From time to time, Providence
raises up special souls whose trajectory through life is like a comet streaking across the night
sky. They are a mystery. When we look at them, we wonder: where did they get the fire of faith that
burns within them? Who taught them to love Christ to the point of a total sacrifice of self?
Audrey Stevenson at age 7 in June 1990, a few weeks before her illness began.
Audrey Stevenson was one such mystery. Born on March 18, 1983, she was a cheerful, spunky little girl with wispy blonde pigtails and an array of colorful, mismatched barrettes in her hair. She had big dreams of going to the circus and performing with her stuffed dog, Drum, in front of the cheering multitudes… or of becoming a piano virtuoso… or a tennis star. Anything grandiose and colorful would do. But then there was also the other dream, first voiced at the age of three, of becoming a Carmelite.
And behind it all, at the center, was the deep, abiding desire that no one taught her: this little girl desired to love Jesus with her whole heart. Behind that playful, mischievous personality, there was a steely determination to reach her goal no matter the cost. Audrey wanted to become a saint.
Dreams sometimes take
unexpected turns on their way toward reality. For Audrey, the dream of loving Jesus came at a very
high price. When she was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of seven, her path toward heaven began
to accelerate, drawing the rest of her family into a deeper journey of faith along with her. As time
went by, her story touched thousands of people in France and abroad whose lives were permanently
changed by the story of this little girl who ran after Jesus so wholeheartedly. Audrey’s
“family” now includes people from all over the world.
Audrey in the hospital at the beginning of her illness.
As a window into
that witness of love, Circle Press now presents the English version of Gloria Conde’s book
Audrey: The True Story of One Child’s Heroic Journey of Faith. Gloria Conde tells
Audrey’s story almost as a journey into a family photo album, with a series of short, simple
vignettes that capture specific facets of Audrey’s personality and of the many extraordinary
moments of her response to leukemia. The story unfolds naturally, often humorously, sometimes
heart-wrenchingly, and always with human warmth and sensitivity.
New book from Circle Press: Audrey: The True Story of One Child’s Heroic Journey of Faith.
After hours of interviews with Audrey’s
parents (as well as personal experience), Conde presents Audrey as the real girl that she was, in
the concrete reality of her family with her four brothers and sisters. In one sense, Audrey could be
anyone’s sister. She didn’t like it when her rambunctious brother invaded her room and
messed up her toys. She played with her older sister and carted her adored little brother around
like a doll. She loved eating candy and squealed with delight while playing in the pool.
Audrey with her siblings. From left to right: Aline, Audrey, Henry, and Grégoire. This picture was taken in July 1990, a few days before the leukemia was diagnosed. The littlest sister, Beatrice, was not yet born.
Yet she also lived the most painful moments of her illness with a surrender and a spirit of sacrifice that astounded her doctors. There were the agonizing moments of the spinal taps, when she clung to Mummy’s hand with all her strength and whispered the names of the people who needed prayers. There were the penetrating words of wisdom that came from her mouth and stopped adults in their tracks. There was her habit of personal prayer and her profound sense of the Gospel spirit. There was the isolation of living in a sterile bubble for six weeks, where not even Mummy was allowed to enter.
There was the mysterious moment of her union with
Jesus on the cross on Good Friday… and there were her final words before she died at three
o’clock in the afternoon on August 22nd, 1991, the feast of the Coronation of Mary in
A moment of intimate sharing with Pope John Paul II, shortly before she died.
The beauty of Conde’s book is that it captures a whole girl in her humanity and in the unusual work of grace that was burgeoning within her. Audrey is accessible to children and to adults, with a simplicity of style that anyone can understand, and yet with a mystery inside that no one can fully grasp.
Conde’s way of telling this true story will make readers laugh, cry, and pray. It might make them change. It will certainly make them wonder at the generosity of a little girl who wanted to give her life for souls, and who ran the race to the end.
Excerpt from Audrey: The True Story of One Child’s Heroic Journey of Faith (pages 113-114)
day, Audrey couldn’t see anything. All around her was black. She didn’t scream. She
didn’t cry. She didn’t say anything. Just like every day, Lillian came to visit her, and
they spent the day together, talking. Audrey continued on without being able to see anything at all,
but still she said nothing. The television was on. Afterwards, they prayed together. Audrey even
dialed the telephone to call home. She said nothing about her eyes. The next day came. Audrey
was in the midst of reading a series of adventure stories, but today she asked Mummy to read the
book out loud to her. Afterwards, Lillian proposed that they play a game, but Audrey asked her to
keep on reading. Lillian read to her almost the whole day.
Audrey at the Robert Debré Hospital, November 1990.
Before leaving, Lillian asked her, “Would you like me to turn on Little House on the Prairie?”
“Better not. My eyes hurt a little when I watch TV.”
Lillian had noticed nothing. She could only see Audrey through the plastic curtains that surrounded Audrey’s bed. She observed her intently. Now she suddenly realized that Audrey couldn’t see. Deep down she felt a mixture of tears and indignation, with a stab of pain. The doctors told Lillian that the loss of sight was probably temporary, although they weren’t sure. It was a consequence of the new chemotherapy treatment they had administered. Audrey spent days without even mentioning the pain in her eyes or her blindness. She behaved so simply and naturally that Lillian almost forgot that her daughter couldn’t see. She continued to receive her daily phone call from Audrey in the hospital, and it didn’t occur to her to wonder how Audrey had managed to dial the number, which was quite long: four numbers to get the outside line, other numbers for the area code, and then the eight numbers to reach home. Thanks be to God, after ten days she regained her sight. Lillian wondered, though, if her eyes were exactly the same beautiful blue that they had been….
With all that, Audrey remained the same:
only God and her guardian angel know how she managed, as a new arrival to the sterile bubble, to
fill a surgical glove with water and hang it on top of the door. A nurse, upon entering, received an
unexpected shower…and a rather cold one at that!
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