This week I read Salt and Light: The Spiritual Journey of Élisabeth and Félix Leseur by Bernadette Chovelon.

I wrote about Élisabeth for Magnificat several years ago:

“Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) was a married laywoman. Her husband, Félix, a doctor, lost his Catholic faith shortly before their 1889 wedding and became a publicly vocal atheist.

Ironically, the suffering she endured as a result invited her to a deeper exploration of her own, until that point rather conventional, faith. She came to see that enduring the anti-Catholic jibes of her husband, whom she loved deeply, and his friends, could be a hidden form of mortification. “Silence is sometimes an act of energy, and smiling, too.”

But Leseur was no retiring faux-martyr. A lively hostess, she carried out her social duties with grace and good humor. A loyal friend, she carried on a wide-ranging spiritual correspondence– mostly unbeknownst to her husband—for the duration of her marriage.

All the while, she continued to develop a rich and hidden interior life: her collected journals are now widely considered a spiritual classic. Her entry for May 3, 1904, is typical: “Has my life known any unhappier time than this?…And yet through all these trials and in spite of the lack of interior joy, there is a deep place that all these waves of sorrow cannot touch….[T]here I can feel how completely one with God I am, and I regain strength and serenity in the heart of Christ. My God, give health and happiness to those I love and give us all true light and charity.”

In frail health all her life, by July, 1913 she was bedridden by the breast cancer to which she would succumb the following year. In the silence of her heart, she made the decision to offer up all her sufferings for the conversion of her husband’s soul.

After she died, Félix found among her papers a letter she had written to him revealing her fervent prayers that he would turn to Christ and become a priest. Outraged, he set off for Lourdes in the hopes of debunking what he considered to be the crank miracles that occurred there. Instead, he had a conversion experience at the Lourdes Grotto.

Leseur is a powerful example as we walk through a world that so often despises Christ and his Church.

“We must never reject anyone who seeks to approach us spiritually; perhaps that person, consciously or unconsciously, is in quest of the “unknown God” (Acts 17: 23) and has sensed in us something that reveals his presence; perhaps he or she thirsts for truth and feels that we live by this truth.”

“Look around oneself for proud sufferers in need, find them, and give them the alms of our heart, of our time, and of our tender respect.”

“Suffering is the highest form of action, the highest expression of the wonderful Communion of Saints, and that in suffering one is sure not to make mistakes (as in action, sometimes) — sure to be useful to others and to the great causes that one longs to serve.”

As the French say, “Woman’s will, God’s will.” Félix was ordained a Dominican  priest in 1923. He spent much of his last twenty-seven years promulgating the writings, and advancing the cause for beatification, of his cherished wife.”

Salt and Light brought out that Élisabeth had suffered almost from the beginning of her marriage from hepatitis and/or other ailments, i.e. she suffered a lot, both physically and spiritually. Still, the book was a little too hagiographic for my taste. I always feel someone is MORE, not less, of a saint if they have massive faults, neuroses, and personality disorders to overcome or, what’s more likely, simply live with till the bitter end. Also, I’m sorry to say that Félix sounded like a real ass. It was hard to imagine him becoming the kind of priest you’d actually like.

Nonetheless, Élisabeth’s insistence on soldiering on (another point her life makes is that you can still suffer with servants, summer homes, good medical care, and travel abroad), keeping her faith mostly to herself so as not to disturb or embarrass her husband, and trying to be loving every moment in the smallest of ways is well-taken.

Maybe I’ll try that last someday!


  1. “I always feel someone is MORE, not less, of a saint if they have massive faults, neuroses, and personality disorders to overcome or, what’s more likely, simply live with till the bitter end.” I couldn’t agree more. And while I fit into this group, I don’t see myself as saintly by any means. I can only hope God does. I thought of you this morning in reading the Magnificat’s meditation for yesterday, 2/1: Understanding the Hardships of the Journey. I, myself, found great comfort and relatability to it. And thank you for all the work you do and the enrichment your blog brings to so many’s lives.🙏


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