The Littlest Suffering Souls: Audrey Stevenson of Paris

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The strongest argument atheists possess is the problem of pain. It is almost a cliché. How could a loving God allow pain, not just toothache pain but wrenching almost unending pain, pain unto death. He allowed it for His own Son.

Such severe pain in anyone is a mystery, even more mysterious when visited upon children. I suspect it is something that has driven many away from the arms of faith.  Is it made less mysterious when visited upon young children who also have a heightened sense of God? Certainly not to the atheist. Not even to a Mormon, or to a Jew who do not understand suffering in the way Catholics do.

We believe that suffering, properly understood, draws us closer to God, helps to alleviate the suffering of Christ, and draws others to salvation. What a monstrous belief to those who do not understand.

We live in an age of great saints. John Paul the Great. Josemaria Escrivá. Mother Theresa. Padre Pio. Gianna Molla. Brendan Kelly. Margaret Leo. Audrey Stevenson.

You do not know those last three? They are the littlest suffering saints. There are many more all across the globe, little ones with a heightened sense of God, even as tots, who suffered terribly with maladies and disease but who offered their suffering for others, for Christ, and who died young.

Audrey Stevenson was born in 1983 to a nominally Catholic family, a family that did not even say grace at meals.  When she was three, her family visited the home of Theresa of Lisieux and then to the convent where the Little Flower lived and died, and Audrey exclaimed: “I want to enter Carmel.”

Not long after the family moved into a new apartment. Audrey drew a crude yellow crucifix and put it on the wall. She had put identical crucifixes in each room of the house where they remained for a good long time.

One day Audrey’s mother Liliane discovered Audrey was walking with a limp. Audrey had put pencils in her shoes so she “could resist,” a child’s quite sophisticated understanding of mortification, something that no one in the house had taught her.

Audrey went to the park with her grandfather, down boulevards, across bridges and big intersections, in a busy part of Paris where Haussmann made all the beautiful buildings look the same. She became lost. Alarmed, her grandfather called home and found that Audrey was there. She said she followed Jesus home.

All of this happened to a little girl of three in a family that was not especially devout.

            As her father, Jerome, looks on, Audrey Stevenson meets John Paul the Great

Audrey introduced grace before meals into her family. Once at their summerhouse in Brittany, Audrey insisted upon saying grace. Her American uncle Alexander Cummings chided her. “But Audrey, if we have to give thanks to God every time we eat, then we should be giving thanks all the time, for everything.” Audrey said, “Yes, that’s right.”

The stories of Audrey’s piety go on and on. She lived a deep interior and exterior faith that one rarely sees in this life. Her mother said, “Audrey bewilders us. She is beyond us.” She knew the catechism without anyone teaching it to her. Their priest said, do not do anything, follow her. And so the family did.

At five Audrey petitioned the Church to be allowed to take communion. The typical child in France was allowed the Eucharist at nine or then. She was quizzed deeply – by her priest and then another and then another. They determined that this little girl was ready, and so the family decamped to Lourdes, where she received the Eucharist for the first time.

You notice in the story of her life is that she not only lived close to Christ but she brought him to others, first to her family and then to an ever widening circle.

The avenue that brought Audrey’s faith to others far outside the family was sickness. Her parents had a foreboding that something would happen to test Audrey and them.  At six, she came down with pneumonia and had to spend a lot of time alone while her mother and father tended to the other children. She spent the time in prayer and singing. And her mother began to wonder if sickness would be part of Audrey’s mission.

Death-dealing illness came when she was seven. Leukemia. Many months of treatment including radiation, chemotherapy, spinal taps, and bone marrow transplants. And thus began Audrey’s teaching mission, a mission that reached across France and into other countries.

Among family and friends, a Tuesday Rosary began for her recovery. It started small and then grew. Miracles happened there. Little girls taught their fathers to say the Rosary. Whole families came back to the faith. An Audrey prayer card went all over France.

Audrey’s suffering in the hospital was intense. Chemotherapy rendered her without saliva, her eyelids stuck to her eyes, and all of her bones hurt. She said over and over, “I am on the cross. I am on the cross.” During painful spinal taps she would repeat, “For Uncle Mick, for Papa, for vocations.” During one painful treatment doctors heard her singing songs to Mary.

After a failed bone-marrow transplant, Audrey had three weeks to live. Her family took her to Lourdes; they took her to meet the pope, with whom she had an intense private talk. In the end, visitors from all over France knocked on their door asking Audrey to pray for their intentions, which she did in great pain by name one after another.

Audrey died. Her father, who is my daughter Gianna-Marie’s godfather, tells how a priest visited from Mexico. The priest said, “I owe my vocation to a little French girl who prayed for vocations and died of Leukemia.” Jerome said, “You are sitting in her bedroom.”

The cause for Audrey’s canonization was begun in Paris a few years ago. Audrey Stevenson, pray for us.

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.

  • Manfred

    Thank you for this excellent piece, Mr. Ruse. It is reassuring to know that we Catholics really do exist in a Communion of Saints.

  • Laurs

    I have goosebumps. How beautiful! I had never really heard Audrey’s story before now. I would be interested to know how you came to know her father, Austin. How has her life changed this family? Thank you for reminding us of the power of a child’s faith and may we always do what we can to foster our faith in our children. Audrey Stevenson, pray for us!

  • jane

    Amazing little girl and I am so sorry for her family that they lost her so young. However: with all due respect it is not healthy for a child that young to be so obsessed with suffering and death. I know it happens but somehow this is just a bit morbid and feels wrong to me.

    Iam saying the faith part was wrong. if it gave her and her family comfort that is wonderful. Bot somehow this leaves a very uneasy feeling in my stomach.

  • Austin Ruse

    She was not obsessed with death but with life in Christ.

  • Austin Ruse

    You misread the piece. She was not obsessed with death but with life…in Christ.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    As we approach the feast of Pentecost, I have only this to respond to Jane: The Holy Spirit proceeds as He wills; all is gift if the Spirit of God dwells in us – even sickness and pain.

  • Layman Tom

    And still, she teaches. Reading of this little girl, whom I’d never heard of, was very humbling and ,while not miraculous, has served to re-order my mind today.

    Thank you Mr. Ruse.

  • Dan Deeny

    Very interesting. Now you must tell us about the other two!

  • DeGaulle

    Wonderful piece. I had tears in my eyes.

    Jane, you underestimate children.

  • Austin Ruse

    My next column in 2 weeks will tell the Margaret Leo story. Two weeks after that Brendan Kelly.

  • debby

    Austin, you did it again. (last week’s post and now this!)
    A wonderful witness to living in Union with the Most Holy Trinity and consecration to our Lady.
    What a privilege it must be to be her own parents and siblings! How them must have come to know, beyond any shadow of human boundaries of “reason and understanding”, that God Who is Love – Love Who suffered, died and Rose Again – came not only in the Person of the Son to redeem, but invites some of us (yes, even one as little as Audrey) to join in His Love that only knows how to give!
    How very obvious to the world that Audrey was another “Christ among us”. Would we have “missed Him” in her had she not lived this suffering servant life?

    i think (although of course i cannot know for sure) that Jane’s comment comes from only the human side of wanting to Understand that which is Mystery. Love is not only to be understood. There are deep places in Love that can only be lived, experienced, and no words, no scientific or philosophical kind of intelligence, no tangible “grasping” can explain that realm- for it is Mystery, a type of Eden, wrapped in early morning haze or dusk’s fog of Trust in God. It is only expressed in living “Fiat.”

    This is not to romanticize suffering. Not by any means. Suffering by itself is not to be “worshiped” or sought after. i believe the Scripture says it will come. So then what? Ah! Isn’t this the very place where Christ comes into the world? In suffering, in poverty, in humility, in lowliness, in the way we would never choose? If all is well and good and easy and fine where is the witness of Redemption and Resurrection for the world?
    To empty oneself of the grasping of “the apple” of deciding what is good and what is evil, to receive what is given in loving obedience, to humble oneself to accept death, even death on a cross….
    it seems to me little Audrey Stevenson lived in her little body Philippians 2:5-17.
    To KNOW that especially through the power of suffering united to the very Heart of Jesus on the Cross and our Lady at the Foot of the Cross, saving, healing, restoring and Resurrection Grace is brought to others! THAT is a Love that cannot be reduced to mere words or opinions or analyzing.
    But what it can be is experienced, witnessed and received. When this occurs, we all, the Church and the whole world, are showered with Grace to Repent and join in both the suffering and the glorious Resurrection of Christ. His Resurrection is what gives the Assurance of Eternal Life forever free and united to Love.
    i am guessing here, but i would wager that Audrey’s parents know they are among the most privileged of all people. i would guess that they learned to pray in her bedroom, their own Gethsemane, “Thy will be done.” i would guess they learned that, “In Thy will is my peace.”

    Austin, i hope you know a “good writer somewhere” who is composing a book filled with these kinds of real life witnesses. Little Audrey’s echo of our Lady’s “Fiat”, her story, must be told. Maybe TCT will publish it….

  • jane

    I understand that Audrey received great joy from her relationship with Christ and to her this relationship and her suffering were about life not death. But I honestly still feel that the idea of a child her age being asked to pray or offer up her suffering to God on behalf of the infirmities of others 3x her age is not healthy for a child her age.

    By the way-I do not underestimate children-I have been a teacher of children with all sorts of developmental disabilities for 21 years. I know children well. There are many things they are capable of. Yes Faith is very important to their upbringing but there is a lot young children misunderstand and confuse. And they look to us for guidance, NOT the other way around. We must tread carefully. Not because religious believe is bad for kids; it is not. In fact a lot of evidence says it is good. But it would be inappropriate for a young child to watch “passion of the Christ” for instance, even though many adults would find it enlightening. This is because what kids can understand and make sense out of is different than adults. What comforts us can often scare the wits out of children.

    Sometimes we see in kids what we want to see, not what is there.

  • Austin Ruse


    I am grateful that you now see Audrey was not obsessed with death. I am sorry that you are now reading something else into the story that is not there. I get the feeling you do not like this story and will keep finding reasons for your displeasure.

    You now suggeset that Audrey’s faith was foisted upon her by adults, by her parents perhaps or by her priest. You should understand that the early and longlasting intensity of her love for Christ was something that she brought to her family and not the other way around. Her family, who are probably reading this thread by teh way so I ask for delicacy in your criticism, were weekly Catholics who were flummoxed by their religiously precocious daughter. They did not know what to do. Their priest said “follow her” and so they did.

    Her offering of her sufferings for others came enitrely from her and her understanding of the faith which was far beyond most adults, as evidenced here. At the end, in her final days, they got upwards of ten knocks on the door a day with requests for prayer. At one point Audrey asked if she could simply pray for them all at once. Her mother said, “of course,” Audrey tried this and found it was not the right thing for her to do, so she resorted to making prayers for each person by name.

    You might consider opening your heart to the possibility that this was God driven, God inspired and she saw herself as His intrument in her happiness and in her pain.

    The boy I will write about in a few weeks was a boy with Down Syndrome who lived his whole life iwth leukemia. He also offered his pain and suffering for others. These are things to stand in awe of rather than skepticism.

  • DeGaulle

    Jane, you are not the only one who knows children. I have a few myself. Indeed, I was one, once upon a time, and I haven’t changed all that much, granted I have learned a lot. And, of course, children are, by definition, ignorant of much of the ways of the world, but they are possessed of certain knowledge that is lost in adulthood. They have a particular purity and innocence, distinct from ignorance, that tends to be demolished by sin. Finally, most of us here know very little, if anything at all about Audrey, and all we have heard seems to be from very estimable sources, which appear to be her family, various priests, a Pope and medical personnel, none presenting with any obvious ulterior motives. It seems as good as one can get. The alternative appears to be total scepticism. For myself, I can’t live like that.

  • Robb

    Are you Catholic?

  • jane

    Robb-I am not Catholic-I am Jewish and I hope this does not disqualify me from sharing my thoughts. I intend to offend no one and my thoughts (I thought, perhaps not), were offered rather gently. I apologize if my writing was not clear. I take full responsibility for this. I love my faith, and I love teaching. I have worked with children and have my own. I am 55 years old-and have been doing this for 21 years.

    I do not mean to suggest her faith was foisted on her by her parents-not at all. All I am trying to say is that children have two types of thinking that often contradict each other. Children see themselves as the center of the universe. In other words everything that happens has to do with something they did or did not do. In addition they often exhibit “magical thinking” which is the reason a young child may believe for years that she was responsible for her mother’s death because she was angry with her or did not clean her room. Children often attribute cause-effect where there is none, and also exhibit very black and white rule bound behavior at the same time. This is a normal part of development. Therefore for them to grasp certain concepts that adults struggle with is very challenging. That is why when we speak to children about death and suffering (and we should), it needs to be done in a developmentally appropriate way. As children grow older they begin to develop the capacity to put things in a proper perspective and understand very complex and confusing ideas a little better. They begin to realize that not everything conforms neatly and sometimes two contradictory ideas can be equally true. I just believe that expecting a child to comprehend the idea of redemption through suffering for herself and others is asking a lot.

    I have seen how children react to and misunderstand difficult concepts. I have seen unbelievable misconceptions in children who lacked the proper perspective to understand.I also have seen children try to navigate their day to day lives, when they are being given different messages from different sources in their lives, and they have no idea how to manage this.

    We just need to be careful with this kind of thing-that is all I am saying.

  • Brad Miner

    @Jane: Speaking for the management, you are welcome here. -Brad Miner, Senior Editor of TCT.

  • debby

    (with all respect to our beautiful “management” – )and
    speaking as one of the long time readers here at TCT – you are most welcome here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. i for one hope you continue to join in the conversation and growing in Faith in God our Father here. Knowing you are not Catholic makes your comments far clearer than assuming you are since suffering is an accepted reality of our Catholic Faith. It’s just that most of us are not such good co-operators with Grace as Audrey was…..Shalom.

  • Austin Ruse

    Jane, please understand, her parents and others did not “expect” any of this. They certainly did not “expect her to comprehend the idea of redemption through suffering for herself and others…” Even so, she did. Why can’t you comprehend the possibility that this is real, not foisted upon her, but rather was a gift from God that she was prepared for and accepted? As I said in my piece this is a monstrous belief for those who do not understand.

  • Franklin Morgan

    This moved me deeply. Thank you.


  • Suburbanbanshee

    Based on Abraham’s talk with God about how many righteous people it would take for Sodom to be spared, my understanding is that Jewish tradition totally understands the concept of someone choosing to be righteous and love God not just for themselves, but also for the good of others. Learning to put up with trouble, sorrow, and suffering is just as much a part of a righteous life as learning to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

    Asceticism literally means “athletic training,” because it’s supposed to train you for life’s suffering and death, and for the new life to come. Nobody can avoid suffering, unlike sports. Yet not everybody goes into training for it. Still, it certainly makes it easier to deal with the real thing if you practice ahead of time, or at least know a little about how to do it in theory.

    So yes, I’d say that God did train this child to be able to benefit from her short life and early death, and to help others. It’s unusual that He would be so blatant about it, or that the girl would respond so willingly and completely. But it isn’t an unwholesome way to live.

  • Barbara

    Thank you, Austin, for these stories. My grandson, Sam, is suffering greatly from leukemia. He relapsed in May, and so many are praying for his recovery. I forwarded the article on Brendan, and this one about Audrey, to my daughter who is with Sam in the hospital. She just read it to him. We are asking Brendan and Audrey to pray for Sam along with several other saints who seem to be asking to intercede for him as well.

  • sr. Irene SJE

    Thanks for this article! And how can I find the postulator of Audrey’s process? I need some more information about Adrey.

    On this summer we will make children’s week about such littlest suffering souls who speciall live with the Jesus in Eucharist, e.g. Carlo Acutis from Italy.
    About Adrey I knew from a sister from Mother Theresa’s Order. She confessed before Audrey’s uncle some years ago. And he retolled about his small nice.

    May be somedody can help me?

  • Austin Ruse

    Sister Irene, write to me at and I can give you more info…

  • sr. Irene SJE

    Dear Austin Ruse!
    I wrote you some days ago but don’t know do you received my letter or not. I can wait for answer, no problem, but may be you didn’t receved it?

    I think there is a mistake in your e-mail. I changed letters “i” and “t” by places. Is it right?