months of postulantship, Mlle. Léonie received the holy habit with the name of Sister Françoise-Thérèse, in memory of her beloved little sister.
The Novitiate was then confided to the vigilant care of our Very Honored Sister Louise Henriette Vaugeois, professed of our Monastery of Boulogne. The wise Mistress knew how to understand her new Novice whom she judged very upright, simple and humble. Never appearing surprised at the observations made to her, our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse humbled herself frankly, deeply convinced of her defects. Neither was she troubled at the difficulties encountered in the employments and laughed first at her mistakes. Very affectionate towards all her companions, she sometimes testified it to them by a little carress saying: “How I love that little sister.”
Strongly attached to her worthy Mistress, her heart was broken when she was recalled to her Monastery of Profession and had to leave her little sheepfold in the hands of our very honored Sister Marie Aimée de Songnis.
Very different in character, the new Directress, who possessed remarkable ability for the formation of the Novices, urged them along with vigor in the conquest of the strong virtues. The transition was painful to our dear sister and she shed torrents of tears; we sometimes saw her present herself to her Mistress armed with two handkerchiefs to dry them!
Finding her sufficiently strengthened in her way, the wise Directress, while supporting her with goodness, considered the time had come to labor at freeing her from the bonds which still held her captive to herself.
A certain slowness in adapting herself to the practical details of the religious life, joined to an exaggerated and fastidious care of all that was for her use, furnished ample material for frequent reprehensions. Nevertheless, in spite of repeated humiliations, received “with peace and sweetness,” our fervent novice lost none of her cheerfulness, her joyous spirit animated the recreations, provoking and taking in good part the amiable jokes of her sisters. Charity governed her on all occasions as the following trait testifies. One Feast of the Epiphany our beloved sister had drawn the bean. The customary recreation day was given and that evening she found her bed provided with six hot water bottles, a little joke of her companions who knew her to be chilly; not at all disconcerted, she kept one for herself and then hid the others in the beds of those sisters who suffered most from the cold.
The year of the Novitiate ended, our beloved Sister Françoise-Thérèse full of happiness finally saw the dawn of the beautiful day of her profession. Her little bark touched the port, as her good Uncle, M. Guérin wrote to her on learning of her reception to our holy vows. He added:
Many contrary winds have hindered your journey, because God wished to ripen you and to render you worthy of the great happiness which you solicited. Without doubt you owe this result to the graces with which God has filled you to recompense you for your perseverance. I share in your joy, my dear, because I feel that part of the honor which is done you reflects upon us. Have you not been our daughter for many years? We have done our best towards your perfection. Today our mission is ended. Help us, dear child, to thank the good God, and be assured that your Aunt and I greatly miss your sweet presence.
From the Carmel of Lisieux came the most affectionate wishes from the four hearts which vibrated in sisterly union with hers. Those of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart—her dear elder sister—were expressed thus:
How can I tell you what passes in my heart on the eve of your great day? What an alliance! What an honor for her who is the object of such a privilege! Tomorrow at nine o’clock, we will surround you with our love and our prayers. Do not think that we will be far from you, Oh! no, for the soul there are no distances. And then, by your side will also be our dear father and mother, our Aunt of le Mans, who smiles with happiness in seeing her little Visitandine realize her dearest wishes, our Thérèse, surrounded by the four little angels who have already been in heaven so long… Yes, tomorrow all Heaven will be celebrating. I placed your crown at the feet of the Blessed Virgin (the one from home, you know, who smiled at Thérèse). I even hung it from her neck and we all kissed it… what a happiness for us to offer you to her!…
Her little cousin, Sister Marie of the Eucharist also declared the part she took in her joy:
Let us praise the Lord, who makes His mercy shine upon your family. A sixth lily is going to be consecrated to Him and it is not the least brilliant, having purchased the treasure of vocation by dint of trials. Oh! how I am united with you in heart and soul and how festive all Heaven must be; may the saints accompany you on this beautiful day; your attendants are all heavenly; there is nothing of earth.
July 2, 1900, on our patronal feast of the Visitation, our happy Sister Françoise-Thérèse consecrated herself forever to the Lord. Radiant under her crown of roses, she appeared transfigured; was she not the spouse of Jesus, King of Heaven and Earth? With her holy little Sister, she could sing in the ardor of her gratitude:
Thy lyre, O Jesus, doth vibrate,
The lyre strings of my poor heart;
Thy mercies I will sing forever,
Their strength, their sweetness will impart.
In our Community life, the newly professed was called to devote herself successively as aid in all the offices. Her sense of order, carried even to the extreme, was manifested first of all in the refectory, where with delicate attention; she watched carefully that none of her sisters should want for anything.
But her heart rejoiced when obedience called her to the sacristy, so great was her spirit of faith and so ardent her love for the Holy Eucharist. Until the age of 73 and over, she claimed the favor of marking the altar linen, her piety making her find a very pure joy in working with the palls, corporals and purificators which come so close to the divine Host. We cannot express the happiness which she found in serving Holy Mass, and one could not give her greater pleasure than by reserving for her this privilege of responding to the priest.
Scarcely thirteen years had passed since the blessed death of the Angel of Carmel and an extraordinary glory already surrounded her name; they spoke of submitting to Holy Church the examination of her virtues. In 1910, Monsignor Lemonnier, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, having received authorization from the Sacred Congregation of Rites to open the diocesan Process, Our Very Honored Mother was informed that our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse would have to prepare her deposition. Much moved by the greatness and gravity of the act which was asked of her, and careful to omit nothing or to add nothing, she enveloped herself in prayer and recollection to draw up her declarations.
Nevertheless, fearful and distrustful of herself, our edifying Sister, who always saw God in her Superiors and testified the most filial confidence towards them, had particular recourse to their counsels on this occasion:
Our Mother shows an unequaled devotedness towards me, she wrote to her sisters at Carmel, I am touched even to tears at having so much assistance; never could I have gotten through the affair without her, I humbly admit it. But provided I have enough understanding to love the good God with all my strength, and no longer to live but of love and humility, that suffices me.
Some months later she was called to testify before the ecclesiastical Tribunal, sitting at Bayeux, and our very Honored Mother Jeanne Marguerite De Carpentry accompanied her to that city, where they received the kindest hospitality at the House of the Reverend Benedictine Mothers.
Our modest sister, far from allowing herself to be dazzled by the respectful attentions with which they surrounded her, confided intimately:
Thérèse tries my soul much at this time in regard to humility. The more I see her raised in glory, the more I feel the need of abasing myself. I thirst to disappear, to be counted as nothing, what a grace!…
September 30, 1912, the fifteenth anniversary of her entrance into Heaven, the amiable little Saint came to visit her good Léonie, who, in the evening, perceived the sweet and penetrating odor of roses. Relating this fact to her dear elder sisters, she concluded:
I was extremely consoled although it lasted only a few moments, and in my joy I found myself saying: ‘O my beloved little Sister, you are close to me, I am sure of it.’ Since I have felt more fervent: the little nothing would wish to become a saint too. Alas! Sometimes she revolts; she has difficulty in practicing littleness.
The interrogatory of the apostolic Process, in 1915, was to be continued at the Carmel of Lisieux. The ecclesiastical Superiors gave Sister Françoise-Thérèse the order to go there. Her charity undertook this second journey with the sweetness consolation. How express the Ecce quam Bonum which sprang from the hearts of the four sisters when they found themselves reunited for the glorification of their Benjamin? Until then our dear sister had followed only from afar the successive ascensions of this privileged soul towards the summit of sanctity, now she would be able to revive them in the very places which had witnessed them.
With a devotion which cannot be expressed she walked through the places sanctified by that earthly angel, taking particular sanctified by that earthly angel, taking particular pleasure in prolonging her prayer in the austere cell of the little Saint. Then what heavenly conversations she had with her sisters! This unexpected reunion made them taste the sweet intimacy of former days, super naturalized by their virginal consecration. “Oh! I am too happy,” our Léonie often exclaimed, joining her hands and gazing towards Heaven.
The happiness of these chosen souls upon whom the blessing of the Lord visibly rested, was affectionately shared by all the religious of the fervent Carmel. Our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse was delicately surrounded and entertained, they sang gracious couplets exalting the virtues of the future and great Saint, whose glorious triumph reflected upon her blessed family.
But all is ephemeral here below; the time of this visit was darkened by the thought of the definitive separation. In a last refrain they planned a rendezvous in the eternal Country.
“Dear Sister, weep not if the coming hour, Must bring with it a sad farewell;
Our exile of a day fades as a flower, soon we will forever in Heaven dwell.”
Returning to the Visitation, our happy Sister Françoise-Thérèse took up again her humble and hidden life. If until then the excessive fear of failing had still hindered her a little, henceforth she would walk in the path of her dear Saint, dilated and searching ever deeper into the secrets of the little way of spiritual childhood, so well suited to the daughters of Saint Francis de Sales. She preserved in the depth of her heart, with a certain melancholy, the thought of the charming hours passed at Lisieux. With what pleasure she read these lines written by her beloved sister Marie of the Sacred Heart:
And what do you think of the memories that you left us, little Sister, memories which make me dream of Heaven, where the meeting will be eternal?… Like you, I feel the weight of exile more, since your departure, for something will be wanting to our happiness as long as we are not reunited. For a moment we relished all together family joys, we lived a bit of our life of former days; it seemed to me that we had never been separated these 17 years had fled and we were all absorbed in our present happiness.
Thus Above, when we will cast a look on our earthly life, it will appear to us a dream, as our Mother St. Thérèse says: “A night passed in a poor inn.”
Yes truly our life here below is only that, and like you I feel full of courage to climb the mountain of perfection, for I know well that Jesus will carry me in His arms, if I place all my confidence in Him.
For some years the always precarious health of our dear Sister had been considerably weakening and was to occasion her a very sensible sacrifice. Until then she had been able to give her sweet and harmonious voice generously to the chant of the Holy Office, praising the Lord with her whole soul. In the beginning of her religious life, she had even been favored during this exercise by a very touching manifestation of her sainted little Sister, which she relates in a letter to Carmel. During Matins she suddenly saw a luminous hand place itself on her book; this vision was swift as lightning, but immediately our beloved Sister had a very clear sentiment of a sisterly visit and said to herself: “It is my little Thérèse, my second Guardian Angel, who wishes to excite me to fervor.” She preserved a very vivid and sweet impression of it. And we can add faith to her testimony, for she was not led to desire extraordinary graces.
With age, no longer being able to bear the fatigue of the psalmody, she had to renounce it and pass to the rank of Associated Sisters. Pouring out her pain into the doubly maternal heart of her dear “Pauline,” Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus, she received this answer:
Oh, do not allow yourself to be saddened, my little Léonie. Provided that your soul continually sings the praises of the good God, all is well. And then, remember the luminous hand of our Thérèse. This time she has come invisibly to close your book, but to open wider your heart.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse cherished one intimate and very ardent desire: that of possessing a signal relic of “her little Thérèse.” Heaven was pleased to answer her wish in a manner as touching as it was unexpected. Not being able to dispose of the blessed Remains, the Reverend Carmelite Mothers, her sisters, asked themselves how they could procure her this legitimate consolation, when at the second exhumation, one of them, while wrapping in silk the precious Relic of the Head of the Saint, saw one of the molars completely detach itself. “That will be for Léonie,” she thought immediately. Shortly afterwards we received this inestimable present with immense gratitude.
The worldwide renown of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus attracted to our grilles many visitors greatly desirous of knowing the sister of the “Lisieux Little Flower.” In order to respect the exigencies of our enclosure, we very often had to refuse this satisfaction. Sister Françoise-Thérèse, as aid to the sister Portress, sometimes had the occasion of receiving such requests herself; with finesse, she then responded in the manner which best satisfied her humility.
An ecclesiastic having presented himself, under these conditions, at the wicket of the turn, our good sister said to him: “We will go and ask our Mother, but I do not believe that it will be possible. – Oh! I would much regret it, returned the worthy priest. – Still, M. l’Abbé, I assure you that you will lose nothing; it is not worth the trouble.” Stupefied at such an answer, he withdrew without saying a word. Meeting the chaplain a few steps from the Monastery, he shared with him his “double” disappointment, but having learned the key of the mystery, he was much edified and greatly admired the lowly sentiments which the sister of the little Saint had of herself.
As much as our dear Sister esteemed herself incapable, so much did she exalt her sisters’ talents, without feeling the slightest envy. She admired without exception all that came from Carmel of Lisieux; publications, portraits, etc., where she found again, she assured us, the most authentic expression, both moral and physical, of her “little Thérèse.” Thus she suffered much at the discussions sometimes raised outside, on this subject.
She had a very particular devotion to the picture of the Holy Face, according to the Holy Winding Sheet of Turin, executed with so much exactitude and piety by her dear Céline, she confided to her:
How can I express to you my happiness in receiving your beautiful Holy Face; this true portrait of my Jesus is priceless to my heart. The other day, my evening prayer was too short, I had this treasure before my eyes. While considering its divine features, I traveled in spirit the dolorous passion, and was wholly melted in sorrow and love.
Let us return to her sentiments in regard to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. With what vibrant enthusiasm she followed the triumphant steps of her Beatification and her Canonization.
With touching delicacy, Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus kept us informed of all the events relating to it, and our very Honored Mothers on their side, tried to celebrate as worthily as possible the glory of the heavenly Thaumaturgus. Her heart filled with a supernatural joy, our beloved Sister followed with lively emotion the ceremonies which took place in our chapel and joined in the homage and chants of joy which rose from our souls to “the cherished child of the entire world.” On these occasions, our Venerated Mothers felt the need of giving her everywhere the place of honor; we were then edified at the charming simplicity with which she received our sisterly felicitations and allowed herself to be crowned with roses.
Thanks to the generosity of the Carmel of Lisieux, one of our Tourière Sisters had the signal favor of representing our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse at Rome for the feasts of the Canonization. In her veneration for the August Head of Holy Church, Sister Françoise-Thérèse charged the happy messenger, in her name, to kiss the slipper of the Holy Father. To this request, transmitted by Monsignor our Bishop, Pius XI responded, smiling: “Yes, I am willing, because it is an act of faith.”
On the following 28th of September, His Eminence Cardinal Vico, Legate of His Holiness at the feasts of Lisieux, came in the name of the Sovereign Pontiff, to visit her whom he called “Sister Léonie,” and brought her, in honor of her 25 years of religious profession, a magnificent portrait of the Holy Father, enriched with a special blessing. After a paternal visit in our Community room, where our Sister, much moved, knelt modestly at the feet of His Eminence and answered his kind questions, the Cardinal accompanied by his suite and numerous clergy, went to the garden to bless a beautiful statue of the new Saint offered by dear Carmel.
Happily taking up again her humble place in Community, our edifying Sister thought only of plunging herself more deeply into a life of intimacy with God. She wrote to her beloved Pauline—whom she called the “little mother” of her soul:
In growing old, I see always more clearly that all human honors are only vanity and affliction of spirit, thus my hidden life pleases me; it is passed almost entirely in our dear cell, mending for the linen room, while singing some lines of my Thérèse’ poems, loving and living her little way.
Her Charity habitually lived with her Sainted little Sister whom she called “her dear Directrice.” She attributed to her the grace of accepting her deficiencies more joyously, and now begged her to finish her work by freeing her from her slowness and susceptibility, in order to realize these beautiful words: “I soar above all things so that I go forth strengthened from humiliations.” “This thought pleases me extremely, she again confided to Mother Agnes after one of her solitudes, above all on those frequent occasions when I see my own nothingness. I have suffered much from my inferiority; I have keenly felt isolation of heart; now, that great grace of my retreat, its most delicious fruit, is to see that all this confusion is nothing if it makes my soul bloom. My dream is: to efface myself more and more!”
In 1930, she was attacked by grippe which was soon complicated by pulmonary congestion. Her condition became serious enough to permit her to receive the last Sacraments. Our fervent Sister had transports of joy for she had ardently wished for them. She exulted at the thought of, soon going to the true Country, and piously kissed her hands purified by the sacred unction. Her sleepless nights permitted her to formulate burning aspirations of love which moved us deeply; a telegram from His Holiness Pius XI, bringing her a last blessing, filled up her happiness. But it was not yet the hour of deliverance; there was an improvement, and little by little, to her great deception, our dear convalescent regained sufficient strength to continue her pilgrimage here below. At the time of a visit to her dear former daughter, Our Very Honored Sister Marie Aimée had cast herself at the foot of an image of “little Thérèse” whom she loved so much, saying to her: “I beg you, amiable Saint, leave us your dear “Léonie,” do not take her from us!” This touching appeal joined to our ardent prayers, was mercifully heard and answered by heaven. Her devoted Infirmarian, our unforgettable Sister Joseph Gabriel de Formigny, writing to Carmel, rendered this praiseworthy testimony of her:
What edification our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse gave during her days of great suffering! How many occasions I had of admiring her faith, her love of the good God, her profound delicacy of sentiment; she does honor to our dear little Saint Thérèse, whose virtues she reproduces; thus what a joy it is for us to keep her, all my weariness disappeared when she was out of danger.
His Eminence Cardinal Suhard, then Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, in his turn wrote to Mother Agnes of Jesus, after a visit to our virtuous Sister:
I have just returned from Caen where I went to carry my blessing to Sister Françoise-Thérèse. The dear sick one is truly in the hands of God, and after the very short conversation which I had with her, I feel much edified, it is like an echo from Paradise, it is good to live in that atmosphere.
How happy we were when our venerated Sister returned to our midst! On a thousand occasions already we had appreciated her generosity in suffering; we were again to be edified by her endurance, when with age and increasing infirmities, a continual effort was necessary in order to follow our regular exercises. Without any tenderness for herself, she joked agreeably about her slower step, her less agile movements, humming some gay refrain in this regard, enlivening our recreations.
The most salient character of her moral physiognomy was the virtue of religion: her love for Holy Church was revealed by the most profound respect towards its representatives, above all the Sovereign Pontiff, whose teachings she studied profoundly. All ecclesiastics were the object of her veneration. She prayed much for them and loved to repeat after her sainted little Sister:
I wish that the soul of the priest,
Be like to the angel of heaven,
I wish that he might be reborn
Ever he mounts the altar each morning
For such a miracle, souls
Burning with love must implore;
Immolated by day and by night,
Near the tabernacle door
She saw equally in all her Superiors the radiance of divine authority, thus she surrounded them with a thousand filial attentions; very respectful of their intentions, she was careful that her thoughts always be in perfect accord with theirs in the little details of her employments.
On the other hand, she could not understand how one could place himself in opposition to the directions of the Vicar of Jesus Christ or his delegates, thus the enemies of Holy Church were so strongly stigmatized by her, that we then compared her to the severe St. Jerome, who according to our Holy Founder, “was always angry.”
Her recollected attitude during prayer revealed her ardent piety; our little preparatory retreats for the Feast of Pentecost were particularly dear to her. In one of them our dear Sister noted:
How I savor these words: “The good God works in us, we do not need to see Him, to feel Him.” Happily, for I always feel more and more like a poor ignorant one, I ask Jesus to give me His fire and the Spirit of Love to enkindle it. In fine, their little one wishes only to love, she knows not how to say or do anything else because she is too little and this littleness forms all her happiness and all her strength.
The sacred Host was the center of her life: “I would rather drag myself there on my knees than to miss a communion,” she declared. She tasted true delights before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and humbly asked that her hours of adoration might be multiplied. Going and coming through the cloisters our pious Sister fingered her chaplet which she kept in her hands day and night: “It is my joy, – she said at the end of her life, – to sow Ave Marias.” When saying this prayer, she accentuated with compunction these words: “pray for us, poor sinners.” She loved to invoke the Blessed Virgin under her beautiful title of Immaculate: “It is Mary who will save us, she affirmed, nothing could resist her, for she is terrible as an army ranged for battle.”
A true daughter of our Holy Founders, she proclaimed their praises in the most convincing terms. “Oh, how I love our Blessed Father, he is truly an incomparable Saint.” And when she would meet one or the other of us who like herself had attempted the religious life in a more austere Order, she would say to her: “What would have become of us if our good Holy Founder had not instituted the Visitation? How much gratitude we owe him, as well as our Holy Mother who so perfectly seconded him.” Her Charity always regarded St. Margaret Mary as her heavenly Benefactress, and she seemed to have granted her, with the grace of her cure, an ardent zeal for devotion to the Sacred Heart. One of her favorite readings was the History of the Church and she willingly cited long passages for us which she commented upon with enthusiasm. The spirit of adoption, explained by Dom Marmion in his luminous doctrine so full of unction, ravished her soul. Above all she loved to follow the liturgical cycle, and we knew that at the approach of Christmas we would hear her bring to the Assembly after Vespers, the Grand Anthems which she did not fail to meditate upon. For this Feast also would come the little dialogue between the Infant Jesus and St. Jerome:
Jesus. – Jerome, what do you give me for my birthday?
Jerome. – Divine Infant, I give you my heart.
Jesus. – That is good, but give me something else.
Jerome. – I give you all the prayers and all the affections of my heart.
Jesus. – Give me something more.
Jerome. – I give you all that I have, all that I am.
Jesus. – I still desire that you give me something more.
Jerome. – Divine Infant, I have nothing more; what else do you wish that I give you?
Jesus. – Jerome, give me your sins.
Jerome. – What will you do with them?
Jesus. – Give me your sins that I may pardon them all.
Jerome. – Oh! Divine Infant you make me weep!
At these last words, her emotion, until then controlled, could no longer be restrained, and this little recital was finished in tears.
During Passion time she had adopted this short and fervent prayer: “O adorable Face of Jesus, which will fill the just with joy for all eternity, cast Thy divine glance upon us.”
The “Annals of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux,” which our dear Sister received regularly, was always eagerly awaited; she delighted in it, and hastened to make us share the consolations which she had drawn there: “See, dear Sister, such an article, and then, this other. Take your time; all can be read.” She herself made the reading for those of us whose sight was weak. When we had the happiness of sheltering several of our dear Sisters, exiled from their Monasteries, it was very touching to hear her read to two very infirm ones, the life of her sainted little Sister, setting off certain passages by stirring appreciations: “You see, it is not rose water holiness, as they sometimes say. It is true heroic virtue; do you not think so?”
The years took nothing from the vivacity of affectionate sentiments which she testified for us on a thousand occasions. Aided by a very faithful memory, our cordial Sister always had a delicate word to recall the anniversaries of our sorrows or our joys. She showed particular kindness towards the newcomers and redoubled her tenderness when she saw them in trouble. Perceiving tears in the eyes of a young postulant, she awaited her after Matins, one evening, at the door of her cell, and pressed her silently in her arms; the little Sister was so touched by it that she immediately felt all her trouble vanish.
Her Charity always approached us with an affable and smiling countenance, imprinted with respect. How many times during this last war, did she try to console one of our sisters, whose family was continually exposed: “Dear Sister, she would say to her in a convincing tone, you have nothing to fear, our little Thérèse watches over your dear ones, she is occupied with them and protects them. Do not torment yourself, I confide them to her.”
The sick were the object of the most delicate attentions on the part of our compassionate Sister. In spite of her fatigue and her own sufferings, she always offered to watch those whose condition gave serious disquietude, and this consolation was granted her until a very advanced age. Our Very Honored Mother Jeanne Marguerite de Carpentry, touched by the assiduous cares which she personally received, wrote to Mother Agnes of Jesus:
Without doubt you know, my good Mother, that Sister Françoise Thérèse surrounds my old age with many and affectionate attentions, coming to find me to take me in the wheel chair to the Choir and to the Community Assemblies with perfect exactitude. I ask Our Lord to recompense her for it, and it is with consolation that I see her courage in keeping up the practice of our holy observances, in spite of the weight of age which she is beginning to feel, and her weak health.
Our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse brought to her work, whatever it might be, a remarkable care and application, amiably placing herself at the disposition of her officers on all occasions: “Dear Sister,” she would say, “ask me what you wish, I am ready to come to your assistance.” In fact, she gave herself without counting and rendered a thousand to others, her own did not count, and her heart was satisfied.
She still fulfilled many little offices that she had taken upon herself in order to lighten the task of her Sisters. But her multiple attentions sometimes interfered with our plans; Her Charity was so vigilant in putting in its place any object which seemed to her forgotten, that we had to take great care not to lay our work down here or there, under pain of not finding it again where we had left it. Invariably, in this case we knew where to go to recover it; nevertheless, our minutiae Sister, without troubling herself, continued none the less to put the house of the Lord in order.
However, she reproached herself during her annual retreats, for straying too easily from her own charges and thus using time which did not belong to her, which in her eyes concerned Holy Poverty. Still, our Sister loved this dear vow, all that was for her use seemed too beautiful, too good, and she would accept no particularity, even during her illnesses, and wished in everything to lose herself in Community life. After her death, some personal friends having asked our very Honored Mother for a remembrance of our dear Sister, we were much embarrassed, Sister Françoise-Thérèse having kept for herself only a few deteriorated medals, a poor pen-holder, and several printed leaflets, on the back of which she had written some notes.
As long as she could our devoted Sister took her part in the common works; our Sisters of the white veil rejoiced when it was her turn to go to the wash; knowing well that then gaiety would not be wanting; they felt at ease in the company of our amiable Sister, who particularly loved them. How happy she was when occasions permitted her to participate in the most humble offices of the Monastery, for she dreamed only of effacement… “O most amiable littleness and annihilation, she exclaimed, how I am enamored of it, since it is the shortest and surest way to enter and to remain forever in the Heart of our Beloved, the King of the humble and the little.”
The sweetest comfort of Sister Françoise-Thérèse was to live in communion of thought and sentiment with her beloved Carmelite Sisters, all united in the same ideal of religious life that their Sainted little Sister Thérèse had lived. They reciprocally encouraged one another to follow it, utilizing for this end all the energy contained in the powerful and tender affection which united them so closely.
Your letter has interested me much, – beloved little Sister, – Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart one day wrote to her dear Léonie, – I like so much to know what you are doing; it is very little in appearance, as is that which I do in my Office of Provisioner, with my pears, my potatoes, carrots, beets, etc… But in the eyes of the good God there are no great things here below, there are only little nothings, even the most magnificent works are nothing before Him, only if He sees love shining in our tiny works, then they become great in His eyes.” “Thank you for your long letter which gave me so much pleasure, – she continued on another occasion, – what could be more interesting to us than the progress of our little Visitandine in the path of love and total abandonment? Yes, she runs therein, she flies swiftly and why? Because she is pleased, like our little Thérèse, “to be a little grain of dust trampled underfoot by all.” Behold the secret of her rapid step towards the summit of the mountain of Love.
Let us cite also this last letter which the regretted god-mother of Thérèse wrote to her dear Visitandine six weeks before departing for Heaven. What a supernatural and apostolic vigor in this farewell:
They tell me that you are fatigued; it is not astonishing at your age; we are going towards Heaven and the path has been so long that we feel the length of the journey. Who will enter Heaven first? Perhaps it will be myself, the more infirm. But I will ask nothing of the good God, for now, more than ever we have the occasion of saving souls that is worth the pain of remaining on earth to suffer for years yet if He wills it.
Farewell, dear little Sister, I embrace you tenderly. Have good courage. Heaven is at the end of the combat.
Your poor elder sister.
After the departure for Heaven of her dear “Marie,” January 19, 1940, our venerated Sister Françoise-Thérèse seemed to us to hasten also towards the eternal Country. Her increasing infirmities had obliged her, at the beginning of winter, to leave her dear little cell to settle in an infirmary room, a window of which opened upon our Chapel; a privilege which her pious soul greatly appreciated. As always, she found means of multiplying her delicate attentions towards her companions in suffering, forgetting herself to relieve them.
Very grateful for the least services which we were happy to render her, she thanked us with touching confusion, and in spite of her fatigue, continued to faithfully follow our Community exercises. “Yes, I suffer much,” she admitted, “but I do not wish to stop, I wish to go on until the end.”
In the month of May, she was attacked with grippe which weakened her considerably; painful rheumatism having bent her figure, her heart was compressed and made her endure painful suffocations. Seeing her rapidly declining, Our Very Honored Mother, profiting by a slight improvement in her condition, wished to give her one last joy, and took the occasion of her 78th birthday to celebrate it intimately. She was placed near Our Mother in the refectory, and at the recreation we sang some couplets to her. Two very great joys illumined this day: through the Carmel of Lisieux came the blessing of the Holy Father, which the Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus had solicited the preceding year, for the 40th year of her religious profession, and which events had delayed until now. This blessing was worded thus:
We bless with all our heart, on the occasion of her fortieth anniversary of religious profession, our dear daughter in Jesus Christ, Françoise-Thérèse, of the Visitation of Caen, and through the intercession of her blessed Sister, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, we implore for her the grace of the highest sanctification in the most fervent humility.
In all the ardor of her faith, our dear Sister respectfully kissed the autograph signature of the great Pontiff, whom she loved contemplating his portrait. A little later, with what emotion, did she sign, with a trembling hand the expression of her gratitude to His Holiness Pius XII. They were the last lines she wrote here below. And we learned that the Holy Father, himself celebrated a Mass for the repose of her soul, so profoundly Catholic, so attached to Holy Church.
Our venerated Sister Françoise-Thérèse piously kept the Profession crucifix of her Sainted little Sister, which we were to return to Carmel after her death. On this day she was told that Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus made the complete gift of this precious treasure to our Community, accompanied by a magnificent tabor, destined to expose it in a glass case where we could venerate it. Her happiness was inexpressible, for she loved her religious Family so much, and feared that after her departure, the union between the two Monasteries might be weakened. This sentiment, well known to her dear “Pauline,” brought her also this assurance, which gave her great pleasure: “Fear nothing, my little Léonie, if you fly to Heaven, I will not fail to fly often to your Visitation; besides, I myself will feel the need of it.”
On the evening of this beautiful day, we formed a little procession to reconduct our beloved our beloved Sister to her infirmary, singing:
By thy sweet way,
Guide us we pray-
Thérèse to Heaven, to Heaven, to Heaven.
On the arm of our very Honored Mother, the venerated sick one, whom we loved to call: “our living relic,” was radiant with happiness. Nothing could give her sweeter joy than the thought of the blessed eternity which she felt very near. We were saddened to see her weakening from day to day, without however suspecting that the call of the Lord was imminent. “Do not have any illusions, – she assured us, – I appear to be better but I feel a destruction of my whole being: yes, my exile is finished.”
As an agonizing oppression sometimes overwhelmed her, she quieted the maternal heart thus: “the Divine Thief is at the door, dear Mother, but do not be troubled if He takes me during the night I am ready; all is given, abandoned.” Her conversations were no longer but of Heaven, she appeared to us the living image of the wise virgin, who with her lamp full of oil awaits the coming of the Spouse. Her confidence was entire, her abandonment complete, thus she had no anxiety. Without any illusion, our edifying sick one, assured us that it was necessary to suffer much before dying and that it still remained for her to climb Calvary, so much the more as she wished to go straight to Heaven like the little children.
This desire was supported by her very weakness, as she confided to her Carmelite Sisters:
I have become so little, that I have the boldness to believe that I will not go to Purgatory. I tell my Jesus to prepare me Himself for His coming, not wishing to mingle anything of myself therein, for I would do nothing but spoil all.
A few weeks before her death, in her last letter to Carmel, she again revealed herself:
One little word of my soul, so very sinful and yet I cannot be afraid of the good God! On the contrary, it is my extreme misery which gives me this confidence, and I think with joy that on leaving the dear, maternal arms of our beloved Mother, I will fall very naturally into those of Jesus and my heavenly Mamma. What boldness!
On June 11th, eve of Corpus Christi, she was very gay at recreation; on this day which was always dear to her, she celebrated in her heart the anniversary of her baptism. At the Assembly she repeated this passage of the Act of Offering to Merciful Love: “I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire it, but Lord, are You not all powerful, remain in me as in the tabernacle, never separate from your little host.” She accentuated with emotion these last words not dreaming doubtless, of the reality they were going to take, since her morning communion was to be her Viaticum.
The next day, our courageous Sister began to rise very early, as she was accustomed to do through fear of not being ready on time to receive her God. A few minutes later, her infirmarian coming to help her to dress, found her unconscious. Our very honored Mother, immediately informed, judging her condition very grave, begged our Chaplain to give her the last sacraments before Mass. The dear sick one was not able until some hours later to try to tell us her thoughts, but she was not to recover the use of speech, a supreme sacrifice for this loving and expansive soul.
Two Tourière Sisters from the Carmel of Lisieux came in the afternoon to bring her the comfort of the sisterly tenderness of her beloved Carmelites, who at this hour were closer to her than ever. By a special privilege we were able to receive them within the enclosure and thus give our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse the consolation of recognizing them and smiling at them for a last time.
This painful state of powerlessness was to be prolonged five days. During this time we surrounded her with our prayers; each evening our Chaplain came to renew the grace of absolution, to bless her, and to preside at the recitation of the chaplet which grouped us all near the bed of our venerated sick one.
In the morning after Holy Communion, our very Honored Mother came to finish her thanksgiving near her dear daughter who was happy to unite with her. She continually fingered the chaplet of her beloved Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, which she had asked and obtained from Carmel, and held with a firm hand the crucifix of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, kissing them piously one after the other. She was touched when we sang to her softly some couplets of her dear Saint, such as these:
“To die of love, what martyrdom more sweet, I long for it, my heart’s desire! Soon is my exile o’er, oh I entreat, Ye Cherubim, tune, tune your lyre.”
They presented to her a statue of the Blessed Virgin, a facsimile of the one which had miraculously cured “little Thérèse”; looking at it with an ineffable smile, she held out her arms to it while we murmured these verses which were so familiar to her:
“Thou who didst smile on me at dawn of life, smile at me now, dear Mother, that evening is here!”
The decline of this life which was closing with so much serenity was indeed a beautiful evening. All consumed by Merciful Love, whose “little victim” she was, our humble Sister only awaited the blessed moment of abyssing herself forever in the eternal embrace.
A few hours before leaving us, in imitation of her Sainted little Sister, she scattered over her crucifix the roses which her two Sisters had had the delicacy to gather in the garden of Carmel, to send to their dear Léonie.
On the evening of June 16th, our edifying Sister was considerably weaker; with one hand she still grasped her crucifix and her chaplet; in the other they placed the blessed candle. Our very Honored Mother and those of our Sisters who watched her redoubled their prayers, particularly invoking the Blessed Virgin under the titles: “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and Our Lady of the Visitation,” Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and her venerated and holy parents, who at this supreme hour must have assisted her invisibly.
A supernatural atmosphere was felt, when suddenly, the sweet agonizing one, coming out of the torpor which had enveloped her for some hours, fixed her limpid and luminous eyes upon our very Honored Mother and the dear Tourière Sisters from Carmel, kneeling at her side. Much moved our Mother blessed her for the last time, and through her tears, embraced her for her beloved “Pauline” and “Celine “; her eyes then closed again, and without any contraction, after a few light signs, she slept peacefully in the kiss of the Lord. It was the anniversary day of the great apparition of the Sacred Heart to our Sainted Sister Margaret Mary.
The “Magnificat” was the first prayer which soon sprang from the maternal heart, so much did she feel the need of returning thanks to God for the numberless favors which he had bestowed upon this humble and faithful soul. Under her covering of white roses, our dear Sister Françoise-Thérèse seemed to reflect the peace and happiness of the beyond, a heavenly smile remained upon her lips, and which we never tired of contemplating.
Translation provided by our Monastery of Richmond, Virginia now located in Rockville, Virginia.
Sister Françoise-Thérèse “Léonie” Martin, sister of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, is now a Servant of God. Her cause was opened in Caen, France on July 2, 2016, the anniversary of her profession (1900) in the Order of the Visitation. The title, The Grace of the Last Place comes from the term used by the postulator, Father Antonio Sangalli. The term was also used by Dr. Anne-Marie Pelletier in a conference given in 1999 (in French) called: “Léonie and Her Family or the Grace of the Last Place.”