A cursory look at the life of Saint Léonie Aviat can mislead us into thinking that her road to holiness was easy. After all, she grew up in a loving, middle class French family. Their home was across the street from the parish church and Léonie and her older sister, Zulmée, had the benefit of an excellent education under the guidance of the Visitation Sisters, a school directed by the saintly and beloved Mother Marie de Sales Chappuis. Léonie became a religious herself and spent her life doing works which she loved, guiding young working girls, renewing a boarding school in Paris, and leading the community she helped to found, the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales.
But this surface sweep of her life would leave out so many details and events. The faith life of her family was mediocre at best. Her father refused his consent for her entrance into religious life, causing her to delay several years and cutting her off from her family which she loved so dearly.
Members of the community that she founded were jealous and worked to have her removed from any position of authority or influence. St. Léonie was well schooled in humility and abasement. She wrote to one of her Sisters: “Let us know how to remain faithful and calm during the storm; let us wait with confidence and abandonment for the Savior’s help and his light which will be our strength.”
She lived in post-revolutionary France. Although the worst of the violence had ended, anti-clerical laws in the early years of the 20th century caused the property of the Oblate Sisters to be seized and the Sisters to be exiled. St. Léonie spent the last 10 years of her life in Perugia, Italy far from the many establishments she had founded (some of which were bought back by generous benefactors) and her beloved Father Louis Brisson. She did not speak the language and so could not extend her generous love to the people around her. She could well say: “What a sad time we are living through! Fortunately, God counts each thing and loves to bring us back to the Savior by increasing our little merit for heaven.”
Through all of this, St. Léonie Aviat remained peaceful, humble, and charitable, leading the Church to declare her a saint and example for all of us in 2001. In these days when there is so much is suffering both within the Church and throughout society, we can look to her and repeat her words: “May my offering be so complete, O my God, that my happiness will consist in sacrificing my will and desires to you.”
Saint Léonie Aviat, pray for us and lead us close to Christ.