ROME -- The sister of St. Therese of Lisieux is on the road to sainthood, a reminder, according to her postulator, that holiness is a calling for all people.
Bishop Jean-Claude Boulanger of Bayeux-Lisieux in France recently announced his intention to open Leonia Martin’s cause of beatification and canonization.
Leonia was the third daughter of Blessed Louis and Zelia Martin, the married couple beatified on Oct. 19, 2008, by Pope Benedict XVI. She was also the sister of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who is a doctor of the Church and the patroness of missions.
While Leonia eventually joined the Order of the Visitation, as a girl she was fragile, insecure and introverted. She was difficult to her parents on more than one occasion and struggled to live her vocation to the religious life.
In statements to CNA, Carmelite Father Antonio Sangalli, Leonia's postulator, said that “although she was expelled three times from the convent, she achieved her goal of becoming a religious, which shows that, if we persevere, it is possible to do God's will.”
“Leonia's difficulties were primarily due to her order's strict rules, which were very difficult to follow in those times. However, this did not lead her to bury the one talent she received and that she used fruitfully to fully live out her vocation,” he said.
Leonia's cause is currently in the initial phase of gathering all the historical documents related to her life. Before it is officially opened, the bishop of Bayeus-Lisieux must receive the nihil obstat, the official approval of the Catholic Church from the moral and doctrinal point of view, granted by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
“The train has departed and is heading towards Rome,” Father Sangalli said.
He noted that Leonia is already revered for her holiness and that her crypt at the Monastery of the Visitation in Caen, France, is frequently visited by pilgrims from all over the world.
“They come to pray. They ask her for favors, and they find spiritual help in her. Their faith is strengthened by the example of this humble sister of the Visitation, and many letters testify to graces received,” the priest said.
Leonia, who took the name Sister Francisca Teresa, also suffered from physical problems as a child.
“She did not have the human qualities of her other sisters, but she knew how to abandon herself to God, who calls us all, regardless of our qualities. No one is excluded from the call to holiness,” Father Sangalli said.
She also had a close relationship with St. Therese, and the two often exchanged letters. After her saintly sister died, Leonia decided to try to enter the convent again, following the “Little Way” traced out by St. Therese, with trust and abandonment to God.
Father Sangalli said Leonia ultimately was admitted to the convent, which “shows that Therese's doctrine is not only meant for the Carmelites, but for everyone. ... With the Little Way, Leonia became a greater sister of the Visitation, always remaining in the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales and St. Frances de Chantal, the founders of the Order of the Visitation.”
Leonia died on June 17, 1941, at the age of 78 at the monastery where she lived. Her tomb has become a refuge for parents concerned about raising their children, who find in her an example and an inspiration.