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An author tells the stories of local children who shared their faith before they died

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Audrey Stevenson, Margaret Leo and Brendan Kelly are the Littlest Suffering Souls, three children who died young and suffered greatly, but not before sharing their faith.

“It was startling to me that these three contemporary children brought so many people to the church through their suffering,” said Austin Ruse, author of Littlest Suffering Souls, a collection of stories on the impact these children left behind.

Ruse spoke at the Catholic Information Center in Washington April 24. The president of the Center for Family and Human Rights originally wrote the stories as a series of columns for The Catholic Thing. 

Ruse was moved visibly as he read stories aloud from his book, taking time to collect himself periodically throughout the reading. He emphasized the normalness of these children, speaking of their senses of humor. Stevenson, from Paris, died at 7 from leukemia. Leo died at 14 from spina bifida, and Kelly, who had Down syndrome, died at 15 also from leukemia.

Kelly’s father, Frank, spoke briefly at the end of the evening, telling Ruse they were grateful for him chronicling the life of their son who lived in Great Falls. 

“(April 27) will be the fourth anniversary of his death but he gave so much hope and love,” he said. “I hope everybody finds hope from this book. It’s renewed my hope and my faith in many ways.”

Kelly died in 2013 on the day of Pope John Paul II's canonization. He had the opportunity to meet the pope through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

A funeral Mass was offered for Leo, who was from McLean, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. Leo’s father, Leonard, also expressed gratitude for the book. “We learned from them and I think what many people can learn from your book is the importance of an elegant and simple devotion to God, which all these children had.”  

Ruse recounted several lessons to be learned from these children, including simplicity. “We learn that we join our suffering with Christ on the cross, and that we can help to complete the redemption,” he said. “They show us that even these short, painful lives are lives worth living.”

He emphasized that the children were born into families of influence or affluence.

"They were not shepherd children, but were sent into the spiritual desert,” Ruse said. “They were sent to these families in these places for a reason to tell their story of suffering and of mercy and Christ’s love,” he said. “They were sent to be living proof that we live in a time of great saints." He named St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. Josemaría Escrivá and St. Padre Pio as examples of living in a time of great saints. 

Michelle Habib, a parishioner of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Church in McLean, came to the talk because she was interested in learning about the stories of triumphant children. "We pity those who are sick and suffering," she said. "We flee from it. Yet they're closer to home than we are." 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017