The movie “Leonie!” depicts the story of Leonie Martin, the older sister of St. Therese of Lisieux. "Leonie!" is currently in post-production and was filmed this summer at various locations in Michigan and at the Monastery of the Visitation in Toledo, Ohio. The inspiration for sharing Leonie’s life story with the world came from executive producer Barbara Middleton. The movie is produced by David Brockman, directed by Joe Maher, and stars Mary Rose Maher as Leonie. Many hearts will be touched forever by the movie, which is a Holy Trinity Production. “Leonie!” is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2010.
Both of Leonie’s parents considered entering into religious life, but Divine Providence would have it otherwise. At the age of 34 her father Louis met her mother Azelie (Zelie), who had a successful business making Alencon lace. They married in 1858. Leonie was born in France in 1863, the third of nine children. Two brothers and a sister died in infancy, and her sister Helene died at the age of five.
The Martins lived an exemplary Catholic life. Leonie’s mother was a Third Order Franciscan, and her aunt, Sr. Marie-Dosithee (Zelie’s older sister), was a Visitandine sister. Leonie and her four surviving sisters all entered into religious life, the answer to their mother’s prayer that she have many children and that all of them be consecrated to God. Her four sisters entered Carmel at Lisieux, and Leonie entered the Visitation Convent at Caen.
Louis and Zelie Martin have been declared Venerable. Their youngest daughter is St. Therese of the Little Flower, who was Canonized in 1925 and subsequently proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. Leonie's desire to become a religious began during her teenage years. All who have even the smallest belief in the power of prayer will be inspired by the Divine Intervention clearly manifest in Leonie's life and the lives of those in her family.
Leonie’s family documented that she was a sickly and difficult child. She suffered from eczema and chronic health problems. Her health improved after a novena was said on her behalf to Blessed Margaret Mary, but she remained emotionally labile. Her mother was greatly concerned about her mental development. Leonie’s aunt Sr. Marie Dosithee had faith in her, described her as having good judgment, a heart of gold, and an admirable character, and predicted that Leonie would become the equal of her sisters. 1 Eventually Leonie entered the Visitation Monastery and made her religious profession in 1900.
The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary which Leonie entered was founded in 1610 in Annecy, France by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal “to give to God Daughters of prayer, and souls so interior, that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth. . . .” St. Francis de Sales described the spirit of the Visitation as being “a spirit of deep humility before God and of great gentleness towards our neighbor.”2
St. Jane de Chantal's guidance always reflected her very gentle and loving approach toward spirituality: "Should you fall even fifty times a day, never on any account should that surprise or worry you. Instead, ever so gently set your heart back in the right direction and practice the opposite virtue, all the time speaking words of love and trust to our Lord after you have committed a thousand faults, as much as if you had committed only one. Once we have humbled ourselves for the faults God allows us to become aware of in ourselves, we must forget them and go forward." 3
Leonie suffered many hardships during her life but sought to serve God and respond to His will. She faced physical illness, emotional struggles, abuse by a caretaker, expulsion from school, and a long road of disappointments and delayed gratification before finally fulfilling her longing to become a bride of Christ. Despite her tremendous challenges and great suffering, Leonie kept trying and greatly desired to be a saint. Everyone will see something of themselves in Leonie’s struggles and resiliency.
Leonie’s story will resonate with all those who have tried to love and serve God despite their imperfections. Her first attempt to enter religious life lasted seven weeks. Her tenacity to keep going is an inspiration that will lead others to see in greater measure the strength that comes from God that is always at their disposal, too. Anyone in discernment of any kind will find a special ally in Leonie.
Those working with children in any capacity will gain encouragement and hope from her story, which reminds us that every person has value. Families will find friends in heaven in the remarkable Martin Family. “Mr. and Mrs. Martin believed that God is always served first. They maintained a solid Eucharistic piety.”4 They attended morning Mass daily, which provided them the strength to face many hardships including the deaths of four children, the illnesses of their daughters, Mrs. Martin’s illness, raising children with individual personalities and challenges, the death of Mrs. Martin, and discernment along the way.
People with health problems will be touched and inspired by Leonie's story. She was dismissed once from the Poor Clares and three times from the Visitation Monastery of Caen because of her chronic health problems. The calling she heard as an adolescent was not fulfilled for 22 years. At the age of 37 she finally entered the order of the Visitation Sisters and it was there that Sister Francoise-Therese, “God’s Little Violet,” remained for the rest of her life.
“Leonie!” is sure to make an indelible impact not only on individuals and families but also on the entertainment industry. Those seeking quality entertainment that inspires, stimulates discussion, celebrates the great dignity of the individual, and challenges us to strive to do our personal best and persevere will be delighted by “Leonie!” Every one of us has a God-given apostolate and each of us makes a difference. By the infinitely loving Power of God, our actions combined with faith produce miracles. Hopefully this is just the first of many inspiring motion pictures to come from Holy Trinity Productions.
Michele Bondi Bottesi is a Mother, Psychologist, and author of “Your Personal Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God.” Two new books in the apostolate series, “Your Teen Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God” and “Your Pre-Teen Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God” were co-authored with her sons Andre and Nicholas and will be released in late 2009. Michele’s blog is www.godisatworkinyou.blogspot.com. She can be reached at [email protected].
4. Pierre Descouvemont, Therese and Lisieux (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996).
Additional information taken from:
-St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story Of A Soul (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1951).
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