Ave Maria Mediations
The Servant of God, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, used to tell the story of Felix and Elisabeth Leseur. Felix was a very anti-religious man. His wife was a holy woman who loved him. And she offered all she had and was and all her sufferings with cancer for his salvation and conversion. After her death, he discovered her journal and came to know of her sacrifices for his soul. He would convert and become a Dominican Priest. Here is but a very small writing of hers followed by their story from Bishop Sheen.
|The Gift of Self:
Not only in fulfilling my responsibilities to everyone, not only in charitable work, not only in prayer, but in my whole attitude and way of life. Great and holy ideas and deep convictions often influence others only through the attractiveness of those who embody them. “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7: 16), our Savior said: by the fruits of devotion, charity, and radiant faith, and also by those blossoms that first attract notice and precede the fruit; those are called tender love, graciousness, social refinement, serenity, equanimity, friendliness, joy, and simplicity. A truly holy person – mistress, by divine grace, of her body and its challenges – without ever speaking, exudes the delicate perfume of these flowers. Such a person attracts others by her gentle influence and prepares them for God’s approach, which she eventually obtains for them through her prayers.
By Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
Just at the turn of the century, there was a woman married in Paris, just a good, ordinary Catholic girl, to an atheist doctor, Dr. Felix Leseur. He attempted to break down the faith of his wife and she reacted and began studying her faith. In 1905, she was taken ill and tossed on a bed of constant pain until August 1914. When she was dying, she said to her husband, “Felix, when I am dead, you will become a Catholic and a Dominican priest.”
“Elizabeth, you know my sentiments. I’ve sworn hatred of God, I shall live in the hatred and I shall die in it.”
She repeated her words and passed away. She died in her husband’s arms at the early age of 47.
Rummaging through her papers, Felix found her will. She wrote:
“In 1905, I asked almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul. On the day that I die, the price will have been paid. Greater love than this no woman has than she who lay down her life for her husband.”
Dr. Leseur, the atheist, dismissed her will as the fancies of a pious woman. He decided to write a book against Lourdes. He went down to Lourdes to write against Our Lady.
However, as he looked up into the face of the statue of Mary, he received the great gift of faith. So total, so complete was it, that he never had to go through the process of juxtaposition and say, “how will I answer this or that difficulty?”
He saw it all. At once.
The then reigning pontiff was Benedict XV. Then came World War I. Hearing of the conversion of Dr. Leseur, Pope Benedict XV sent for him. Dr. Leseur went in the company of Fr. Jon Vinnea, orator of Notre Dame. Dr. Leseur recounted his conversion and said that he wanted to become a Dominican priest. Holy Father said, “I forbid you. You must remain in the world and repair the harm which you have done.”
The Holy Father then talked to Fr. Vinnea and then again to Dr. Leseur and said:
“I revoke my decision. Whatever Fr. Vinnea tells you to do, you may do.”
In the year 1924, during Lent, I, Fulton J. Sheen, made my retreat in the Dominican monastery in Belgium. Four times each day, and 45 minutes in length, I made my retreat under the spiritual guidance of Father Felix Leseur of the Order of Preachers, Catholic Dominican priest, who told me this story.
Nota Bene: The cause of Elisabeth Leseur’s canonization is proceeding in Rome. Fr. Leseur died a priest in 1950.