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Witness 13 - Thérèse de Saint-Augustin, O.C.D.

 

The thirteenth witness is Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine. Julie-Marie-Elisa Leroyer was born in La Cressionnière (diocese of Bayeux) on 5th September 1856. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux on 1st May 1875, where she received the Habit under the name of Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine the following 15th October and made her Profession on 1st May 1877. She was always a humble and serene Sister and was sacristan for many years. Shortly after the Servant of God’s death she wrote a manuscript entitled “Souvenirs d'une sainte amitié” (Memories of a Holy Friendship) (cf. Her Last Conversations, 1). It was there that she noted the joy with which Thérèse welcomed her every time she visited her at the infirmary.

Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine died on 22nd July 1929. Her testimony is enriching in that it provides more detailed information about the Saint herself. The witness states “I confirm that every word I cite in my deposition as having been said to me by Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is exact” (p. 580r). The Sister testified on 14th and 15th February 1911 in sessions 55-56, pp. 577r-592r of our Public Copy.

[Session 55: - 14th February 1911, at 8:30am and at 2pm]

[577r] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[Answer to the second question]:

My name is Julie-Marie-Elisa Leroyer, in religion Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine, born in La Cressonnière (diocese of Bayeux) on 5th September 1856 of the legitimate marriage between Louis Leroyer and Elisa Valentin. I am a professed nun of the Carmelite Order, from the monastery of Lisieux, where I made my profession in 1877.

[The witness answers equably and correctly questions three to six inclusive].

[Answer to the seventh question]:

I am not motivated by human sentiments in this case; I only want to testify to the truth by [577v] sharing with the court the virtues I saw the Servant of God practice while she was among us.

[Answer to the eighth question]:

I knew the Servant of God from when she entered our monastery in 1888 until her death in 1897. During that time I always lived near her and we were quite close. In my testimony I will make little use of what I’ve heard said about the Servant of God by our Reverend Mother and other Sisters; similarly I will hardly use the “Story of a Soul” that she wrote. My whole deposition will be based upon my personal memories.

[Answer to the ninth question]:

I desire the Servant of God’s beatification very much because I believe that, when the Church officially recognizes her holiness, many souls will be drawn to imitate her virtues and follow “her little way” which, I think, easily leads to spiritual progress and perfection.  

Je désire beaucoup la béatification de la Servante de Dieu parce que je crois que, quand l'Eglise aura reconnu officiellement sa sainteté, beaucoup d'âmes seront attirées à imiter ses vertus et à suivre « sa petite voie » qui, je crois. conduit facilement au progrès spirituel et à la perfection.

[Answers to questions ten to sixteen]:

[578r] I personally know nothing about the Servant of God’s earliest years before she entered our monastery.

[Answer to the seventeenth question]:

When the Servant of God came through the door of our monastic enclosure, I was very struck by her reverence, the expression in her eyes and her grave attitude as she accomplished this act.

[Answer to the eighteenth question]:

Apart from the various duties Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus performed in the community as sacristan, launderer, and so on, she was called upon to council and direct the novices. Given that I was a professed Sister at the time, I didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of her advice. What I noticed about her life as a Carmelite nun, I will tell when I speak about her virtues.  

[Answer to the nineteenth question]:

I wasn’t aware of her writings. Only after her death did I discover the story she had written about her [578v] life. I knew, as all the Sisters did, that she wrote poems and canticles for our monastery’s feast days.

[Answer to the twentieth question]:

I believe I know the meaning of “heroic virtues.” It means: to unfailingly practice perfection. It exceeds what one normally sees, even in very fervent nuns who always have some moments of weakness. I noticed that on the contrary the Servant of God’s fervour was always steadfast, especially in her faithfulness in the smallest of things.

[Answer to the twenty-first question]:

1. ON FAITH. - Holy Communion delighted the Servant of God. What did she not endure to avoid being deprived of it? It is common knowledge among her Sisters and contemporaries that during the last year of her life, when she was already very much weakened, after sleepless nights of suffering, she would get up to go to morning mass, even in winter and the severest of cold spells. [579r] She found it difficult to go without daily Communion, which at that time was not a custom in our monastery. Speaking to one of her sisters about how difficult it was for her to be deprived in this way, she added: “It won’t always be like this; there will come a time when we might have Father Hodierne as chaplain, and he will give us Communion every day” - ?? - . It was to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart that the Servant of God made this remark, and Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, in person, told it to me before the Servant of God died. We asked Sister Thérèse “But why do you think Father Hodierne will be our chaplain? There is nothing suggesting he will.” She replied “Yes, I think he will and we shall be very happy with him” – unpaged -. When Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus said this, the health of Father Youf, our chaplain, was no cause for concern; nothing suggested he was going to die, which happened several years later. Sister Thérèse’s premonition concerning Father Hodierne came true just as she had said. Nominated chaplain on 15th October 1897, he pronounced these words in his first teaching: “Come, eat my bread” (Prov. 9:5). [579v] It was an invitation to take daily Communion, which he was happy to grant us without anyone having yet expressed the desire to do so.

Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus had a remarkable liking for Holy Scripture. The Holy Gospel especially delighted her. She carried it on her heart night and day. She also loved The Imitation of Jesus Christ and learnt it by heart before joining the monastery. She had a great respect for the word of God, and would never have allowed herself to make even the slightest criticism about a mediocre sermon. She cherished the Blessed Virgin tenderly. When the statue that had smiled at her during her illness was brought to the monastery, none of the Sisters could carry it; they all found it too heavy. “She isn’t too heavy for me”, - unpaged – said the Servant of God; and in a burst of energy that admirably conveyed her heart’s feelings, she seized the statue and easily carried it to the oratory it was meant for.

Il. – ON HOPE. – It could be said that Sister Thérèse’s conversation was in heaven; her mind was [580r] continually occupied with it, and her heart incessantly languished after possessing the sovereign treasure. How often she spoke to me about her wish to die! Her eyes beamed with happiness when we touched on the subject. She only saw joy and hope in the prospect of her death. I confirm that every word I cite in my deposition as having been said to me by Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is true. In the month of April 1895, she told me: “I will die soon. I’m not saying it will be in the next few months, but in two or three years. I feel, with everything that is happening in my soul, that my exile is coming to an end.” When Sister Thérèse said this, she was enjoying perfect health. She was soaring over earthly things; nothing seemed capable of catching the attention of her heart for even an instant; nothing troubled her. “I can’t understand” she said, “why we are so sad to see our Sisters die, since we must all go to heaven and be reunited.” What made her desire heaven was exclusively the love she could give God; her own interests were completely put aside; she was not worried [580v] about her crown; she said to me she “left it to God.”    

III. ON CHARITY. – What stood out in Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was her love of God; dying of love was her dream; but “in order to die of love” she said “you must live on love.” She also tried every day to develop this love of which she wanted the highest degree. To love God as would a seraphim, to be consumed in the devouring flames of pure love without feeling them, so that her self-sacrifice would be more complete; this was her ambition. She also admitted simply that not a second went by without her thinking of God. This customary thinking of God was reflected in her features. One of our Sisters was so struck by this that she made this observation to me during recreation: “Look at Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, wouldn’t you say she comes from heaven? She looks like an angel.” Speaking about Our Lord made her happy. What joy she felt when she met a soul that echoed her own!  

What care she took to avoid even the slightest of imperfections, and anything that could have seemed like half-heartedness or indolence in the service of God! On the contrary, how eager she was to [581r] seek anything that could please Our Lord! She avidly seized every opportunity to make little sacrifices. During her illness, I would tell her that she was suffering very much, but that God would greatly reward her: “Not merits!” she replied, “To please God”. – DE I, p. 778 -

Her trust in Providence knew no decline. We talked about the religious persecution, and the consequences it could have for our community, about possible exile. “What do you think about it?” I asked her. “To continue my religious life” she answered, “I will go to the ends of the earth; but I’m a baby, I surrender myself, I will go where God wants me to go” – DE I, p.788. - . She said to me during her illness: “How sad I’d be if I hadn’t surrendered myself to God’s will! Today, the doctor says I’m lost; tomorrow, that I’m better. How tiring these changes would we, but all that doesn’t touch the surface of my soul and doesn’t trouble the peace: I abandon myself” DE I-23.6, p.444.

When I expressed my fears that she was suffering a great deal: “Oh, don’t worry about that” she said, “God [581v] won’t give me any more than I can bear” – DE I, p.788 - .  

Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus had an ardent zeal for saving souls. She said “my great devotion is praying for sinners and pure souls.” The aim of her zeal was above all the sanctification of priests and missionaries. Her desire for martyrdom was extreme. I noticed it on every occasion. During her illness, she let slip this complaint which expressed so well her disappointment at not having been able to harvest the prize she desired so much: “You are more fortunate than I: I am going to heaven, but you will perhaps have the grace of martyrdom.”

[582r] [Continuation of the answer to the twenty-first question]:

The charity of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was extended to all her Sisters; there was no bias in the way she acted. She was affectionate and devoted to everyone, doing everything in her power to help every Sister with perfect self-denial. She was always amiable, even towards those who showed a lack of consideration for her. She greeted them with the same smile, seeking to please them, avoiding that which could cause them pain or difficulty. Seeing as she entered the Carmelite convent at fifteen, one might have thought she would seek the joys and consolation of the family from her blood sisters she found herself with; she did nothing of the sort; she wanted her sacrifice to be complete in every way. Also, never did she show any preference for her biological sisters over those to whom she was linked with through religious life. On one of the occasions when speaking is permitted, I made this remark: “I won’t ask you to spend any time with us; with your sisters, you must have very little spare [582v] time.” She answered “Oh, don’t think that, I don’t give more time to them than I do to the others; you are all my sisters.” Great was her zeal in giving relief to souls in purgatory: “When I am dead” she said to me “if you want to please me, offer many Ways of the Cross for me. If I don’t need your prayers, I will have the joy of offering them to souls in purgatory.”

IV. - ON PRUDENCE. – Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus showed rare prudence in the direction of the novices; she knew how to wait until souls were ready, and push them towards virtue without hurrying them along faster than they could manage. She firmly pointed out their faults, without being put off by the difficulties that some of their characters presented. Her accurate judgment meant she discerned remarkably quickly what was best and most perfect.

V. - ON JUSTICE. – Everything relating to the cult of God delighted her. How carefully she decorated with flowers the statue of the Child Jesus that was entrusted to her! Preparing the nativity crib for Christmas filled her with [583r] joy. As a postulant she would carry quite heavy stones a long way and for a long time to the scene; she was tireless when it came to proving her love to Our Lord. How many rose petals did she not strew over the Calvary in our inner courtyard and at the foot of her crucifix when her illness held her nailed to her bed of suffering! She wanted to give this testimony of love to Our Lord to the point of exhaustion. She had a great devotion for Saint Joseph and Saint John of the Cross. She wanted us to honour especially the patron saints of baptism and religious life, as well as the protectors for the year and every month; she said that since their duty was to watch over us, they deserved our gratitude. When it came to honouring the saints who had shed their blood for Our Lord, she did so with extraordinary ardour. On 17th July 1894, for the one hundredth anniversary of the Blessed Carmelites of Compiègne, the convent of Compiègne wanted a feast day in their honour, and asked the Carmel of Lisieux to contribute. The two of us were responsible for making banners to decorate their chapel. I witnessed the zeal, the devotion that she [583v] demonstrated on this occasion. She couldn’t contain herself for joy, and said “How happy we would be if we could have the same fate! What a grace that would be!”

VI. – ON STRENGTH. –

Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus accepted with patience, gentleness and humility all the humiliation and reprimands to which our Mother Prioress unsparingly subjected her. Even when they were directed too severely, she never apologized. One day, she had quite a violent coughing fit during the meal. The Mother Prioress, tired of hearing her, said rather sharply: “Would you just leave, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus!” I was struck by the calm manner with which she accepted this unpleasant remark. When her father was ill, it was most edifying to see her heroic courage. She shared something with me that struck me as strange: “If only you knew the darkness into which I am plunged. I don’t believe in eternal life. It seems to me that after this mortal life, there’s nothing more. Everything has disappeared for me, and only love remains to me.” DE I, p.788, note - '. She spoke of this frame [584r] of mind as if it was a temptation. However, her soul usually appeared calm and serene; she practiced virtue so easily that you would have thought she was flooded with consolations. Having heard one of our Sisters make this observation: “There’s no merit in Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus practicing virtue, she’s never had any battles”, I wanted to hear from the lips of the person being judged whether such an assumption was true. Our closeness allowed me to ask her whether she had had any struggles during her life in the convent: “Oh! yes, I have had some!” she replied. “I’ve had a difficult nature that wasn’t easy-going; this wasn’t apparent exteriorly, but I know it well, and I can assure you I wasn’t a day without suffering, not a single day.” – DE I, p.788 - . It was above all during her illness that her strength in suffering could be admired. Fearing that more acute pain was awaiting her, I told her I would say prayers asking the Lord to alleviate it: “No, no” she said sharply, “we must leave it to him” – DE I, p.788 - .    

VII. - ON TEMPERANCE. – Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus practiced self-denial [584v] very carefully. When her sisters went to the visiting room, if she was not present with them, she didn’t inquire into the subject of their conversations, even though it would have been of great interest to her. When her sister was Prioress, never during the time of great silence did she go and speak to her. She had a very religious posture, walking slowly, and very reverently.

VIII. - ON OBEDIENCE. – A simple piece of advice was, for the Servant of God, an order that she would always carry out; it was pointless repeating it to her. Her obedience was heroic, by that I mean utterly faultless. She was once given a piece of advice that was aimed at helping her. The opposite happened; but she prevented herself from talking about it and did exactly what she was told, even though it renewed her suffering every time. She even obeyed Sisters who had no right to give her orders.

IX. – ON POVERTY. – During her postulancy and part of her religious life, she had a [585r] Sister sitting next to her in the refectory who took just about all the food for herself, without worrying about her neighbour. The Servant of God never mentioned it and went without what she needed. However a long while later, she was obliged to mention it because of her duty and out of charity for the afore-mentioned Sister.

X. – ON HUMILITY. – On one of the visits I paid her during her last illness, I found her with a most radiant expression. I asked her what could have made her so happy: “I’ve just had a very blissful moment” she said, “I will share it with you. One of our Sisters visited me and said: “If only you knew how much you are unloved and unappreciated!” I had also heard, a few days earlier, one Sister say to another: ‘I don’t know why people talk about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus so much, she has done nothing remarkable; you never see her practice virtue; you couldn’t even say she was a good nun!’ (I know the Sister said this in a fit of bad temper). “Oh!” the Servant of God added, “To hear on my deathbed that I’m not a good nun, what joy! Nothing could please me more!” [585v] I mentioned the glory she would have in heaven, and she said: “No, it’s not what you think; God has always fulfilled my desires, and I asked to be a little nothing. When a gardener makes a bouquet, he always finds little gaps between the splendid flowers; to fill out these gaps and prettily round off the whole bouquet, he sticks moss in between. You see, that is what I will be in Heaven: a little sprig of moss among the glorious flowers God has there."

[Answer to the twenty-second question]:

I never heard of any extraordinary phenomena happening to the Servant of God during her lifetime.

[Answer to the twenty-third question]:

During the Servant of God’s life in the monastery, I heard a variety of remarks made about her. The nuns who knew her best, and especially the novices she directed, admired her sublime virtue. To others, she went unnoticed, due, I think, to her simplicity. Some nuns did in fact judge her rather unfavourably, accusing her [586r] of being cold and proud. In my opinion it was because she didn’t talk much and remained reverent and reserved. It may be also that the presence of four sisters in the community aroused feelings of opposition and jealousy. But I can confirm that since the Servant of God’s death, those who opposed her and are still alive, have completely changed their minds.

[What did you then think of the Servant of God’s character?]:

I have always, even during her lifetime, considered her as a charming child and an excellent nun. I therefore haven’t really needed to change my mind about her. I admit however that her great modesty and her extreme care to hide her virtues under the appearance of an ordinary and very simple life prevented me from noticing many acts of perfection that I have since discovered.  

[Answer to the twenty-fourth question]:

I was present when she died and I was very struck by one incident [586v] that seemed extraordinary to me. Once her head was reclined and we thought she was dead, she lifted her head up completely, opened her eyes and gazed upwards for a considerable amount of time and with an expression so deep that I couldn’t continue looking at her due to the great emotion I felt.

[Answer to the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth questions]

I learnt from people who visited me at the Carmelite convent that an incessant flow of the faithful came to pray at the Servant of God’s tomb. I was told in particular that missionaries came in large numbers.

[Answer to the twenty-seventh question]:

The Servant of God’s reputation for holiness is universal, and I know that it could be verified by examining the innumerable letters that come from far and wide to our Reverend Mother Prioress, but I haven’t studied the correspondence in detail. Furthermore, I don’t receive many visitors in the convent. [587r] Those who come to see me however tell me often enough that the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness is widespread.

[Answer to the twenty-eighth question]:

Nobody has ever expressed directly to me any opinions that were contrary to her renown for holiness; but I heard it said in the visiting room that there were some people, very few in fact, in the town of Lisieux who once accused the Carmelite convent of making too much fuss over the Servant of God and of exaggerating her qualities. These were general criticisms and didn’t include any precise allegation. Furthermore, I know from the same source that those very people have now changed their minds and do full justice to the Servant of God’s holiness.  

[Session 56: - 15th February 1911, at 8:30am]

[589r] [Answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

On the whole, I know, from what is said to me in the visiting room, that many people pray her and are confident about obtaining exceptional graces through her intercession. To be more specific, I will recount three categories of facts:

1st. The Servant of God said that as soon as she was in Heaven, she would go and visit the missions, and that she would help the missionaries win over souls. Her exile ended at the end of 1897 and here is the result of the apostolic works achieved by the missionaries of the rue du Bac for the following year. I was highly struck by this coincidence as soon as we read the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith in the refectory, and I wanted to make a note of it. Here are the extracts: “Asia. The year 1898 will be described in our Society as a year of great blessings from God. The number of adult baptisms during the course of this project rose to the almost incredible figure of 77 700. Never, in the 235 years of the Society’s existence, have we registered such a high result. The zeal and activity of the apostolic workers is not enough to explain it. We must attribute it to the Holy Spirit which breathed on some of our missions and directed pagans irresistibly towards our Holy Religion.    

(Extract of the Annals of the Propagation of [590r] the Faith, July 1899).

Another issue of the same Annals reads: “We present you with the results of last year’s work, and we thank God for having allowed us to register figures that, although still low compared with our wishes, are nevertheless encouraging, and almost double those of last year. The number of adult conversions exceeds that of all other years, and the catechumens … are so numerous that we have reason to expect a rich harvest. The Crown of Angels, who went to fill out the celestial ranks, also exceeds previous years. The number of Catholic marriages, the indispensable basis for any Christian society, is also growing and offers pagans an eloquent display of a holy union.” (Extract of the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, November 1899).

2nd. My own mother, Mrs. Leroyer, widow, told me the following story: Her devotion to Sister Thérèse prompted her to ask the Servant of God, sometime last year, to be like her guardian angel and help [590v] her in everything. Now, one day when she entered a shop for some articles, the lady who owned the shop and didn’t know anything about my mother’s special devotion, unexpectedly said: “Oh! What a delightful scent of roses you carry with you.” My mother simply stated the truth, which was that she wasn’t carrying anything on her that could give off a perfume of the sort. Another day, someone who came to visit my mother at home, expressed similar surprise over a perfume of violets that again had no natural explanation.  

[What do think about your mother’s character, whose testimony you have just reported?]:

My mother’s character is not of the type to be carried away and she is very discreet. I am sure that she didn’t tell anyone about her asking the Servant of God to help her like a guardian angel. Moreover, she is hardly inclined to admit extraordinary phenomena, and it was without according very much importance to the two facts that she recounted them to me. Mrs. Leroyer lives in Lisieux, where she is involved in charitable work and particularly Catechist [591r] Work. It is worth noting that she was unaware of any perfume on both occasions. On two occasions even I noticed a perfume of lilacs or violets in circumstances where there was no natural explanation. I was then not expecting this phenomenon to happen. Besides I do not wish for favours such as these, I would rather expect to obtain through Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus’ intercession hidden graces for the good of my soul.

3rd. It is in relation to graces of perfection that I particularly noticed the efficiency of the Servant of God’s intercession. It is indubitable that her supernatural influence is producing exceptional results in terms of spiritual progress in our monastery. If truth be told, a significant change has been brought about among us. I notice it above all: 1.) in the care taken to be faithful to even the tiniest of observances; 2.) in the most attentive practice of mutual charity; 3.) in the promptness to obey without a murmur and without hesitating, but with true joy [591v] our Reverend Mother’s every instruction.

[Answer to the thirtieth question]:

I said in answer to question 22 that I didn’t know of any extraordinary phenomenon happening during the Servant of God’s lifetime. I should have evoked her extraordinary prediction of her premature death, which she revealed to me in 1895 when enjoying good health. I related in detail what she said to me on this subject when I spoke about her hope in God (Question 21, n. 2). I have always believed that this was truly a prophecy.  

[592r] [Concerning the articles, the witness says she knows nothing more than what she has already deposed in answer to the preceding questions. – Here ends the interrogation of this witness. The Acts are read out. The witness makes no modification to them and signs as follows]:

I have testified as above according to the truth, I ratify and confirm it.

Signatum: Sister THÉRÈSE OF SAINT AUGUSTINE.