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Circular of Sr Thérèse of St Augustin

 

Julia-Marie-Élisa Leroyer (1856-1929)

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Peace and very humble greetings in Our Lord who, during the octave of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, called to the joys of the Homeland, we have the sweet confidence, our dear Sister Julia, Marie, Elise, THÉRÈSE DE SAINT AUGUSTINE, professed and a counselor of our Community. She was seventy-two years, ten months and seventeen days, of which fifty-four years, three months, twenty-two days spent in religious life. 

     The entire existence, peaceful and humdrum, of our dear Sister was spent in Lisieux. She was born there September 5th, 1856 to honorable and deeply Christian parents. All their concern was to turn her heart toward God, she said. Besides, little Julia showed natural dispositions for piety. She was only several months old and already the sight alone of a crucifix made her burst into tears, without anyone being able to console her. At night a rosary with a crucifix where the good God is found (according to her childish expression) was necessary to put her to sleep, so she could kiss it at leisure during the night. The only child of an exemplary household to whom she gave joy, our dear sister was raised in a very serious manner: “My father and my mother showed me matchless kindness,” she confided in us, “however they didn’t let me get away with anything and they did their utmost to correct my flaws as soon as they noticed them. Mama, above all, kept watch carefully that I didn’t develop a taste for vanity. One day on the occasion of the distribution of awards, my little companions described to me the outfits that were being prepared for them and asked if there would be flounces on my dress. If there were, according to the fashion of the time, would they be crinkled or tuyautées. My first worry when returning home was to ask my mother. “Flounces that are tuyautées or crinkled?” she replied, displeased with my curiosity. “You will accept them as they are. Should a little girl be concerned with her clothing? Don’t ask me such questions from now on.” The lesson was a good one but the future held for our heroine an adventure even more profitable that she loved to tell like this:

     It was the day of the Assumption and I had collected the offering at the Saint Pierre Cathedral in a charming white outfit and a hat decorated with silk tulle. Back in my room and finding myself alone, a desire overtook me to see how I looked dressed like that. I approached the mirror and turned in all directions, making nice little gestures. Alas! I had not been careful with the lit candle placed right next to the mirror and all of a sudden the tulle of my hat began to burn without my noticing it! Fortunately my mother came in then. “What!” she said to me, “you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, that’s bad…” Upset, I began to stutter, “No, mama, I wasn’t looking at myself.” However, the odor of smoke drew attention to the accident. “You can’t deny it,” she replied sharply, ”your hat is on fire!...and grabbing it, she was able to put out the flame but my fault was told to papa. For my punishment, they did not replace the pieces of tulle that had burned.

Julia finished her education, my Reverend Mother, at the Benedictine Abbey that would later also receive Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. At the age of fourteen when she first felt a desire for religious life, her dream was to imitate her holy mistresses. She spoke of her inclinations to a priest who was a friend of the family and who counseled her to look into several Communities in town before making a decision and the last one he mentioned was the Carmel. “Oh! The Carmel, never!” she replied immediately. And with that very clear affirmation, she distanced herself. Two days later as she was wondering , thinking of that conversation, of what the life of a Carmelite might be, quite a program of mortified life, alone and united to God unfolded in regards to her soul. She understood immediately that this choice should be hers. From then on, her path was laid out. She would never again have a moment of hesitation. She notified her parents without delay of her pious resolution, never thinking in her innocence as she explained much later, that this could cause them sorrow. The Lord permitted it undoubtedly in order to spare her virtuous father whose earthly life was so close to ending, the merit of having gone along with, in advance, the sacrifice of his only child. To such a secret, he replied with the spirit of faith, “This vocation should be examined and if it truly comes from God, I won’t oppose it.” Two months later on May 11th, 1871, the terrible epidemic smallpox that ravaged the town, took the head of the family from his family. Five days of illness were enough to bring to an end his great suffering. The shock was so great for Madame Leroyer that she almost succumbed.

Julia then left the Abbey for good to devote herself to her mother. A life of devout closeness began for those two. Each day they went to the six o’clock Mass, then in the evening they went back to the old cathedral to make their visit to the Blessed Sacrament.

“The good God spoiled me a little,” confessed our Carmelite. “As soon as I was on my knees in front of the tabernacle, illuminated only by the sanctuary lamp, remaining motionless, my eyes fixed on the little door that spoke to my heart in such a sweet way. These words, Jesus is my life, were all my prayer; they delighted me without my being able to add a single word.

Three years went by like this; the young girl was seventeen years old and Our Lord attracted her more and more in secret. Her distaste for the world and her love of solitude grew together. Already coming to light was this desire for constant union with God which would be the dominant trait of her long existence. One discovered her, stopped in the middle of her daily activities, anxiously wondering, “how to achieve that union so much desired?” Then a thought reassured her, “I’ll learn it in Carmel! There finally I will carry out my dearest dream.”

In the opinion of her director, the hour was coming to prepare her mother for the big sacrifice. This admirable Christian had asked the Lord since the hour of her child’s birth to reserve her for him. She did not want to take back her offering even though the ordeal forever plunged her into mourning. The entrance of our dear sister was set for the May 1st of the following year. But what suffering for these two loving hearts, with the prospect of separation. One evening the anguish was so terrible that Julia, no longer knowing how to console her mother, promised to never leave her. The faith of the latter had a jolt; “No, no, it won’t be like that. You will answer the call of God,” she protested. In fact, on the morning of May 1st, 1875 our aspirant who was eighteen years old, appeared at the monastery door accompanied by her mother and her good aunt, now so aggrieved to survive her. “I did not place my confidence in the Lord in vain,” she reported with emotion. “Mama made her sacrifice courageously and everything took place with a lot of calmness.”

The young postulant was joyful. I soon found myself at ease, she liked to say. So much so that in going to the choir, without ceremony I took the arm of the Mother Prioress, repeating to her during the way, “Oh! how I’m happy, how I’m happy!” She was delighted with everything that day except her bed that seemed like a coffin, she said. For that reason she took care to turn her back to it when she entered her cell.

The postulancy went by with ease and joy. However the newcomer had trouble getting used to the coarse food of Carmel but she didn’t dare say anything for fear of being sent away. Sunday, for example, invariably consisted of a portion of cabbage that her stomach couldn’t get used to and which she soon rejected, going until evening without taking anything. On one of these famous Sundays, having encountered the infimarian who was taking an infusion of orange flower to a sick person, she started thinking how this comfort would do her a lot of good but right away she made a sacrifice of it for Jesus, considering herself happy to have a privation to offer him.

We liked to hear later our dear Sister Thérèse de Saint Augustine who became a model of religious gravity and recollection, confess that at that time period she happened to run and even jump under the cloisters! I She added, “ I hardly shone, by my modesty either at that time. In the choir I always had my eyes raised. During my retreat for the taking of the habit one of our sisters asked me maliciously how I would do at keeping my eyes lowered for three days. “I assure you,” I replied to her, “that I won’t raise them a single time anywhere.” “We’ll see,” said that sister to me, unconvinced. What was promised was carried out to the letter and so scrupulously that the night before the clothing the Mother Prioress, showing a statue to the Community destined for the director of the overly modest postulant who wasn’t raising her eyes, was obliged to say to her, “But my Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine, look.”

Dressed in the livery of Carmel, she entered more resolutely into the practice of religious virtues. Even so, her inexperience was going to run into pitfalls. “What illusions would drop away, “she confided in us these last years. “I was too attached in a human way to the Mother Prioress-the Reverend Mother Marie de Gonzague-and because of that, many trials would toss about my little boat. Giving a lot, I received very little. I sought to give pleasure and it wasn’t considered. Preferences which excited my envy were granted to others. From there, a thousand little jealousies and all this parade of weaknesses and sufferings that accompany them.”

However, this good and sincere will that sometimes lacked clear-sightedness, would never know a dip. Our dear sister aimed from this time one to “become a saint.” In this goal, she applied herself courageously to fight against her faults, among others which until the end of her life tried her virtue and consequently, let’s admit it, that of her circle. We mean to say, a certain rigidity that was a little cutting in her words and her manner of acting that would inspire in those who approached her without understanding her, a first reaction of recoiling. Already our poor dear sister despaired of it and opened up one day to a religious about the reprimands and humiliations she had attracted like this. She received this encouragement, “Don’t allow yourself to be disturbed. You don’t speak much I can see. Perhaps this is only an apparent imperfection. Nevertheless, this causes suffering around you, put all your effort into correcting yourself of this.” This she did, my Reverend Mother, we hasten to tell you with perseverance always on guard. She kept watch over herself to fulfill the rule in all its details, to keep silence, to avoid even an unnecessary glance. And about this point it is very consoling for us to acknowledge the victory was complete. Our dear sister became among us a living model and support of regularity, of silence and the most exact fidelity to all our traditions in Carmel. 

It was May 1st, 1877 that she had the grace to make her holy Vows. The date had been pushed back by the superior of the monastery, Canon Delatroëtte, unfavorable, as we would see for Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, to premature commitments. He had even wished to wait until she was the legal age but finished by giving in on the condition that her mother signed the agreement. This condition was fulfilled with even more joy as Madame Leroyer dreamed then of seeking the grace of religious life and would have undoubtedly joined her dear Julia in Carmel if official advice had not imprinted in her piety other directives. Indeed, until her death she devoted the resources of her zeal to the beautiful Work of First Communions, with free clothing for poor children that she organized in our town and supported for a long time.

On this morning of May 1st, 1877 the generous mother united herself fully with her daughter’s joy who enjoyed the cloudless peace of a complete sacrifice and could afterwards thus recount her disposition. “I felt above all earthly things. My heart freely took flight toward Jesus. That day nothing could captivate me or trouble me.”

That sweet break continued several more days but then the thousand difficulties and little temptations of daily life began again for the young professed. “I began again. Alas!” she lamented “to attach myself to creatures and to seek joy where I should have practiced renouncement and I suffered a lot from it…One must be crazy to seek happiness like that at the expense of peace,” our virtuous elder sighed later. After many alternatives, grace triumphed. One morning this prayer spontaneously escaped from her heart : “My God, make me suffer all that you want provided that I reach intimate union with you. Do not listen to my complaints, my tears but cut away all that keeps me far from you and even when I ask you to stop, do not do this; this would be my nature speaking, not my will.” And never after, despite painful sufferings, was she at variance with her heroic prayer.

Other sufferings of a spiritual nature tormented from time to time this introverted soul that had a tendency to easily accept her thoughts as realities, a tendency to also believe that extraordinary states such as consolations or trials were common in the life of a good Carmelite. So it was during one night of her profession retreat that she believed she had had an ecstasy during Matins. When overwhelmed by sleep, she had to be reminded of the usual posture by her neighbor who tugged on her scapular. As soon as she was herself, our candid sister on retreat checked carefully to see that her feet were really touching the floor! “If someone pulled on me like that,” she told herself, “it’s because I was having an ecstasy which must happen often in Carmel.” And with this story, she later brightened our recreations.

However at that time, it was less a matter of ecstasy than a terrible interior trial as thoughts of damnation haunted her day and night. The chaplain at that time, revered Father Youf, led souls with an energetic path and didn’t always excel at comforting them. You know, my Reverend Mother, his response to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus who spoke to him of her temptations against faith on her death bed: “Don’t stop at these thoughts. It’s very dangerous!” And the Saint to sigh with patience after the discussion: “See how little consoled I am?” Which did not stop the worthy priest from professing an admiration that was enthusiastic and without hesitation for his angelic penitent.

It must be admitted that Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine had not been consoled either the day when the austere confessor, not knowing her private anguish and undoubtedly wanting to fight against several possible illusions with her after the sermon of her taking the veil that he judged too full of praise, had sent her off with these words, “My poor child, all I can tell you is that you already have one foot in hell and if you continue, you’ll soon be putting the second one there.” Our dear child confided in us, “I had no other recourse than to take shelter in the arms of the Blessed Virgin. She alone put an end to my worries and delivered me from this terrifying obsession.”

We reach now the period when religious life of our revered sister came into contact with that of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and you are undoubtedly wondering, my Reverend Mother, what was the relationship of these two souls favored in various ways.

If you questioned our dear elder, she would have answered you with conviction, ”Since the moment we became acquainted, my Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and I felt an irresistible attraction for each other…” For her part, that was true. The first time in the parlor that she met our Saint, still a child, she was filled with admiration: “How pretty she is,” she exclaimed, “and the appearance of an angel!” We can read about this in a section of Story of a soul which had not been published, the effect on the soul of the little Saint then age nine:

     “…This was the day of that visit where I received compliments for the second time. Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine came to see me and did not tire of telling me that I was nice. I did not count on coming to Carmel to receive praise. As well in the parlor I never stopped telling the good God that it was for Him alone that I wanted to become a Carmelite.”

Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine spoke often of the memory of that vision of freshness and celestial innocence for our young sisters, hungry for the tiniest details. She even insisted on mentioning at the Apostolic Process “the supernatural impression that radiated from that predestined child.”

On the other hand, what could be the attraction felt by Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus for her devout companion of religious life? A certain page from Story of a Soul can help us to understand…if we understand at that time that divine grace had not yet penetrated with its sweet unction several native tendencies a little detrimental in this soul, always motivated with good intentions and so often meritorious. She herself agreed about this later, very humbly in these terms: “I was seriously working on correcting myself of these faults. However my efforts were not crowned with success. The most prominent, stiffness in my words and in my ways, was frequently rebuked to the point that I almost despaired of overcoming myself since my good will couldn’t succeed…I was very given to impatience; if I asked for a service, it had to be done for me immediately. I didn’t know how to wait. And on top of that I liked to do combat on my self-love; I remember having taken the vow of abandonment to God’s good pleasure. I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone so as not to give others the thought of doing as much, to keep for myself some superiority in perfection. Oh! How I blush at that baseness, of the narrowness of my ideas, of my selfishness in the past!”

To complete her touching confessions, our dear sister, today living in the full light of the good God’s truth, would certainly permit us to add that even her manner of practicing virtue was not exempt from a slight lack of presence of mind or discernment. Thus after having exerted herself with purity of intention she had come, after certain circumstances where she considered herself misunderstood or judged unfavorably, to focus all her sufferings in herself that she wished “known to God alone”. For that she enveloped herself with a mysterious and solemn reserve that sometimes harmed a frank and cordial fusion with her mothers and sisters. This is what always kept her, believe us, from opening to the simple and gentle but so wise direction of our revered and holy Mother Geneviève of Saint Teresa, her novice mistress with whom she was never able to have any intimacy. Consequently by this small lack of moderation, completely unconscious besides, in search of perfection, her perfect regularity made her less accessible to the demands of charity. The elevated thoughts that she filled herself with in her numerous readings that she appropriated for herself, all in good faith and simplicity led her to believe she was “privileged among the privileged.” And this inevitably showed up with her words or attitude.

All of this, which was rather odd, did not escape Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus who was very astute and intuitive but she knew how to “give pleasure to the Divine Artist of souls by not stopping with the exterior.” And from there “doing her utmost to enter into the private sanctuary that Jesus”, in this person, “chose for his dwelling place she had, she assured, admired the beauty.” Making allusion to the graces of preservation, of the pampered isolation from which this virginal soul had benefited, she liked to say pleasantly, “Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine is a potted lily!”, distinguishing her like that from other lilies, garden lilies or lilies of the field, as she knew them, or still lilies grown amongst thorns sometimes beaten down by storms over the planes of this world…She sketched at the same time, perhaps without thinking about it, the solitary nature of this flower, so good at keeping herself apart from contacts and disturbances of communal life.

If we judge from the notes of our good elder, it is sweet for us to note that her holy little sister had shown for her the most delicate evidence of a supernatural and exquisite affection. Giving in to her requests, and only to be nice to her, she tried despite her ignorance of rules of versification, her first poem on a subject that was dear to both of them, “The Divine Dew, or the Virginal Milk of Mary.” To be pleasant to her as well, she requested from her sister Céline, still in the world, a first sketch of the Blessed Virgin, giving it to her with a joy that was immediately over.

For her again in May 1897, our Saint put in writing one of her last poetic compositions, “Abandonment”, giving her the original without dreaming of keeping a copy of it for herself. Finally during the last weeks of her life she welcomed the visits of Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustin with signs of such religious tenderness that the infirmarian and the sisters who witnessed this murmured more than once, “How happy she is to see her!”

It was during the privacy of their meetings, on free days, that our dear sister received from the lips of her holy companion this confidence in April 1895, “I will die soon, I’m not telling you it will be in a few months but in two or three years. I feel it by what is happening in my soul; yes, my exile is near its end.” And as her interlocutor, very moved, spoke to her about the glory that awaited her in Heaven, she obtained this sublime response: “Ah! That’s not what I desire. I always asked the good God to be a little nothing. When a gardener makes a beautiful bouquet, he needs moss to fill in the empty spaces between the rich flowers it is made of and give it a graceful shape. This is what I want to be in Heaven, a little spring of moss to contrast the great saints who are the most beautiful flowers of the good God.”

Another time during her illness, Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustin encouraged her like this: “You suffer a lot but you will be rewarded for it!” – “No, not for the reward, “replied the saint with a smile, “but only to give him pleasure.”

Our good sister liked to remember another circumstance, where the humble saint opened the bottom of her heart to her, which deeply edified her. It was in September 1897. One day, it was recorded in her Deposition, as I entered into the Infirmary Sister Thérèse for the Child Jesus appeared so radiant that I asked her what the reason was. She answered me with simplicity. “I just tasted a real joy and I’m going to tell you. Just this instant I received the visit of a sister who told me: “If you only knew how little you are appreciated here! Recently I heard a sister of the Community make this remark to another, “I don’t know why they speak so much of my Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She does nothing remarkable. We never see her practicing virtue. One can’t even say she is a good religious… Ah! continued the angelic sick woman, to hear on my death bed that I’m not a good religious…What a grace!

The Lord, who must have been pleased with this exchange of thoughts and supernatural affection, used our dear Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine to light with a heavenly ray the dark interior night that weighed upon the soul of the saint.

On January 8th, 1897, she had this dream, “I found myself in a very dark apartment, closed with a heavy black door under which a brilliant ray of light pierced. In the neighboring apartment, where I made out dazzling light, a voice was heard: We are asking for Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus! I then had the impression that by my side in a darker area of this dark apartment, they were preparing my dear little Sister to answer this call. What were they doing to her? I don’t know but I heard the same voice insist, “She must be very beautiful!” And with that I woke up, persuaded that my Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus was soon going to leave up for Heaven. Several weeks later during a break I told her this. Her face showed a great emotion.

Oh, my Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine,” she said to me, “it’s the good God who sent you this dream that I might be encouraged by you!” And she told me about her soul’s trial that was completely unknown to me. “This apartment so dark, this heavy black door, “she continued, “these are the shadows in which I live. Yes…but that ray of light so close, coming from under the door, that mysterious call, what a consoling omen in my dark night!”…And it’s by you that the good God grants it to me. She insisted on the words by you…and tears filled her eyes.

Until her death, our Saint showed her gratitude and affection to her who had thus consoled her, gladly going back with us in private about this delicacy of the good God that spoke so much to the heart. In return she would envelope with an atmosphere of special grace the rest of our sister’s life which still had a long way to go.

From 1898, Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine was put in the Sacristy. It was there until the end of her days, that is to say more than thirty years she would work hard, silently, and with pious diligence, discretion and little by little, experience that made her so valued by us. There also would she take on, always with complete recollection preparations of feasts without equal in honor of her humble little companion of long ago, marvelously glorified by the Holy Church: the transfer of her relics, her beatification, the consecration of our chapel and the splendor of the canonization. It was there, energized by her love of regularity and her desire to completely protect the silence and peace of our cloister, she had to cope with new organizations required by the growing hustle and bustle of crowds that flooded Lisieux. Ah! How much our dear sacristan, counselor since 1902, enjoyed the zeal with which the pilgrimage director protected above all our monastic observances from the possible invasions of outside ceremonies and through rigorously followed instructions would know how to combine the free and peaceful development of our religious life with the legitimate and touching expansion of the pilgrims’ piety.

But during that year of 1898 the worries of the new sacristan were less extensive. She rejoiced to bring to her work a complete knowledge of working with church vestments. She actively devoted herself during the first years of her religious life to help the community in which this work was one of the principle resources. She brought to it, above all else, a very strong piety to the Blessed Eucharist and the desire to always make her union stronger with the divine Spouse. “I want to see him, Him alone, and forget all the rest,” she wrote. “A glance toward Him sufficed to drown myself in an ocean of peace.”

 

She was struck by the habitual recollection of the young saint whose existence she had shared so closely. Being inspired by this remembrance which appealed to her personally, she wrote it in her notes to emphasize it later in the beatification process. She wrote,”Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus lived in a continual union with Our Lord. The thought of the divine presence never left her she confessed to me simply and the recollection of her soul could be read on her physiognomy. Her face always calm, even during the greatest trials, showed no preoccupation. She seemed to live without worry about herself, offering all to the care of Divine Providence. Her demeanor, always so religious, but without any affectation, impressed me from her entrance among us.” And she added, “The beauties from her life of union were noticed by the ascendancy, despite her youth, that she exerted around her and also-it is always our sister who assures it-by that true charity that she showed in all circumstances with a delightful delicacy that created near her a restful atmosphere of peace…We felt we were next to “an Angel.”

Another “angel”, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, from Dijon, would likewise several years later encourage our devout sacristan in her attraction for the “inner life” of loving fusion with the divine host of her heart. “I too,” she said under her inspiration, “want to be with Jesus, in him and through him with words of love and thanks for the Holy Trinity.”

During the feast of Christmas in 1901, following the example of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, she said with enthusiasm The Offering to Merciful Love. And she made flow from this day the grace of tender devotion to the very Blessed Virgin who more and more was going to take over her spiritual life until becoming the most characteristic note. But her heavenly little sister would give her at the same time enlightened practices of fraternal charity. “Since then, I loved my sisters more tenderly and felt more inclined to more willingly forgive their little imperfections. I must say that this indulgence was not natural as I was inclined by character to much more severity. But little by little, I learned that Love can destroy in the blink of an eye what appears defective outwardly, that it performs miracles in souls in secret. Then I said to myself, “How to accuse those that the Lord wants to justify?”

 

What’s more, she became happy to offer little services and she told us: “While my sister Geneviève painted her admirable picture of the Holy Face, I was content to relieve as much as possible her work in the sacristy. Not having her talent, I felt very privileged to contribute like that to make Our Lord loved and I prayed with all my heart for the distribution of this work which would do so much good for souls.”

 

And we owe it to the truth, my Reverend Mother, to recognize that our dear Sister Thérèse de Saint Augustine always favored with her prayer and her encouragements the artistic works of the youngest sister of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. The portraits of the saint due to her brush seemed to her so true an expression of reality that she often showed her admiration and let out sighs of suffering when she heard doubt cast on the authenticity of these documents. She said to us, “Could anyone ever, my Mother, render enough the angelic air of our holy little Thérèse! Her heavenly expression! It’s above all that which struck me and that the best reproductions don’t know how to express.” In return, this saint so much appreciated by that sister gently encouraged her efforts in the path of charity toward others, gratifying her for example with a nice perfume of violets on a day when she was really in a hurry and overcame an initial refusal to render good-heartedly a service requested. She wrote, “I understood” after that favor, in the notes she took either on her frequent readings, on graces received,-“I understood that “my little Thérèse wanted to teach me the value that the good God attached to the virtue of charity.”

She attributed to her the choice virtues with which her pious mother’s death was surrounded. “My Little Queen,” she told us, ”promised me to share with my mother the affection that she had for me. And she really kept her word as Mama assured me a number of times that she felt her always present at her side like a second guardian angel.” And our sister continued, “January 2nd, 1911, anniversary of her birth, our Thérèse wanted to prepare me for the great sacrifice soon waiting for me. That night during the meal I found on our napkin a thorn so long and pointed that I had never seen anything like it. All information taken, we could never find out who put it there but as I was going up to our cell holding the mysterious object in hand, I understood all of a sudden that it foresaw for me the death of my mother and I felt inspired to pray for her a lot without suspecting however that I was so close to this painful event. The following February 27th after only two days of illness, she whom I loved so much left this world but under such circumstances that far from feeling emptiness caused by the separation, I enjoyed her presence with an inexpressible sweetness.”

From the edifying death would result a powerful grace for our virtuous sister of detachment and a more clearly defined orientation of all her desires for Heaven.

Already, the first suffering of a stomach illness caused her to partially withdraw from community life, first from the refectory, but soon from choir because of her weakness. She, who had edified us for so long with her collation of bread and water every Friday, was compelled to do a mortification of another kind with an extremely strict diet which would be limited little by little to a bowl of liquid. It was always the same, prepared in an identical manner, taken at hours rigorously determined, without bread, without the least variation for nearly twenty years!

Despite these exceptions, my Reverend Mother, Sister Thérése of Saint Augustine presented all in her conduct a rectitude so exemplary that she was able to keep her job as Angel of the postulants. Her perfect fidelity, her precise knowledge of our slightest customs, her cult of silence and religious modesty offered to our young novices a striking model and accomplished in exterior virtues that she had the mission to inculcate in them. They learned at once from her example that “if two words can suffice then one should offer to God the faithfulness of not saying three”, that one should do as one is told without inquiring about anything else. In recreation if someone lingered over conversation to the detriment of her work, she would hear her worthy mentor who had observed her over the top of her glasses serve up obligingly the old adage, “Talk and work, can we?”

During autumn 1919, our valiant sister well tried by the first cold weather, had to go down to the infirmary. It was there, from then on in a progressive separation of all created things and in an intimate union with Our Lord and his divine Mother, that the last ten years of her life were spent. She kept a youthful appearance there-even her face-as well as a really remarkable activity which permitted her until the end to do her important work as sacristan.

At that time, comparing the present with the past, with her heart forever set on divine love, sprang forth this cry of gratitude, “How to thank the good God for the endless graces showered on me? Until now, even careless and flighty, I hardly suspected his tender love for me. Ah! I know when a mother caresses who can’t understand it yet, she isn’t saddened. She foresees that he will grow up, that one day he will recognize her tenderness and try his best to return the affection lavished upon him. May I now pay back Him who loved me so much!”

Another time, going back in her mind to the misunderstandings of her youth, the illusions that held her captive for a time, the mental distress she went through before reaching this serene peace, this only thing necessary that is now her lot, she was tempted to sigh, ”Ah!, How much time lost for the good God!” But gently in her soul, she saw a light, “No, this time was not lost. Does the worker believe lost that the seed he sewed in the furrow which disintegrates and dies there, seeing so many months go by without harvesting the fruit of his labors?...” Our Lord henceforth reaps the abundant harvest that his patient labor caused to germinate.

It is above all the fruits of confidence that thrive at home. She wrote during one of these retreats that she enjoyed being in complete solitude in her infirmary without communicating aloud with her Mother Prioress. “My confidence developed to the point of complete abandonment…my faults or imperfections are no longer capable of troubling me. And she commented on this passage from the Gospel, "Amen I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done.” I think that these words were said for all souls without exception and I hasten to make use of them, persuaded that if my faith and confidence are strong enough to throw the mountain of my infidelities into the ocean of divine Mercy, she would be engulfed forever. Besides, I must confess it, most of the time through the Lord hides from me the sight of my poverty.”

It was furthermore a fruit of zeal that ripened from day to day in the little sanctuary where her soul lived; like in a hot house, exclusively exposed to the fruitful rays of the Sun of Justice. “I have only one desire,” she exclaimed, “thinking of souls, to devote myself for them, from now on leaving the care of my own sanctification to Our Lord.”

 

Priestly souls aroused her preferences. “It’s in this direction I feel that I must throw the net of my prayer. I continually ask Jesus that he reveals to the privileged souls of his priests the secrets of his Little Way of confidence and abandon of our very dear saint so that they might know and love the good God as he wants to be loved. And she concluded, “How I love this unknown apostolate that nothing shows on the outside. It’s the fire hidden in the embers than could, with the divine breath, enflame the universe!”

 

She also used that power of prayer efficiently in service of her sisters. She told us, “Like our little Thérèse, I see that the more that my love for the good God grows, the more I love my sisters. I do not receive a grace anymore without wishing it for my sisters. I ask that our Carmel is a choir of Seraphim, that each of us does our part, exactly, for the glory of our Jesus.”

 

It was with this point of view, my Reverend Mother, that our devout elder would reach the feast of her golden anniversary, May 13th, 1927. She had prepared for it with a life of very close intimacy with the Blessed Virgin, abandoning to her the care of the preparation and that of preparing for all the concerns that suggested to her in advance all the exterior work of that ceremony. Certainly the day was very beautiful, enriched by the blessing of the Holy Father, presided by our vicar generals, representing his Excellency Msgr. Lemonnier, kept away through illness and enhanced by an imposing legion of priests whose ties of veneration or gratitude united with the heroine of the day or her very pious family. At the same time it was very nice for our souls. An effusion of abundant grace poured out on our beloved jubilarian with a fragile appearance. She was always so young and as if encircled that day with a heavenly light. Through her, this grace poured forth not only on her sisters but on the many family members and friends who came joyfully to surround her. They had so much confidence in her prayers.

 

The Reverend Father Martin, the preacher from the glorious days of the beatification and canonization of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, was there to bring to mind in the most moving terms the invisible presence and heartfelt protection in favor of she who we were celebrating.

The peaceful and smiling jubilarian was especially aware of the signs of affection that the community was happy to increase for her and to those that came, so thoughtful, from our dear Carmels. For a long time after, she still savored the sweetness of them. She could not reread without emotion the verses which, under the title Ce que j’ai vu (What I saw) which reminded her of the private graces of her existence, the incomparable solemnities still so close, that shone in her last years.

Renewed by the favors of the Jubilee which she considered like a second baptism, she actively went back to her work in the sacristy. She said, “Oh! How I appreciate the immense grace that Jesus gave me by choosing me for this job. The ever growing number of priests who celebrate holy Mass in our chapel gives me so often the happiness of preparing and to such a large extent, what is necessary for the offering of the holy sacrifice. What joy to be able to contribute, in my little way, to giving Our Lord his Eucharistic life.”

It was in communion with Mary, his Mother always more loved when she fulfilled this pious labor, offering it to her each time, with the abandon of a child who has no more worries because she expects everything from her Mother and has no doubt about her help. And visibly her confidence was never mistaken; her young companions of the sacristy noted this quietly, considering it a constant little miracle that she could bear the responsibility of a job whose tasks were complicated, when her physical energy was declining, when her eyes weakened with age and when it was never in her nature to foresee and organize large overviews. The Blessed Virgin made up for this, everything coordinated at the right moment and was found ready eventually as it was supposed to be, in the most embarrassing circumstances. She herself was even aware of that and said to us,” I assure you, my Mother, I wonder how with my incapacity I can still be in charge. I am indebted to the Blessed Virgin.”

At the end of the last year, the first symptoms of a formidable illness that caused us to foresee great suffering , appeared to alarm us without managing however to preoccupy the one who was ill. On the contrary, this threat accentuated her confidence, her abandonment to God at the same time as exciting her hope of soon seeing her earthly ties break. “I think of my turn,” she very happily told us, “that finally is for me the faraway murmur that announces the arrival of the Spouse.” She added, “I rejoice over this painful preparation for the eternal meeting. My only desire is to glorify the good God, to not place any obstacles to the accomplishments of his design on my soul.” And to one of our sisters who worried about the prospect about this illness, “I abandon myself to Jesus without fear. I know too well to whom I am entrusting myself. I believe in his love…I await all help from my Mother in Heaven and my little Saint Thérèse. I repeat after her that “the good God doesn’t have to inconvenience himself for me.”  

On October 14th, 1928, her heavenly protector again gave her a token of her assistance. As we were arriving in the infirmary with several branches of artificial narcissi for the feast of our dear counselor sister, her last feast here on earth, she cried out, very delighted, “O my Mother, how these narcissi smell good!” The infirmarian commented that the bouquet was artificial. “Well then,” she said, “it’s my little Thérèse who wants to prove to me that she’s there.” She was there until the end, preparing that soul who was so dear to her for the eternal nuptials. And kindling more and more her desire to go soon to join the Divine Object of her love. “To die is to see God,” wrote our devout sister.” All that is terrifying about death will disappear before the happiness that awaits me. I accept big-heartedly the suffering, the anguish of the death throes and the last moment. I want to glorify God with by this expiation that he imposes and I rejoice to offer it to him completely.” Her exterior itself reflected the divine work that grace perfected in the mystery: an expression of sweetness, a grateful goodness that lightened her face, marked previously by rather austere recollection. This change struck her two companions from the sacristy. “We feel that my Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine is ripe for Heaven. We’re not going to keep her much longer,” they thought!

Winter had really weakened her; the nice days brought her a slight renewal of vitality and brought her back to work. But on June 13th indigestion seriously compromised her condition and put a stop to it for good. Her weakness was extreme. “This time I’m really leaving for Heaven, I really feel it,” she confided to one of our sisters who came to ask for news. She had us called for straightaway for a little consultation. Then with a charming simplicity and her punctual desire to do good in the smallest details, this exemplary sick woman said to us, “My Mother, I would like you to now explain to me how I should behave in everything during my last days of illness…How did our little Thérèse act? Because, finally,” and her gaze focused on us with a little sparkle of mischief, “this was such an extraordinary saint from what I see that one can be tempted, it seems to me, to imitate her without fear of ever being mistaken…”

On June 9th our saint had already obtained for her a very precious grace that she told of in private. “This morning when I awoke I said to myself with happiness, today is the feast of merciful Love. And all of a sudden, I weighed in depth, how that had never happened to me before, the complete understanding of my poverty…I saw all my shortcomings, how I was disagreeable, tiring for my sisters…but far from being saddened by it, I felt happy to have this burden to throw into the blaze of merciful Love, that is to say, this love made especially for our poverty. I understood it then and which even seems to need it for activating its flames…” It was not her habit to communicate to her sisters, unfavorable remarks she could make about herself. The accent of truth at the same time as serene joy that accompanied these words gently impressed those who were listening to her.

For a month, my Reverend Mother, our dear sick woman continued to get up a little each day. In the morning at the cost of great efforts, she made it to the Oratory to receive at the grille of the sick the Eucharistic bread that she hungered for in a holy way. She then went back to bed, lending herself with the docility of a child to the wishes of the infirmarian sister who for the last ten years surrounded her with her far-sighted solicitude. She was thus the edification of the White Veil sisters who came during the day to dress her and take her to the garden. Faithful to the end to her cult of silence, Sister Thérèse of Saint Augustine was happy in the beginning to thank those dear sisters with a sign, but little by little she added a sweet smile. Finally at the time of her last outing, calling she who served as guide, she said to her with tenderness, “In Heaven I will give back to you all the consolation you procured for me with our little daily walks.”

It was on July 16th when coming back in, she insisted on stopping at the infirmary of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus adjoining her own and kneeling before her altar, she prayed this prayer with fervor, “O, my little Thérèse, I remind you of your promise; you assured you would come to help me in my last days and that you would make me a victim of love. It’s time now, come, I beg you, my dear little sister. Obtain for me to die like you, consumed by Love.” Our edifying sick woman, my Reverend Mother, had but six days to spend on earth.

The doctor who cared for her with much devotion told us the night before of his fears of not being able to save her. Even though danger was not imminent in his opinion, we believed it good to our dear sister about the last Sacraments. She replied to us in raptures, “What a surprise the Blessed Virgin is giving me for her feast. This is too much happiness.” Her gaze stopped with an expression of unspeakable gratitude on the statue of her Mother in Heaven who presided over her infirmary.

On July 18th, our good and pious chaplain, in whom she had absolute confidence and who had helped her so effectively with advice and help from his ministry, came in the afternoon to administer Extreme Unction to her and give her last rites. The ceremony was marked by peace and serenity. Our revered sister was so happy, so well prepared for the great journey. She suffered little and said with gratitude, “How God is kind with me. With my illness I should have suffered a lot and instead of that, I am enjoying my happiness.” And another time, “Never be afraid of death, it’s the good God who does all! See how it’s simple for me!”

She welcomed each of our visits with signs of filial joy, almost childlike, stretching forth her arms to us with the most touching affection and expressing words to us such as these which astounded us. “O my Mother, my little Mother, how many kindnesses have I appreciated through you here below. You have surrounded me with so much care, maternal kindnesses and now it is you who are going to offer me to Jesus! Oh! What confidence I have in you!” She who was normally so little demonstrative now answered all approached her with truly heavenly smiles where one felt a soul very close to God, forgetful of herself, concerned with giving pleasure, to affectionately give thanks for the least services.

Sunday, July 21st in the evening her condition really worsened. The community gathered around her and replied to the Prayers for the dying recited by the chaplain. The next morning after a last absolution received in complete lucidity, our beloved sister lost consciousness little by little. Her speech became halting and soon she seemed to no longer hear us. This last day seemed, my Reverend Mother, was really difficult and seemed to us like an ultimate purification, capable of meriting for our revered dying person the immediate sight of her God upon leaving the exile, as she had so hoped.

Around seven in the evening, we were waiting for the last breath but the death throes lasted until 11:30 and it was then, supported by the prayers of her mothers and sisters, this fervent soul, liberated of all fetters, took her flight to the homeland. [July 22nd] Matins of the Octave of Our Lady of Mont Carmel had just been recited. She would close, near her divine Mother, so much prayed to, so much loved here below, the solemnity of that beautiful feast whose first Vespers had brought her the news of her deliverance.

The burial took place two days later on July 24th. The first absolution was given by one of our diocesan missionaries who was very well known by our dear defunct. The two others were reserved for the director of the shrine and our chaplain, who both caused her regret colored with emotion. They had appreciated so many times her discrete virtue and recollected zeal.

The ecclesiastic retreat in Bayeux deprived many priests who revered her of the consolation of attending her funeral. But many of the pilgrims joined in our bereavement and her family’s, several even, with a feeling of gratitude for she who assisted the expression of their piety for so many years.

They insisted on accompanying the companion of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus to her last dwelling place. She had in the privacy of her monastery had contemplated such great things and many tempted to ask, as Holy Church does on Easter morning regarding Saint Mary Magdalene, “Dic nobis, Maria, quid divisti in via…Speak to us, Faithful Mary, of the Angel you met on the path of your life…”

Please accept my Revered and very Honored Mother, the expression of our fraternal respect and add, if you would like, to the prayers already requested for our dear Thérèse of Saint Augustine, three invocations to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to our mother Saint Teresa, her patron, and to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She will be very grateful, as are we who have the grace to speak to you, in Our Lord,

Your humble sister and servant,
Sister Agnès of Jesus,
 
From the Monastery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception under the protection of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the Carmelites of Lisieux
 
September 8th, 1929.

 

[A resident of Lisieux, her family donated the Calvary in the inner courtyard.] 

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