Bl. Marie-Léonie founded a religious order that blossomed and spread throughout the world.
Born to a poor family in 1840 in Quebec, Alodie-Virginie Paradis was drawn to the religious life at an early age. By 13 she joined the Congregation of the Marianites of the Holy Cross and flourished in the convent, taking the name Marie-Léonie.
She was known as a great teacher and was sent in 1862 to St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage in New York. Marie remained at her new assignment for several years, until the United States branch of the congregation split and moved to Notre Dame, Indiana. There she taught at St. Mary Academy for a few years, but was then invited back to Canada to help at the College of St. Joseph in Memramcook, New Brunswick.
Marie traveled back to Canada and soon enough her joyful example of religious life attracted women who wanted to work with her in a new religious congregation. The Bishop of Montreal heard of Marie and encouraged her to found a new congregation of religious who would aid priests and religious. With the bishop’s support, she established the Little Sisters of the Holy Family on May 31, 1880. It was their mission to do “domestic work in religious communities, colleges, and seminaries.”
According to the Center of Marie-Léonie Paradis, “Little by little, the Institute served different religious congregations and diocesan clergy. When God called her near him on May 3, 1912, at the age of 72, she had directed her community for 32 years and her sisters were working in more than 40 houses … A woman of great heart and charming simplicity, she left more than 600 sisters, pleased to follow in her footsteps by supporting the ministry of the priests in prayer and dedication.”
St. John Paul II beatified her on September 11, 1984 and spoke of her willingness to follow God’s call, wherever it would lead her.
Without ever doubting his call, she often asked: “Lord, show me your ways,” to know what the concrete form of his service in the Church was … With the sacrifices inherent in this work, but offered for love, she experienced profound joy and peace. She knew how to refer to the fundamental attitude of Christ, “who came not to be served but to serve” … Yes, God has turned his eyes to the humility of his maid Marie-Léonie, who was inspired by the availability of Mary. And henceforth his congregation and the Church will call her from generation to generation blessed (see Lk 1, 48).
According to her sisters, she died shortly after supper and said to one of them, “Goodbye, see you in heaven!”