Saint May 4 : Blessed Marie-Léonie Paradis - a Catholic Nun and Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family

Élodie Paradis was born on May 12, 1840, in the village of L’Acadie, Quebec, the third in a family of six children. As she was growing up, a family friend, Camille Lefebvre, joined the Congregation of Holy Cross, which had recently arrived in Canada. He told Élodie about the existence of a community of religious women, the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross, whose mission was to serve in institutions established by priests and men religious. She entered their novitiate at the age of 14, taking the name in religion of Sister Marie of Sainte Léonie. She taught in Varennes, in Ville Saint-Laurent, and in Saint-Martin de Laval before being sent, in 1862, to New York, where the Sisters had just accepted responsibility for an orphanage.

In 1870, she was asked to teach French and needlework in the community’s novitiate in Indiana. Then she stayed briefly at Lake Linden, Michigan, before being called, in 1874, to direct a team of novices and postulants at Memramcook College in New Brunswick. The director was her old family friend, now a Holy Cross priest, Father Camille Lefebvre. She felt drawn to offer domestic service in colleges, which were becoming more numerous in the dioceses of Canada and New England.

She opened a sewing workshop for young Acadian women attracted to the consecrated life. The community evolved, and on August 26, 1877, 14 of the young women donned the religious habit. On May 31, 1880, the new community, based on the model of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, was recognized by the Holy Cross Fathers. For nearly 20 years, Mother Marie-Léonie persisted in asking the Most Reverend John Sweeney, Bishop of St. John, New Brunswick, to approve her Institute as an autonomous religious community. In 1895, some of the Sisters went to serve in the diocesan seminary in Sherbrooke. The Most Reverend Paul LaRocque, Bishop of Sherbrooke, welcomed the motherhouse and the novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family, and approved the Institute on January 26, 1896.

Mother Marie-Léonie pursued the work of educating and promoting the human and spiritual welfare of the poor illiterate girls who were attracted by the new community. She understood the importance of the service they offered to the diocesan colleges that were struggling to find adequate personnel. She travelled regularly to respond to new needs, but especially to oversee the formation of her Sisters and to resolve the practical problems involved in the management of their communities. In her correspondence, advice on cooking, menu preparation, gardening and building maintenance is given along with advice on spirituality and health. When she died on May 3, 1912, the Institute of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family consisted of 38 active foundations in Canada and the United States. Mother Marie-Léonie was beatified in Montreal on September 11, 1984, by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II, during his visit to Canada.

Source: CCCB