The fruit of patience is common among the saints for whom finding the right vocation in life can be delayed and difficult. While everyone is familiar with St Thérèse of Lisieux, and the story of her impatience to enter Carmel, including directly petitioning the Pope when she was only fourteen, her sister Léonie is less well known. Servant of God Léonie Martin was born on 3rd June, 1863, ten years before St Thérèse. In comparison with her sisters, who had each successively and successfully enter Carmel, Léonie led a more challenging life. She suffered illness from childhood and was somewhat isolated within her family. She’d been expelled by her school and been abused by a maidservant. Three times she tried religious life before she finally succeeded in 1899, and aged thirty-five, entered definitively the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen, taking the name “Sister Françoise-Thérèse”. She died in 1941 at the age of seventy-eight.
It cannot have been easy, at the human level, coming from a family in which her parents were saints, all her sisters were Carmelites nuns and she didn’t seem to fit in. And yet Léonie became a sister everyone remembered as happy, peaceful and kind, with no trace of the unhappy child, or troubled adolescent.
Léonie had the fruit of patience. She was patient with herself, which is hope. Each time she had a setback, she tried again, searching for the right place and time for herself, driven by that restless patience of the Spirit. The French writer, Georges Bernanos, author of The Diary of a Country Priest, wrote:
How easy it is to hate oneself! True grace is to forget. Yet if pride could die in us, the supreme grace would be to love oneself in all simplicity – as one would love any one of those who themselves have suffered and loved in Christ.
Léonie accepted that she was different from her sisters and would not be part of the community of Carmel. But she found Christ where she was, in her pain and rejectedness, and made him the centre of her being. She became the first and best follower of St Thérèse’s “little way of confidence and love.” When Léonie was accepted at the Visitation and became Sister Françoise- Thérèse, she wrote:
I am very happy – as happy as it is possible to be on this earth. When I look back on my past, as far back as my earliest childhood, and compare that time with this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the Heart of Jesus, who has enveloped me in so much love, and who has placed me in this loveliest anteroom of heaven, where I shall live and die.
Léonie’s process of beatification opened in 2015. Her body, which lay in a tomb in the crypt of the monastery of the Visitation in Caen since she died in 1941, has now been transferred to a new tomb in the chapel where she professed her vows in 1900. Many people come to pray at her tomb including parents of children with special needs and people who struggle to find their vocations. She seems to speak in a special way to the troubled and to those who struggle to find a place in the world. St Thérèse wrote her final letter to Léonie when she was living with her aunt and uncle having made her third unsuccessful attempt to enter the convent. She wrote:
The only happiness on earth is to apply oneself in always finding delightful the lot Jesus is giving us. Your lot is so beautiful, dear little sister; if you want to be a saint, this will be easy for you, since, at the bottom of your heart, the world is nothing to you.
This blog is extracted from Living Fruitfully: Patience. Drawing inspiration from the lives of holy men and women, such as St John of the Cross and St Thérèse of Lisieux, this booklet explores the forgotten virtue of patience, helping us to reclaim it and to respond with patience in any given moment.