Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

With Eyes of Faith: Chero, Elisabeth Leseur March 22, 2012

By Dorothy Williams

“Those whom we encounter on our earthly path

often see in passing the outer wrappings of our being

and go their way, confident of knowing us well enough. 

Let us be careful not to do the same with the companions of our life.”

~Elisabeth Leseur

Among childless women, there are leaders and there are followers.  Many of the Cheroes celebrated on this blog are leaders who made a big splash, had great impact on the world, and made a name for themselves. That’s great if you’re a leader, but not all of us are called to do that. Elisabeth Leseur provides us with an example of what happens when a childless woman simply follows Christ.

In 1889, Pauline Elisabeth Arrighi married Felix Leseur after meeting him through mutual friends.  Felix was a doctor who also directed a large insurance company and it was sometime during medical school that he lost his faith.  After marrying, he permitted Elisabeth to practice her religion, but he and his friends constantly ridiculed her for what they thought were ignorant superstitions.  Despite this tension in their marriage, they loved each other passionately and Felix provided his wife with a wonderful life, which included travel to countries like Italy, Russia, Turkey and Greece. In her own words, Elisabeth provides a glimpse into the relationship: “Some joyful days, because of a present from Felix, and more because of the words that accompanied it – words so full of love that I am moved to great happiness.”

From the time they married until her death from breast cancer in 1914, Elisabeth prayed for her husband’s return to the Christian faith.  She kept a diary to give voice to her experience, but Felix did not learn of it until after she died.  A year later, he not only regained his faith, but also published the diary.  (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, published by Sopia Institute Press, is still available!)

In his remarks that preface the diary, Felix says: “My beloved wife, Elisabeth, prayed incessantly for my return to the Faith…But she did this secretly, for she never argued with me and never spoke to me of the supernatural side of her life, save by her example.”

A few years later, in 1923, Felix was ordained a Dominican priest, and over the next two decades devoted his ministry to giving talks about Elisabeth’s spirituality.  Father Leseur died in 1950 and the Church opened a cause for his wife’s canonization in 1990.

What I admire about this Chero is that she did not leave a difficult marriage to pursue holiness elsewhere, nor did she worry about leading causes to justify her existence as a childfree woman. So if you’re feeling a lot of societal pressure to go out and do something to fill the void left by infertility, think of Elisabeth…and pray.

Dorothy Williams lives near Chicago.  She is praying for her own husband’s return to the faith and found domestic bliss by acting on the advice of good marriage counselors.  

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8 Responses to “With Eyes of Faith: Chero, Elisabeth Leseur”

  1. CiCi Says:

    I absolutely LOVE this post. I love the message. I love the purpose. Thank you so much for reminding me of the power of prayer!

  2. IrisD Says:

    When I think about living the rest of my life without kids, so many different issues come up. I feel upset that my body did not go through what seems like a natural normal experience for so many people. I enjoy my quiet home and like to do peaceful calming things like taking long strolls, gardening and reading, but when I look at my friends’ family life pics on places like facebook, I feel that tinge of envy and regret for the life not lived. I worry about what my old age will look like. But another dimension is this search for meaning and purpose. Many parents might not view things this way, but it seems to me that for many, kids provide this meaning and purpose, to the point that sometimes, maybe often, parents live their lives through their kids, their accomplishements and activities become their own. Their kids are the project, their contribution to this planet. Sometimes I see this as kind of like a “get out of jail free card”. And so I’m left with this search for meaning. I thought about this a lot yesterday, when I came across this essay on living childfree: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/obamaswar/view/. When I got to the end I felt somewhat disturbed because though the author was childfree by choice, the end message was still about finding meaning through other people’s kids. I was contemplating this outloud with my husband, throwing around the meaning of life question?, when he says to me, the purpose of life is to live. He is a spiritual person as well, though not a Christian, so I know that spirituality is central to life for him. I feel I need to work on that dimension of my life. This was a good reminder. Thanks. Not all of us are going to become heroines of some cause or other, famous scientists, environmentalists, community leaders, politicians, or writers… I do tend to think though that for me living too much inside my head is really very bad, as I tend to go negative. I’m not much of a “leader” but I am in search of things that keep my mind active with purpose, focused on the now as opposed to dwelling on the past or fretting about the future.

  3. IrisD Says:

    Ooops…. provided entirely the wrong link above (but still interesting if you care to see some recent history on Afghanistan). Here’s the link I meant to put up: http://www.gurus.org/dougdeb/Essays/Child.htm. :)

  4. Kellie Says:

    Thank you Dorothy for this post….and thank you for reminding me to pray more.

  5. Dorothy Says:

    Thanks, Cici and Kellie, for your wonderful spirit of encouragement! If you could bottle those rays of sunshine, gosh, think of the possibilities!!

    Thanks, Iris, for your thoughtful contribution. I agree with so much of what you said, especially when you point out that kids provide heaps of meaning in the here and now of their parents’ lives. I followed the link to the essay and agree with you, too, that I was disappointed by the author’s conclusion, but for him, it seems to work.

    I have found meaning and purpose in my life by “giving birth to Christ” in various situations where I think Jesus is needed. He is my ticket to getting out of jail free, and I may not know what contribution I made to the planet until I’m looking at my life from the other side of the cross (heaven). That’s part of the cosmic tension have to deal with as a childfree person in the here and now of my life — especially when confronted with things like beaming pregnant women, proud Grandmas, Christmas photos, Facebook images… the list goes on and on.

    Elisabeth Leseur had no idea what impact her prayers and suffering would have. She died before seeing her hopes realized, but she had faith that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”

    It’s a promise that I cling to on a daily basis.

    • IrisD Says:

      Thanks Dorothy for your post and response! I’m very busy these days because I am working on a new career and so that is taking up much of my time. One of the points the author of that essay hints at is the problem of having too much time to think, and of often creating problems where they might not really exist. This is something I can soooo relate to. Having time to think if it leads to positive reflection, spirituality, creativity, and maybe later on down the road positive action, is great, but having time to think that leads to dwelling on what is missing in life, worries about the future, focus on regrets, is a downward spiral towards depression and anxiety. When I reflect on what I think should be the purpose of my life, I know the answer is to love.

  6. Amel Says:

    This is really an inspirational post. THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing this! :-D

  7. Kate B Says:

    Thank you for this post!


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