Thanksgiving Day kicks off the holiday season for us here in America – a season full of beauty and opportunity to reflect on the marvelous blessings we have been given in unique and individual ways, but also a season which can be challenging for those of us who struggle to connect with our families. Too often the joy and blessings of the holidays are buried under hurt and loneliness resulting from family wounds.
It can be an encouragement to us that even the saints did not always have an easy time of it with their families. For example, St. Augustine struggled with both of his parents and St. Francis and St. Clare hardly impressed their fathers with their life choices! But it is important to realize in the witness of these saints’ lives that the fact there was conflict in their families did not necessarily villainize either the family or the saint. As much as it may hurt, it is a part of the human experience to not always see eye to eye with even those we love the most. So, it is a good time to pause and appreciate how human and relatable the saints really are – how much they shared in our common struggles in their lives and how much they desire to be there to support us in ours!
Perhaps one of the best examples is in the life of Leonie Martin. Born into a saintly French family, Leonie was one of St. Therese’s sisters and the daughter of St. Zelie and St. Louis Martin. All of the children who survived to adulthood entered religious life – the family boasted of four Carmelite sisters in the convent at Lisieux, and Leonie herself became a Visitandine sister at Caen.
So how could anyone coming from a family like that, whose own cause for canonization is also in process, not have a perfect childhood and perfect relationships with her family members from the day she was born to the day she died? You would think it would have all been perfect, right?
Nope – even a family as graced as the Martins did not escape the brokenness of human nature and the effects of the fall. Leonie had poor physical health from infancy and struggled with school – she was stubborn and had difficulties learning and controlling her extreme emotions. As she got older, she showed increasing signs of rebellion against her parents – behavior that seemed unexplainable, until her older sister Marie discovered that Leonie was being physically abused by the household maid. This secret being uncovered and addressed opened up the grace of Leonie and her mother reforging their relationship in a really beautiful way. This healing between mother and daughter proved essential to Leonie’s development and wholeness – even after Azelie’s untimely death, Leonie continued to grow in holiness and grace.
Leonie did not have an easy life even into adulthood – she was sent away from the convent twice because of her poor health, before eventually being accepted – but she bore the sufferings and trials God gave her with patience and humility. This long-suffering virtue is surely a fruit, at least in part, of the healing that took place between Leonie, her mother, and the rest of her family, after a tumultuous childhood and childhood trauma.
Leonie’s story isn’t an easy one, but it is an encouraging one to those of us who have had difficult childhoods or family dynamics. Let’s call on her to help us be big-hearted and brave in addressing family wounds and seeking healing. It may be the step we need to make to become great saints!