Leonie Martin is the patroness of our apostolate because she is one of us. She was, like those we serve, a woman who wanted to follow the Lord in religious life but encountered many struggles in finding her state-of-life vocation.
Leonie eventually found her permanent vocation as a religious. She has been named a Servant of God, the first step in the process of canonization (the process of being declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church). Her feast is June 16.
Here are five interesting things about our patroness.
#1 – Leonie was the third child in a family of future saints
Leonie was the third daughter born to Louis and Zelie Martin. The Martins would go on to have nine children in all—four who died in infancy or early childhood and five daughters who would all eventually enter religious life.
Leonie’s sister Therese (of Lisieux) was canonized in 1925, and her parents, Louis and Zelie, in 2015.
#2 – Leonie had a difficult childhood
From a very young age, Leonie dealt with illness and behavioral struggles. As an infant and toddler, she suffered from eczema, which covered her body, and she nearly died at 18 months due to other illnesses. She was a constant source of worry for her mother, Zelie.
She was kicked out of a convent school due to her behavior and suffered abuse from a maidservant. Leonie was perceived as less talented and less beautiful than her sisters—being sickly and mentally underdeveloped. One can imagine the suffering this would have caused in her young heart.
#3 – Leonie left religious life three times
Though she was the first of her sisters to embrace a religious vocation in her heart, her path to final vows was lengthy and painful.
At age 23, Leonie entered the convent of the Poor Clares. The austere way of life was too difficult for her, and she left after six weeks. She later joined the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen, staying only six months the first time and two years the second time.
Her third attempt to enter the Visitation Monastery (and her fourth attempt at religious life) was successful. And that probably had something to do with the encouragement and intercession of her sister. Keep reading!
# 4 – Leonie was inspired by Therese’s autobiography
Two years after Leonie left the Visitation sisters the second time, her own sister Therese died of tuberculosis. The following year, Therese’s autobiography, A Story of a Soul, was published. Reading her sister’s autobiography gave Leonie new hope, and she decided to attempt religious life once again. In 1899, she re-entered the Monastery of the Visitation, where she made vows and remained until her death in 1941. She took the religious name Françoise-Thérèse.
Fr. Antonio Sangalli, postulator of Leonie’s cause for canonization, said, “[Leonie’s] vocation is the result of her being close to her sister Therese. She helped her sister to embrace her vocation as a sister in the Order….[Leonie] took her sister’s words very seriously, especially the phrase about the little path. She put this into practice with incredible loyalty.”
#5 – Leonie lived to see Therese’s canonization
Leonie’s sister Therese of Lisieux was canonized in 1925, sixteen years before Leonie’s death. What joy it must have given Leonie to see her little sister—whose life and writings influenced her so deeply—raised to the altars and declared a saint of the Catholic Church.
Though Leonie’s path to religious life was fraught with suffering and obstacles, she found joy in her vocation at last and lived four decades in the monastery. There she found peace and joy, as evidenced by this quote:
“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.”
Servant of God Françoise-Thérèse, pray for us!