Jesus tells the Apostles: ‘You know where I am going’. Thomas said: ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him: ‘I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life’.Jn.14:6.Mother Veronica had a deep longing for God, but how to achieve her goal was not openly manifested to her. Thus her life was a relentless search for the Way to the Father and the Way into the Catholic Church.

Mother Veronica ne’ Sophie Leeves was born into the Leeves exceptionally God fearing family of Anglicans (Protestants) whose grandfather, Rev. William H. D. Leeves was the Parson of Wrington Chapel (Somersetshire) for 50 years and her father, Mr. Henry Daniel Leeves, himself a Parson and attached to the English Embassy at Constantinople, was brought up in a religious and pious family.Sophie speaks of the father as a pious and holy man, who was very prayerful and devout. They were 5 children, 4 of whom were born in Constantinople and the last, Catherine, was born in England. The eldest was Henry D. Leeves (Jr.) followed by 4 daughters, Sophie being the eldest of them, then came Mary Ann, Emilie and Catherine. Emilie was deaf and dumb from birth. The daily family prayer was a must and the father himself took charge of it. Sophie and Mary Ann watched their father through the key hole of his locked room, kneeling and reciting prayers aloud, - (something very uncommon among the Protestants) -. She spoke of her father as one who never demeaned to do anything wrong against God or man.

He himself took up their lessons on Religion and the day when he instructed them about the VI Commandment: ‘Thou shall not steal’ and later was told that Sophie took a spoonful of milk from the jug and drank it, he gave her a spanking, saying that he had just instructed them about the sin of stealing. . He expected Sophie and Mary Ann to attend the Sunday Services and to write the sermon to be shown to him. Strict as the father was on disciplinary matters, he was very loving towards the family.

The mother did not appreciate any frivolous talk neither did she want the children to speak to the servants or workers. She encouraged the children to save money by abstaining from sugar in their tea and use the money thus gained on buying cloth to stitch clothes for the poor to be presented at Christmas. The mother sent them for sewing classes to learn to stitch clothes for the poor.Though the Leeves children did not have any formal schooling, tutors were arranged to teach them drawing, singing, dancing, music, horse riding and the languages ( Latin, French, Greek). They regularly visited places of interest in Rome, Naples, France, Brussels …and spoke of having crossed the Mediterranean at least 28 times and the Alps, 6 times. These trips abroad were an education by themselves. On one of their visits they came across a lady who was teaching the Sign language. Sophie learnt it as Emilie would need it. This helped Emilie to learn the Commandments and a part of the Bible.

When the girls had grown up, the mother introduced them to the Christian society of that time. She saw that they were well dressed for the occasions. This fine upbringing set the tone and an ideal seed ground for a Religious vocation and God did not hesitate to take advantage of the occasion.

Strange as God’s ways are, He was drawing her away to belong to Him alone.On Easter Tuesday, 1940 Sophie had an experience which made a deep impression on her, though she did not know how to interpret it. It was early in the morning, none had yet risen and she was still in bed. She was awakened by a sweet and clear voice in English: ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you’. She knew who it was who spoke but she did not tell anyone, until much after she entered the Church.In 1845 the father decided to go on Pilgrimage to the Holy Land accompanied by Mary Ann. When they reached Beyrouth, the father got sick with fever and Erysipelas and passed away. This was the first sorrow that struck the family. Since Mary Ann was left alone in a foreign land, Sophie and the mother went to bring her home.

Later Sophie was engaged to a Naval officer but he could not get leave for the following two years and the marriage was postponed to a later date. He was very good and she loved him very much, but she felt that something was lacking to her. She searched for God and it seemed that she had a weight which she wished to be rid of. She went for confession to a Puseyite minister of ‘Margaret Chapel’. Things began to change for Sophie and she gave up all her pretty dresses and her fine jewellery. She visited the chapel twice a day and then visited the sick and the poor. A great change took place in her heart. The good God had taken away the affection that she bore the young officer to whom she was engaged and had taken her heart to Himself. Jer 1:5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you’ The Good Shepherd cast His enticing spell on Sophie and drew her into His fold. She felt that God was calling her to be a Religious. She gave up all earthly pleasures and treasures to embrace God alone:

GOD ALONE SUFFICES! And this was her disposition all her life!

She had heard of Anglican religious who were sisters of Mercy, and she desired to be one. She wrote to her fiancé and begged to be freed from the agreement and break the engagement for she said that she desired her freedom only to belong to God. He replied that he did not wish to force her to be unhappy with him. She was free.
Sophie practised some penances which Catholics do and did rigorous penance during Lent, taking only a cup of tea at breakfast and some macaroni and potatoes for dinner. It weakened her a lot and she was advised to consult the doctor and he, being a fanatic against all Catholic Doctrine and practices, discussed religion with her. Sophie had taken her Greek New Testament and proved to him the word, ‘This is My Body’ and explained that it did not mean ‘represents my body’. As the discussion prolonged, Sophie fainted and as they were trying to revive her, the bells at St. John’s Cathedral nearby rang the ‘Gloria in Excelsis’. She opened her eyes and said with joy: ‘Ah! It is the first Resurrection.’ She got up and went home. As she was getting sick, she was encouraged to think of the marriage. Sophie knelt down in front of a small crucifix and made a vow of Perpetual Virginity. With that her health improved. She expressed her joy visiting the Church in Valetta. Though she was not aware that the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in the Church an irresistible power drew her towards the Church, where Jesus lived in the tabernacle. She fell on her knees and wept thinking of her sins. She spent hours on her knees and felt it was Jesus who was drawing her to Himself.

Her mother who was very charitable permitted them to join a Society of Ladies in which there were some Catholics and Protestants who sewed and gave clothes to the poor. The President of the Society was Mrs. Demech, a Catholic Spanish lady. The meetings took place in her house. One day, she told Sophie that she was expecting a Jesuit who was going to Rome and asked whether they would like to meet him. Sophie was very eager to meet him. He spoke to them about the Real Presence of God in the Eucharist. While he spoke, Sophie dropped her head on her folded hands and began to cry bitterly. The priest understood that grace had touched her. Sophie was happy that she was understood. As Fr. Giuliani was to leave for Rome and could not follow them up, he recommended the two to Fr. Seagrave, the Superior who lived at Civita Vecchia quite a distance from the Church of Gesu. He came regularly to instruct them on the Catholic Doctrine at a lady’s place, the mother being ignorant of all their plans until after they were Baptized and received Holy Communion, on The Feast of the Purification in 1850. Sophie says: ‘I was no longer a heretic but a child of the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church. Jesus whom we sought and desired so long came into our soul. He took possession of the two lambs. The Good Shepherd had brought us on His shoulder into His fold. Oh my god, I had so many things to say to Him, that I feared I said nothing. I remained engulfed in silence, but I felt I possessed my God. I had everything. The whole world was nothing to me any- more.’ On hearing the news the mother cried, got into black and spent the day praying at Emelie’s grave.

God was planning His unique way to draw Sophie to Himself.

As Henry was sick in Euboia the mother had to be with him. Arrangements were made for Sophie and Mary Ann to stay with the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparitions. Sophie got what she wanted. God had arranged it thus for her. Very fast things worked out favourably for her, as Sophie felt an inner voice inspiring her to join the Congregation. She wrote to her mother about it and though her mother denied giving her consent Sophie told her that since she was of age she could not object her choice. On March 19th, 1851 they were postulants and received the Holy Habit on Sept.14, 1851 and experienced great joy. She was given the name, Sr. Veronica in Religion, her patron saint being St. Veronica, the Stigmatist. She was assigned work with the boarders and later was in charge of the boarding house. She was also appointed headmistress of their schools and of the free school and in charge of the orphanage and all these assignments gave her immense pleasure as she wanted to work for the poor. Her Obedience was remarkable in every situation, accepting with grace and virtue all the assignments that were given to her. She could rightly say ‘Obedience is my life’. Later, she was asked to take care of the sick and she did that work to the satisfaction of her patients. The king’s doctor was ill and she nursed him to perfect health. The Naval Corp of Athens wanted only her to attend to their sick. When Viscount de Serra was sick she not only took care of him but also saw that he changed his heart and wanted Confession and died a happy death. When in Rangoon, finding an old sick man in a bush thrown as food for the jackals, he was rescued and since he was amazed with the care he received, he asked to be baptized before he died.

Her Zeal for God’s glory was so great that she was happy and ready to go to Calicut to start a Convent. After a hazardous journey the group arrived at Calicut. Sr. Veronica stepped out of the pathimar (boat) and kissed the ground made holy by St. Francis Xavier. She wanted to begin her work with a retreat and asked Fr. Marie Ephrem to direct her. During that time the Goan Schism was raging and Father prepared her to feel the viles of the devil. She was asked to report every day what the temptations were and with prayer and advice Father helped her. She went to Calicut and took up her work. As soon as they knew that regular classes were conducted, the school got filled with children – Catholics, Hindus, Parses. She had learnt Malayalam so that she could communicate with the people. When she went to the near-by parish Church for Mass she found the attendance sparse and began visiting homes so that she could encourage them to come to Church. Such was her ZEAL!

During this time she heard an inner voice saying, ‘I want you in Carmel.’. She did not know what it meant and spoke to Fr. Marie Ephrem about it. He asked her to talk to Msgr. Howard. After prayer and much consultation and guided by Fr. Villifort S.J she made a request to leave St. Joseph of the Apparition, that she may start a Congregation of The Third Order of Carmel for the Missions. But as she was preparing for this, she was transferred to Rangoon. There, Sr. Veronica had a fall and fractured her leg. Her mother, on hearing about it, called her to England to be treated by the best doctors. From England she went to Rome, met her Superior General and presented her letter requesting permission to leave the Congregation. She made a similar request to the Pope. But the Congregation had other assignments arranged for her and would not easily give her up. They asked her to be the Novice Mistress, as Sr. Honorine was sick. By then Sr. Veronica secured permission to leave the Order and was going to Pau to join Carmel to prepare herself for her New Foundation. She gained a lot from the Prayer, Silence and Solitude of Carmel. When she completed her 6 months of preparation, Mother Elias, the Prioress told her that she was ready to start her work and asked her to go out looking for a place where she could start it. It was a heart rending job. Though Sr. Veronica would have liked to stay longer at the Carmel of Pau and spend her Christmas there, Mother Elias reminded her of her duty to start her new work. With a heavy heart she left the Carmel of Pau in search for a place to set up her new Institute – Third Order of Carmel for the Missions.

Mother Elias had given a letter to the Superior General of the Carmelite Congregation, Fr. Dominic of St. Joseph saying that she had gone through a 6-month Novitiate to prepare for her new work. Before she set out, she wore a black skirt over her sacred habit and a long mantle and wore a hat with a veil hanging down her back.

People looking at her would not have thought of her as a Religious but rather a run-away-nun, an adventuress or an imposter. She had to sacrifice everything in order to carry out God’s work. She had taken a letter from the Superior General of the Carmelite Order, Fr. Dominic of St. Joseph to help her but the superiors of the Houses she visited doubted her veracity and would not even consider her request and thought the letter she was carrying was not authentic as it did not bear the seal of the Order. Sr. Veronica moved from House to House of the Carmelites with very little response. She went to Montpellier, Annecy, La Roche, Carcassonne, Agen, Bordeaux and though the Carmelite General assured her of help she did not receive it anywhere. At Montpellier she was always treated with courtesy and a very good lady Tertiary received her into her house where several young people were to present themselves as aspirants. She met Madame Barbiere who was prepared to accompany her, but got tired half way, but she always remained a benefactress and sent her money and wine. Madame Pollinge too was very kind to her and when her mother came to see what was happening to her daughter, she put her up in her castle and visited her. While she was making preparations to leave Bordeaux, Fr. Athanasius met her. He showed interest in her as well as in the work in the Missions. He promised to send candidates as soon as she sets up her House.

Sr. Veronica returned to the Carmel of Pau with no assurance of a Home to set up her House. She was sad and dejected. Mother Elias listened to all her woes and asked her to rest a few days before she moved to Bayonne in search of a place. She was not permitted to enter the cloister and this was her greatest sorrow that brought tears to her eyes. She could hear the sisters, reciting the Office but she could not join them. During recreation sisters came to recreate with her, but her heart was too sad for any conversation. She thought she could get some comfort from Fr. Richard, their confessor, but she did not get it. Only Mother Elias comforted her.

In the June of 1868 she left for Bayonne with all the Recommendations, with an oppressed heart. She met Sr. Dosithea and the heavy weight left her. All the sisters of the community met her and she was permitted the use of the temporary house for 500 Francs a year and was asked to see the place where she had to start her work. She says that joy and peace filled her heart; and a holy courage to work for the Glory of God and the good of the Holy Order in the Mission of India gave her the strength which she doubted would be hers.

Here, she finds a small house ridden with rats. She had to clean it up. Candidates began coming. She welcomed all but she saw that several of them were not meant for the Order and had to send away about 24 of them. An Irish girl: Teresa Divine, in Religion : Sr. Elias and Agnes, from Nimes, named Sr. Agnes; Marie Francoise Duchen from Bordeaux, in religion, Sr. Marie Des Anges, and Justine Juge, in Religion: Sr. Mary Joseph, a lay sister were the first of the sisters to be admitted. In India too there were many vocations, waiting for the sisters from Bayonne to come. Bishop Michael Anthony too had prepared some sisters. Sr. Veronica requested to have Fr. Athanasius to be the Extra-Ordinary confessor for the Little Carmel. Fr. Athanasius had kept his interest alive and sent vocations to the ‘Little Carmel’ and later, sent even to India because Sr. Marie Des Anges had made a request for the same.

Poverty gripped them in the face. Life at Carmel was not smooth sailing. Often they had no money even for food and the sisters lived on roots and leaves picked or plucked from the compound. Theirs was a poor life, with no proper bed linen and their clothes were coarse. They sometimes got fruit and vegetable from the neighboring convent. But they were always happy. Later some benefactors gave them some money. One gave 25 Francs and during the following 4 days, they had people giving them 25 Francs and on Holy Thursday, the 6th day some ladies made a collection and offered them 700 Francs and before the end of the month, someone quite unknown to them gave her 7000 Francs with which they cleared half their debt. St. Joseph had a role in this generosity as they had covered his face with a veil. The rest of the debt was cleared by Bishop Marie Ephrem. A year after starting the Foundation Sr. Veronica was prepared to go to India with her daughters. She tried to make arrangement for a substitute for herself at the ‘Little Carmel’. But the Bishop had other plans. He wrote that the works of God begin in poverty and are formed slowly. So, he asked her for God’s time for things to happen.

It was at this time that the name ‘Apostolic Carmel’ began to be used in a letter to the Bishop inviting him to be present for the Profession of Sr. Agnes and is also found in a letter of the Bishop of Dec. 12,1868. The Bishop had to attend the Vatican Council and he had reason to come to Europe and could officiate at the Profession of Sr. Agnes.

Sr. Veronica consulted the Superior General of the Carmelites, Fr. Dominic in writing of the Constitutions for the Third Order of Carmel for the Missions. She trained the candidates for the Mission. In 1970 Fr. Marie Ephrem was appointed Bishop of Malabar. As he was visiting Rome he wrote to Sr. Veronica to prepare four candidates to go with him. Sr. Veronica did not receive this letter and prepared only three according to a previous arrangement. When he came to know that only 3 were prepared he was highly disappointed with her and Sr. Veronica suffered much from the expression of his anger. His fiery indignation resounded through every corner of the cloister and almost for the whole night, until Mother Elias came and took Sr. Veronica into the enclosure. There were differences between the Bishop and Sr. Veronica regarding the Constitutions. The Bishop felt that they were not meant for the Missions. The enclosure, the dress, the food and several other points did not suit the Indian situation. But Sr. Veronica too was firm on the enclosure and the two could not agree on several points and though she said ‘Obedience is my Life’ she could not see eye to eye with the Bishop. She rightly felt that the Enclosure must be strictly adhered to, else a lot of discrepancies would creep in, with outsiders and priests, trespassing the enclosure. Sr. Veronica was disappointed with the Bishop and wondered how he would treat our young sisters who were going to Mangalore, when, he who was a Father to her and called her his daughter had turned against her. He took the reins in his hand and acted imprudently when he amalgamated the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparitions with the Carmelites without their going through a novitiate. Sr. Veronica expressed her dismay at such an act. Later, the Bishop cut all connections with Sr. Veronica and even asked the sisters not to correspond with her. He sent back in disgrace Sisters Cecile and Agnes to Bayonne and did the same with Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified. When the Bishop of Bayonne, Bishop La Croix heard from these sisters the sad situation in India, he felt that there was no purpose in sending sisters there only to be shamefully treated and disgracefully sent back. He decided that no more sisters would be sent and the need of having “The Little Carmel’ at Bayonne had lost its purpose for existence and so in five years time, the ‘Cradle House’ of the Apostolic Carmel was closed down and the inmates were free to go home or join any other Congregation of their choice. Sr. Veronica went back to the Carmel of Pau. She was 50 years old and weak. She began her second Novitiate. She was given a lot of freedom regarding her diet and the Superior gave her permission to have a cup of tea the English way.

Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified told her that Jesus did not want her to take it and since she felt bad to tell her she was avoiding her. Sr. Veronica replied: ‘if Jesus wants me even to pluck my eyes, I would do so willingly’. She was prepared to do anything for Jesus.

Sr. Veronica made her Solemn Profession on Nov. 21, 1874, in Chapter in the hands of Mother Marie of the Immaculate Conception. Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified saw as Sr. Veronica prostrated, on her Profession Day, a CROSS hovered over her and it was the cross that followed her all her life. She then went towards the grille and saw Mother Elias, Srs. Euphrasia and Stephnie. Mother Elias embraced her and said: ‘Happy suffering that produces so much joy’. That evening she was filled with graces and joy.

When the Carmel of Bethlehem was considered. Sr. Veronica was one of the pioneering group with Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified, as the latter had an idea where the convent would be and what the pattern and plan of the building was. In fact Madam Gil was the first donor and the benefactress as the 25,000 francs given by Madame Gil towards all the expenses of closing and shifting, a greater part of it was destined to be a gift from Mrs. Gil towards the foundation of Bethlehem. The group consisted of 9 sisters, accompanied by Fr. Bordachar and Fr. Estrate , appointed by Bishop La Croix to attend to the sisters’ Confessions. When Fr. Estrate took the charge of managing the affairs of Mlle Dartigaux she accompanied the group. They left Pau on Aug.20, 1875. The temporary house being ready, the grilles and turns were placed and His Excellency, the Patriarch came from Jerusalem to see that the sisters were settled and to mark the enclosure.

When the execution of the New Convent of Bethlehem was in the process there was neither a plan nor a pattern. Everything depended on Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified who had seen it in an ecstasy but she was not able to communicate the plan to Fr. Matthieu, the cure’ of Bethlehem as he did not know French. Sr. Veronica stepped in to help in drawing up the plan and the work began. One day as she was carrying a bucket of water to give the workers a drink, she fell and dislocated her arm and gangrene set in and she passed away.

Sr. Veronica read the life of a Jesuit Father, Fr. Clement Cathary, who died in the odour of sanctity. He had made a vow of Humility; she was inspired to make the vow, but Fr. Guido permitted her to do 8 days at a time

Life in the Carmel was not the same and Sr. Veronica suffered much because of Fr. Estrate and Dartigaux. It was they who ruled the Convent and often she was put out of the cloister and prevented from attending Mass and receiving Communion. She who valued Holy Communion so much had to stay without it. Some of them were prevented from talking to anyone. Later, they were asked to make ‘the culpa’ and accuse themselves of things they did not do or were aware of. Sr. Veronica made a vow of Humility and her confessor asked her to make it only for a week and see. Later Sr. Veronica herself was having terrible scruples whether her sins were forgiven and wanted to confess to the Patriarch himself. The priests there tried much to comfort her, nothing helped. Finally a few sisters asked the Patriarch to send them back to Pau. That was the happiest news that she received. The Patriarch gave a letter of obedience for Sr. Veronica, Sr. Louise and Madaliene to be sent to Pau. They were also permitted to visit the Holy Places before they left. But they were prevented from visiting any Holy place. Fr. Chirou accompanied them. He had great concern for the 3 and asked to stop at Montpellier and meet Fr. Lazare to tell him all that had happened. Finally they reached Pau. On their arrival at Pau on May 15, they were received with great cordiality.

Msgr. Pagani had gone to Rome and Mother Veronica invited him to Pau. He met Sr. Veronica and told her about the good work done by the sisters in Mangalore. Fr. Athanasius too wrote to her to tell her that the transfer of the jurisdiction from the Carmelites to the Jesuits was in no way a problem, as they are going the right way. When Sr. Elias visited Europe she came to meet Sr. Veronica at Pau and gave her a glorious account of their life in India. This was a source of great comfort to Sr. Veronica. Sr. Marie Des Anges too paid her a visit and related the life of the Apostolic Carmel in India. It gave her great joy that the little seed she had planted in the far away ‘Little Carmel’ at Bayonne had grown into a mighty tree and had spread its branches far and wide and has borne ample fruit.

Towards the end of Sr. Veronica’s life everything seemed to fall into place. She was completely reconciled and even deeply satisfied with Sr. Marie Des Anges. “The Dear Mother” has a particular tact for exercising her office. The Prioress at Pau commented that Sr. Veronica is a happy person, really fulfilled in life after all the suffering she had to bear.

A tiny seed sowed in far away Bayonne has reaped a wonderful harvest!







Sister M. Stanislas A.C.
St.Agnes Convent



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