“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.”
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.