I heard an incredible conversion story while watching a video of Venerable Fulton Sheen.
It’s about an atheist doctor, who was a fall-away Catholic, and his Catholic wife.
I was deeply touched by this true story and want to share it with you.
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 l905, 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.”
“Elisabeth, 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 l905, 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.
Note: The cause of Elisabeth Leseur’s canonization is proceeding in Rome. Fr. Leseur died a priest in 1950. You can read her inspiring diary printed by Sophia Institute Press under the title of The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur.
Why This Story Touched Me
- I really enjoy conversion stories, especially when the conversion is complete, immediate, dramatic, and involves Our Lady. They give me encouragement and hope for those who don’t yet know God, and those who willingly reject Him.
- I like that the conversion happened in Lourdes. Since I have a devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and a special connection to that shrine, I’m especially drawn to this story.
- This part struck me deeply. Elisabeth faithfully lived out her vocation as a Christian wife and took this role seriously. She was willing to do whatever was necessary to save her husband’s soul. She prayed for him and didn’t give up when things were difficult. She gave freely, without counting the cost. Elisabeth is a powerful witness for each of us, especially those called to marriage.
- Every one suffers in some way. Elisabeth’s suffering was different than most because she asked for it. This isn’t an act that should be taken lightly! Even though every one isn’t expected to do what Elisabeth did, every Christian is expected to offer up their suffering. When suffering is offered for a person or intention and united with Christ’s Passion, it’s a powerful prayer that bears much fruit. Through this story, we see the redemptive power of human suffering.
“Every human being is an incalculable force, bearing within him something of the future. To the end of time, our daily words and actions will bear fruit, either good or bad; nothing that we have once given of ourselves will perish, but our words and works, handed on from one to another, will continue to do good or harm to remote generations. This is why life is a sacred thing, and we ought not to pass through it thoughtlessly, but to appreciate its value and use it so that, when we are gone, the sum total of good in the world may be greater.” ~ Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur