St Léonie Françoise De Sales Aviat

Cofounder of the Sister Oblates of Saint Francis of Sales (entered heaven on January 10th, 1914)

Dear Francesca,

My dear, frustrated niece, God is never outflanked.  You wrote that you simply can’t make progress against the gross culture of rampant relativism and hedonism that prevails on your elite college campus.  You say it doesn’t matter what you try, nothing works.  Well, first of all, the mere fact of your trying makes a big difference, even if you don’t actually see any results.  Remember, you are fighting a primarily spiritual war, so physical manifestations won’t always be obvious or plentiful.  And in the second place, you have to force yourself to keep in mind that God knows what’s going on, and that he will move you to do what needs to be done – you just have to stay close to him and be docile.  Today’s saint is a great example of all these characteristics.

She was a normal girl who studied in a Salesian convent-school while growing up.  When she graduated, she went back home (this is all in northeastern France), where she saw some of the new factories springing up as the Industrial Revolution was kicking in.  These urban factories needed workers, but labor was in the country.  So the factory owners recruited labor from country girls (the boys were needed more on the farms), who came to the cities and began their daunting careers in the sweatshops.  When Léonie saw the girls miserably slaving away, she longed to be one of them so she could guide and counsel them.  At about the same time, a young priest by the name of Fr. Louis Brisson had begun an initiative to educate and look after this new class of workers.  But his idea had gotten stuck for lack of cooperators.  He invited Léonie to help.  She jumped at the chance, and together they and one of Léonie’s school friends started the Sister Oblates of St Francis de Sales, dedicated to the education of working class girls.  Soon they expanded their apostolate so that it included boarding houses and elementary schools and all kinds of other educational and formative initiatives, serving girls in all classes.  It was no easy path for the future saint – she was removed from her position as superior, then reinstated, and when religious persecution broke out with renewed fervor in France, she was forced to close down many of her houses and transfer the Congregation’s headquarters to Italy, where she herself spent her last days of life.

So the devil thought he could wreak havoc with these girls by dragging them into the urban slums, but God wasn’t outflanked: he raised up a saint, a woman in love with him and docile to his inspirations, so that those girls could receive and education and live with true human dignity.  Just so, the devil thinks he can corrupt the minds and hearts of your fellow students, but God has raised you up in their defense, a woman with a heart like Christ’s – he just needs you to fight on, then he will surely, in some unexpected and wonderful way, grant the victory.

Your devoted uncle,


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