The following excerpt is from Collected Little Flower Works by Albert H. Dolan O.Carm, published in 1944. An American Carmelite priest, Father Dolan travelled across France in the 1920s, and managed to charm, wheedle, and shamelessly beg interviews from just about everyone who had known Saint Therese while she was alive. His incredible persistence has paid off: almost a century later, we have the accounts that he wrote of his interviews with Pauline, Marie, Celine and Leonie Martin at the Carmelite and Visitation monasteries. This is his encounter with Leonie…
In a few moments an elderly Sister entered the parlor. It never occurred to me that it might be Leonie, but I inquired her name and to my great surprise, I found that it was Leonie. We are inclined to think of the Little Flower’s sisters as being of the same age as she was when she died, twenty-four, but they were all older than she and she has been dead now for twenty-nine years. Leonie is 61 years of age now. She is thin and short and dark and her face, at least when it is in repose, is not especially attractive or distinguished. In fact the personal appearance of Leonie would be disappointing were it not for three redeeming features: bright, black eyes full of kindness and amiability, a most attractive and pleasing smile, and a most courteous and charming manner. It was easy to understand why the Little Flower’s father always called Leonie “My good Leonie.” She was goodness and kindness itself, and throughout the interview there was always that willing readiness to do everything asked.
I explained my work in America and she was most interested and asked many questions about the Little Flower Society. Leonie was very pleased with the design of our reliquary which I showed her, the reliquary being in the form of a golden rose branch, each rose of which contains one of the five major relics of the Little Flower. I asked her if she would autograph the picture which had already been autographed by her three sisters. She agreed and I passed the picture to her through the bars of the grille and when she returned the picture she gave me with it a little relic of the Little Flower.
Then, knowing that she had been present in the Little Flower’s girlhood when Saint Therese was miraculously cured by the smiling statue of the Blessed Virgin, I said to her, “Sister, did you see that smiling vision of our Blessed Mother when Therese was cured?”
“No,” she answered.
“But you were in the room with her, were you not?” I questioned.
“Yes,” she replied, “but I saw nothing. Marie saw everything because she was kneeling at the head of the bed next to the Little Flower, whereas I was kneeling at the foot of the Little Flower and Therese had taken such a sudden turn for the worse that I, thinking that she was dying, buried my head in the bedclothes, weeping and praying at the same time, and so I saw nothing until we all saw a few moments later that she had been instantly cured.”
Then I said to her, “Sister, are you not lonely here sometimes in this convent so far from your other sisters?”
She answered, “No, Father, I am where God wants me to be and I wouldn’t be imitating my little sainted sister if I were to be sad in doing God’s will. Of course all who leave home are a little lonely sometimes, n’est-ce pas, Father, but it is necessary to smile, n’est-ce pas? And the Little Flower helps me to smile.”
I said, “But Sister, do you not regret sometimes that you did not enter the Carmelite Convent instead of the Visitation Convent? It seems to me that if I had a sister who had become a saint and who had made a convent famous for its sanctity and had three sisters in that convent, I would regret that in my youth I had not entered that convent. Do you not feel that way?”
“No, Father, I have no such regrets because I had no vocation to the Carmelite Convent but to the Visitation rule and instead of regrets I have nothing but gratitude to God for having given me my Visitation vocation which I love.”
I then said, “I suppose, Sister, that the Little Flower bestows many favors upon you, her sister.”
“Yes,” she answered, “many, many favors.” And then, with a twinkle in her eyes, she added by way of a “come-back” to my doubts about her happiness in the Visitation Convent, “And not least of the favors she gives me, Father, is to preserve my love for my Visitation vocation.” All this was said with the most charming gentleness and that ever-present exquisite smile which gave her some resemblance to the Little Flower in spite of her advanced age of 61.
I then asked her to write a little message, a little spiritual bouquet, in her own handwriting, as a souvenir of my interview with the sister of the Little Flower. She readily agreed and asking the loan of my fountain pen, wrote as follows, “I shall daily ask my little sainted sister, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, to bless your mission of promoting devotion to her amongst the Americans.” She signed her religious name, which is “Sister Frances Therese,” and under it, at my request, she wrote her family name, “Marie Leonie Martin.”
Then I asked her would she sent a message to the members of the Little Flower Society in America and to all lovers of the Little Flower. Unlike the other three sisters, she didn’t hesitate a moment. She must have been asked similar questions before because immediately she said, “Give them this message, Father: tell them that if we would please the Little Flower, we must be humble as she was, and we will be humble if we will repeat frequently every day the ejaculation, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.”
The Little Flower’s sister’s message to us, my dear friends, will bear many a meditation and much pondering. Let us heed that message; we may indeed be sure that we will not be proud or haughty, if we say frequently every day, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.”
Leonie had nothing more to say that is important and I left the Visitation Convent with a prayer of thanksgiving in my heart to the Little Flower for having made it possible to talk at length with all four of her sisters.