Today is the birthday of Leonie Martin, the sister of St. Therese, who was born at Alencon on June 3, 1863. Leonie was a special-needs child. When she was a child, Louise Marais, the Martins' maid at Alencon, abused her. Leonie had a hard time finding her place in the world, and entered religious life four times before she finally persevered. She was an early disciple of the "way of confidence and love" of her little sister.
In October 2008 I visited the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen and saw the door through which Leonie entered definitively on January 28, 1899, declaring "The next time I leave here, it will be in my coffin!" Sister Francoise-Therese, the present-day archivist of the community, laughingly pointed out the irony that the body of Leonie, whose religious name was also Sister Francoise-Therese, has never left the Visitation because she was buried in the crypt, where I visited her tomb.
Praying at Leonie's tomb, I received a unique grace. Unexpectedly, I remembered the times in my life that I'd been deeply hurt, and I felt Leonie, who was treated so badly and yet grew into a loving, generative person, assuring me that the wounds these experiences had left were no obstacle to sanctity. I understood why so many parents of special children commend them to her, and why so many people who struggle to find a place in life invoke her prayers.
When Therese lay dying, Leonie, then 34, had failed three attempts at religious life and was living as a laywoman with her uncle and aunt. On July 17, 1897, in her last letter to Leonie, Therese 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. You can, then, like us [like her four Carmelite sisters] occupy yourself with "the one thing necessary"; that is to say, while you give yourself up devotedly to exterior works, your purpose is simple: to please Jesus, to unite yourself more intimately with Him.
You want me to pray in heaven to the Sacred Heart for you. Be sure that I shall not forget to give Him your messages and to ask all that will be necessary for you to become a great saint.
Leonie was born in the month of the Sacred Heart and died in the same month, on June 16, 1941. In this month of the Sacred Heart, may she help us understand "the abysses of love and mercy of the Heart of Jesus."