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Sr Françoise-Thérèse "Léonie" Martin
Birth: Jun. 3, 1863
Departement de l'Orne
Basse-Normandie, France
Death: Jun. 16, 1941
Departement du Calvados
Basse-Normandie, France

Sr Françoise-Thérèse Martin, VHM
(Marie-Léonie Martin)

Marie-Léonie Martin was the third-born of Louis and Zélie Martin's nine children, born on June 3, 1863, in Alençon. Unlike her older sisters, Marie and Pauline, Léonie was not a strong or healthy child. She contracted whooping cough followed by measles, which brought on convulsions, as well as intestinal problems and finally severe eczema, which was to persist throughout her life, handicapping her in innumerable ways. Proud of her two older girls, Zélie wrote to her brother: "I have two others... one beautiful" (Hélène, born 16 months after Léonie), "and one less beautiful, whom I love no less than the others, though she will not do me as much credit."

When Léonie was six and a half, Hélène died, the parents having already lost two sons in early infancy. The loss of the siblings closest to her in age severely affected the already troubled little girl, whose awkward and rebellious behaviour increasingly reflected her isolation in the middle of the family. Modern knowledge of child psychology would perhaps have made Léonie's problems gain a more sympathetic response, but instead she was treated as a source of constant exasperation.
Her parents sent her to board with Marie and Pauline at the school run by the Visitation in Le Mans, where Zélie's older sister was a nun. It was not a success. Nonetheless, the aunt left some fascinating insights into the girl's character in her letters to her sister. Originally inclined to treat her severely, Sister Marie-Dosithée realised that she would get more out of the girl by gentleness and love. A genuine bond was to develop between Léonie and her aunt, which the aunt's death sadly cut short.

The greatest tragedy of Léonie's childhood was to be revealed only a short while before Zélie's own death. Louise Marais, a local country girl that Mme Martin had taken in and who acted as maid, took it into her head to discipline the child that seemed to cause her beloved mistress so much grief. She secretly instituted a reign of terror whereby Léonie was obliged to help her with all the household tasks rather than spending time with her parents or sisters. Terrified of the retribution promised by her tormentor if she crossed her, Léonie did not dare reveal the reason for her seemingly graceless refusal to participate in normal family life, making it appear that she "preferred" to help Louise.

Then one day, having returned from school in Le Mans, Marie overheard the bullying going on in the kitchen. She challenged the servant, questioned Léonie, and all was revealed. Zélie was horrified that this could have been going on for years under her very roof, but decided that it would be too cruel to dismiss Louise, who had no other family and who had in her ignorance had done so much harm Besides which, she was now so ill herself that she was heavily dependent on the servant who knew best how to run the house.

After the newly bereaved family moved to Lisieux, Léonie was sent to the local Benedictine school. But being so behind academically increased her sense of being a misfit and left the young woman with a permanent sense that she didn't belong in the world. After Pauline had entered Carmel, and Marie was planning to follow her, the family made a visit to Zélie's grave back in Alençon. Léonie asked if she could go and visit the Poor Clares, whose parlour Zélie had taken her to many times when she attended meetings of the Franciscan Third Order, and who had prayed a great deal for Léonie's physical and spiritual health. To the astonishment of the family, when they came to pick her up to go home, the impulsive girl had decided on the spot to enter the convent as a postulant. Within a few months she had to leave, the austerities of the house being impossible for her fragile health to cope with.

Léonie did not abandon her hopes of the cloistered life. While occupying herself with the poor in Lisieux, she began to think about the Visitation, founded by St Frances de Sales and St Jeanne de Chantal, specifically for women who were not able to withstand the rigours of more ascetic religious communities. Indeed the very aunt who had so influenced her in childhood had entered the Visitation after trying her vocation with the Poor Clares and, like her niece, been unable to cope with its rigours. It would take three attempts for Léonie to be able to stay at the Visitation. In the meantime she was forced to beat two more humiliating retreats: her eczema being the principal culprit.

Throughout this turbulent period, Thérèse supported her older sister through prayer and words of encouragement. Towards the end of her life, she promised Léonie that after her death she would see to it that she should realise her dream of being a Visitandine. Just over a year later, a new prioress, with a more understanding attitude to Léonie's needs, made it possible for her to re-enter the convent, this time for good. The publication of Story of a Soul also gave Léonie an essential weapon in her spiritual arsenal: the Little Way, which the older sister embraced with miraculous results.

To this day, the Sisters of the Visitation in Caen tell a lovely anecdote about Sister Francoise-Thérèse (the name she took on her final profession), and her connection with her more stellar sister in Lisieux. When Thérèse's body was exhumed and taken back to Carmel for the process of beatification, Léonie was not able to be present. Céline - Sister Geneviève - prayed to Thérèse to send some token of her affection for her missing older sister. The authorities kept the sisters well back as the coffin was exhumed, but Sister Geneviève saw something fall out of it and roll right to her feet. She bent down and picked it up. It was a wisdom tooth.

That tooth is on display in the crypt at the Visitation where Léonie's body now lies and where thousands of letters have arrived in the years since her death on the June 16 1941, begging the intercession of the one Martin sister who never looked much like a saint. Many of these letters concern troubled adolescents and seemingly failed lives. It is the wisdom of the little ones, the wisdom Thérèse unlocked for her sister so effectively, which they seek. William Blake once said that he who persists in his folly will become wise. The folly of the gospel is particularly accessible to those who have been stripped of worldly glory. If nothing else, Léonie Martin could be the patroness of persistence against impossible odds.

[published 06/26/2009 - The Catholic Herald] 
Family links: 
  Louis Joseph-Aloys-Stanislaus Martin (1823 - 1894)
  Azélie-Marie Guérin Martin (1831 - 1877)
  Marie-Louise Martin (1860 - 1940)*
  Agnès de Jésus Martin (1861 - 1951)*
  Françoise-Thérèse Martin (1863 - 1941)
  Marie-Hélène Martin (1864 - 1870)*
  Marie-Joseph Louis Martin (1866 - 1867)*
  Marie-Joseph Jean-Baptiste Martin (1867 - 1868)*
  Céline Martin (1869 - 1959)*
  Marie-Melanie Thérèse Martin (1870 - 1870)*
   Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 - 1897)*
*Calculated relationship
Monastère de L'ordre de la Visitation de Sainte Ma
Departement du Calvados
Basse-Normandie, France
Created by: Mémoriaux Atlantique
Record added: Apr 23, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 51510565
Sr Françoise-Thérèse Léonie Martin
Added by: Mémoriaux Atlantique
Sr Françoise-Thérèse Léonie Martin
Added by: Mémoriaux Atlantique
Sr Françoise-Thérèse Léonie Martin
Added by: Mémoriaux Atlantique
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Dear Léonie, I'am thinking of you today! Rest in peace in the arm's of our God! You'll be never forgotten!
- Ingnes from Germany
 Added: Jun. 16, 2016

- Gabrielle Tuttle
 Added: Apr. 28, 2016
Dear Sr. Francoise-Thérèse, I'am thinking of you today, you will never been forgotten, wonderful sister of our beloved St. Thérèse!!! Rest in peace!!
- Ingnes from Germany
 Added: Jun. 16, 2015
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