Leonie Martin, a difficult child
When Louis and Zélie Martin are about to be canonized, the beatification process of their third girls, Leonie starts. Monseigneur Jean-Claude Boulanger, bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, agreed, on January the 24th 2015, after the request of the sisters of the Monastery of the Visitation of Caen to ask for her beatification. She is now « Servant of God ». We can only acknowledge, after the canonization of their youngest St. Therese in 1925, another fruit that Louis and Zélie created.
She was born on June 3th 1863 in Alençon. She was in the siblings between the “pairs” Marie / Pauline and the Celine / Theresa. The death at the age of 5 years his sister Helen, born a year after she had to reinforce this isolation.
There is nothing easy about this child: poor health, difficult character, permanent instability, slow intelligence … Celia, his mother wrote to his brother Isidore: “I saw her between life and death for 16 months”. She is a concern for her parents and sisters, but they develop for her treasures of love, patience, prayer … She was excluded from school several times and so wasn’t educated at Le Mans Visitation like her older sisters. Her parents gave up the brilliant success that we always hope for her offspring and love her as she was, hoping they can help her in her life! But Leonie talks about his future with a constant affirmation: “I will be a nun at the Visitation with my aunt. »
Life was not easy, for her or for those around him … but as she said she will be nun at the Visitation. She became a “real” nun as she always wishes. Without going into the details of the tormented life of Leonie Martin, we can admire the trust in God that her mom always had. When can read in one of Zélie’s letter: “As for Leonie, only God can change her, and I am convinced he will.” Zélie will witness the change in Leonie behaviour towards her after she got rid of the grip of despotic and violent Louise Marais, their servant. Zélie wrote: “She loves me as much as it is possible to love and this love gradually penetrates the love of God in his heart.”
Zélie goes for an ultimate and challenging pilgrimage to Lourdes. She hopes to cure and have time to raise her daughter. “It was from the moment I saw what happened to Leonie, that I fought for life knowing how much she needs me.” She is resigned, however, and offers this pilgrimage for Leonie: “At least if the Blessed Virgin does not cure me, I beg her to heal my child, to open her mind and make her a saint.” Leonie wants to die in the place of her mother. Finally Zélie will dedicated her life to her daughter, as she said shortly before his death: “If he had to sacrifice my life for Leonie to become a saint, I would do it with a good heart.”
God heard Zélie’s prayer. After several attempts, Leonie finally entered the Monastery of the Visitation of Caen in 1899. This is where she died in the odor of sanctity June 16, 1941. For over sixty years, by her sacrifices and prayers, she managed to control his rebellious nature. Aware of her weakness, she took refuge in the abandonment in God’s Mercy. She endorsed the words of Therese: “Since I realized that I could not do anything by myself, the task doesn’t seem difficult anymore, I felt that the only thing I needed was to unite more and more to Jesus and the rest would be given to me besides.»
By discovering this love crucifying and crucified in the life of Louis and Zélie Martin, we understand why parents nowadays are asking Leonie for help with their difficult children. They ask for support to help them finding their path in a world that promotes success at all costs and at all levels. The Monastery of the Visitation of Caen sees every day these prayers. At the Sanctuary of Alençon, especially in the house where the family lived, many parents are entrusting their child. Those who suffer and provide suffering. We witness the graces obtained: a dialogue starts again, pardons are exchanged, doors open. Often, if the signs are not so clear, it is faith, courage, and the humble patience which are reinforced to accompany this different child.
Following Leonie’s steps in Alençon
- Born on June 3th 1863, rue du Pont Neuf, first house of the Martin couple above Louis’ watch and jewellery store.
- Baptism in Saint Pierre de Montsort Church on June 4th 1863, in the feast of the Blessed Sacrament by Father Lebouc. (The baptistery is preserved in this church.)
- Family home from 1871 to 1877, 50 rue Saint Blaise where Leonie lived with her family from 8 to 14 years old. (House open to visitors, birthplace of Santa Therese)
- Education in primary school run by the Institute of the Sisters of Providence, 5 rue du Pont Neuf, at the bedside of Notre Dame church. (We see the location but there is no school there.)
- First Communion on May 23th, 1875, in the Feast of the Holy Trinity at Notre Dame. (Basilica since June 6, 2009). Location of the marriage of Louis and Zélie, the Teresa of Baptism, funeral Zélie.
- Monastery of the Clarisses, rue de la demi-lune, October 7 1886, the first religious life test Leonie (experience that will last two months: frail Leonie cannot withstand the rigors of the rule.)
In Sées: Louis Martin pilgrimage on foot (42 kms round trip) to obtain the healing of Leonie in Notre-Dame de l’Immaculée-Conception Church (elevated to a minor basilica on May 1st 1902) and Zélie’s Annual pilgrimage with Leonie on December the 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception. (CF 117, June 1874)