Tuesday 17th July 2018

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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Marie-Leonie Paradis

May 3, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

North America has been blessed with many woman saints! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the American Sisters of Charity, was the first person born in the United States to be declared a saint. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born in what is now Auriesville, N.Y., has been declared a saint. And now Blessed Marie Leonie Paradis from L’Acadie, Quebec, may be canonized, joining other Canadian woman saints such as Marguerite d’Youville.
Alodie-Virginie was born on May 12, 1840, the third child of Joseph Paradis and Emilie Gregoire. They were poor and very devout Catholics. Emilie had six children, but only Alodie and her two older brothers survived: Joseph-Edouard Emilien and Vital. Although the parents had little means, they hoped their little girl could receive a good education. Thankfully, the Sisters of Notre Dame welcomed young Alodie into their boarding school in 1850. Even though the young girl was attracted to the religious life, she missed her family terribly.
While she was in the boarding school, her father worked hard at his mill sawing lumber and grinding grain, but was unable to support the family. Thus with the advent of the California gold rush, Joseph decided to go west to search for his pot of gold. The hope of finding a better living soon disintegrated and he returned to Quebec where, much to his dismay, he learned that Alodie had entered the convent.
Joseph, distraught and missing his beloved and only daughter, quickly went to the Marianites of the Holy Cross that Alodie had joined on February 27, 1854. She was only 14 years old. He went to the convent and pleaded with Alodie to return home with him. She told him of her yearning to serve priests through the Marianites and that she wanted to remain at the convent. In the end, he accepted her decision and he left without her.
During her novitiate, Alodie was given the name Sr. Marie de Sainte-Leonie. As a novice, Sr. Marie taught at Sainte Scholastique and on August 22, 1857, on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, she made her profession of vows. After this she was assigned a teaching position. She went to Varennes, St. Laurent, and St. Martin, where she served as both a teacher monitor and secretary to the superior. Although she accepted that assignment with joy, she still longed to somehow serve priests.
After some years at that post, Sr. Marie was then sent to Memramcook, nearly 650 miles east of L’Acadie in New Brunswick, where she was the superior of the sisters. In addition she was responsible for the management of the priests’ home at St. Joseph’s College founded by Fr. Camille Lefebvre, a Holy Cross priest. (Fr. Camille had been her neighbor in L’Acadie many years ago when she was a small child.)
Finally Sr. Marie could, to a certain degree, now begin her long-held desire to serve priests. Likewise, she also hoped to assist in some way in the education of the Acadians. She recognized a desperate need for this mission. First, because of a lack of personnel to run operations smoothly, the college was at risk of falling into chaos. Second, the Acadians lacked proper education to support themselves. Third, she saw a need for institutions where young women could enter the religious life.
At the college, Sr. Marie organized a workroom for young women. In her various capacities, the citizens recognized her zeal and skills as a religious truly eager to help those women interested in improving their lot in life. Her workroom soon counted 14 young women who, after a while, decided to sew themselves their own style of habit. Thus, they began wearing one they designed on August 26, 1877.
Three years later in 1880, the general chapter of the Holy Cross Fathers accepted the new foundation of women to support the needs of the college run by the priests. They became known as the Little Sisters of the Holy Family.
So that they could become an official Catholic institution, Mother Marie Leonie, as she was then known, petitioned Bishop John Sweeny of St. John-New Brunswick for his approval. However, like St. Teresa of Avila who had founded so many new houses for the Discalced Carmelites in the sixteenth century, she faced many obstacles in setting up her foundations. The bishop repeatedly refused her requests.
After 21 years of various assignments Mother Marie returned to L’Acadie. Since she still belonged to the Sisters of the Holy Cross, she was unable to belong to another order. Therefore she petitioned the Church in Rome to be released from her former community. When the petition was finally granted, she was free to found the new order with canonical status.
With great perseverance and trust in divine Providence, Mother Marie persisted and was confident she would soon be granted approval for her religious women. In 1895 she met Bishop Paul LaRocque of Sherbrooke, Quebec. Since he needed domestic staff for his seminary, Mother Marie provided some ladies to help with housekeeping and other tasks. On October 5 1896 he gave official recognition to the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. The new community moved to Rue Peel in Sherbrooke.
Mother Marie’s next task was establishing a rule for the sisters, providing for a way of life that would focus on a spirit of cheerful simplicity and sisterly generosity. This generosity extended beyond their locality since they adopted young girls from as far away as Africa.
As the years went by, the Sisters of the Holy Family provided education of the sisters who were illiterate and then they encouraged their social, academic, and spiritual formation. Since many of the houses were widely dispersed, Mother Marie instructed the sisters by her many letters, encouraging them in both their educational and spiritual formation.
On May 3, 1913, Mother Marie died suddenly. By the time of her death, she had founded over 38 houses throughout Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and the United States. Over 600 women had joined the order by 1912.
Now the Little Sisters have spread to Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Santiago in Chile, and Marilia in Brazil. Typically the sisters spend five years in another country before they return to Canada.
The process of canonization for Mother Marie-Leonie began in 1952 and she was named servant of God on June 13, 1966 under Blessed Pope Paul VI. The second step, the recognition of her heroic virtue, was granted on January 31, 1981 by Pope St. John Paul II and thus she became Venerable Mother Marie-Leonie. She was beatified on September 11, 1984 after a miracle attributed to her intercession was approved in February 1984. Her feast day is celebrated on May 3.
Dear Mother Marie, as we struggle day to day to continue seeking God’s will in our lives, obtain for us, we pray, the grace to discern God’s will for us. Help our minds to be enlightened and our wills be strengthened so that we may serve the Lord with great generosity of heart. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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