By: Rev. Br. John Broussard, C.P.M.
[The medical information contained in this article is not intended to give a detailed description and explanation of the technicalities surrounding Lia’s medical history, but rather to provide context and appreciation for the incredible chain of events that has been her life and story.]
Every vocation requires a superabundance of grace to survive. This is especially true of the vocation and calling to the priesthood; a life that by its very nature cannot be sustained without special and specific cooperation with the help of God. This supernatural calling is distinguished by the life of suffering needed for the imitation of Christ the High Priest and spotless victim. Thus this unique vocation is often times supported by chosen victim souls called to love and to suffer for priests (and future priests) while winning graces to soften even the hardest of hearts.
“Love wants to suffer for the Beloved… Love wants to expiate the sins that have so deeply penetrated mankind. Love wants to make up for the lack of love among those who sin. Love wants to relieve the debt of suffering that sinners owe to God. Love wants to give God what sinners are depriving Him of by their sins.” – Servant of God, Fr. John Hardon S.J
These victim souls are often very much unknown to society, silently suffering while sanctifying all around them. Such is the case, I believe, in my vocation and the miraculous life of suffering endured by my sister Lia. God has given me a gift, a gift that I did not realize until I was well established in my path to the priesthood. Everyone is called to play a part in the salvation of souls and Lia was given a special role in the sanctification of those around her through her sufferings. Lia’s entire life has been a prayer; and dare I say a life engaged in powerful spiritual combat in a vicious battle for souls. I have never known anyone that prays more for others, and priests make the top of her prayer list.
Lia Marie Broussard was born October 14, 1975 in Houston Texas. From the very onset of her life she was faced with great struggle. At three days old Lia was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect known as Transposition of the Great Vessels (a condition involving the reversal of the aorta and pulmonary artery that results in an inability to circulate oxygenated blood to the body and un-oxygenated blood to the lungs). This condition would have killed her had she not also been born with holes in the walls dividing the chambers of the heart allowing for enough oxygenated blood to keep her alive. Although there was a corrective surgery available at the time for this heart defect, it could not be done until the patient weighed twenty pounds; so the solution was to enlarge the holes in her heart to help to facilitate greater oxygenation of the blood. Lia was sent home to wait until she weighed twenty pounds which would be about one year of age.
God, however, had greater plans. Unknown to all, Lia was also born with a genetic blood disorder that caused her to over produce blood clots (a condition that remained undiagnosed until much later in Lia’s life). With the blood flow of a normal heart the clots caused by the blood mutation would have most likely been filtered by the lungs. Due to the nature of Lia’s heart conditions, however, some blood clots were circulated to her legs and brain causing a stroke when she was five months old. Lia’s incredible life was barely underway and she was already a powerhouse of redemptive suffering.
“The more we are afflicted in this world, the greater is our assurance in the next; the more we sorrow in the present, the greater will be our joy in the future.” – Saint Isidore of Seville
The incredible beginning to the journey of life with Lia was far from over. The blood clots sent to her brain that caused her stroke and mental disability weakened the right side of her body, left her aphasic, and left her with a seizure disorder. The stroke also made chewing and swallowing food very difficult. Almost unbelievably, the blood clots in her legs caused several more challenges. The doctors attempted a surgery to remove the blood clots in her legs though this procedure had its own complications. After the surgery, Lia suffered weeks of physical pain from very poor to non-existent blood circulation in her lower extremities. This surgery also removed many of the blood vessels carrying blood to her legs; this resulted in very poor circulation in her right leg (which has lasted her entire life) and the amputation of her left leg just below the knee. With the right side of her body weakened by the stroke, and the loss of her left leg, Lia’s balance and stability was greatly compromised and has led to a whole host of other issues and medical procedures throughout her life. God was literally shaping Lia into a perfect instrument for the salvation of souls.
At this point, when Lia was seven months old, it was decided that she needed to have the heart surgery, despite its risks, to prevent a fatal stroke. A world renowned heart surgeon performed the surgery and successfully corrected Lia’s heart condition (though Lia still suffers from a weak heart and poor blood circulation to this day). At less than a year old, Lia was sent home with a list of prescriptions and Doctors to accompany her for the rest of her life. The hand of providence saw to it that Lia remained an unfailing instrument of grace and love through a life of meaningful suffering.
Lia’s life cannot be understood apart from the profound life of faith that our parents have provided for her. A Catholic life has always been the major aspect of the Broussard household. Though most in the family did not understand Lia’s role in our strong faith, Lia was and still remains a powerful bond between us and God. The testimony of our parents to the incredible experience of Lia’s life demonstrates an aspect of her impact on the faith of the family. They said: “She believes that Jesus is truly in the Eucharist and when (we) ask her if she wants Jesus to come into her soul she always says yes. At Communion time we pray together and we run down our list (of people and prayer intentions). And especially she offers up all her physical defects to save souls for Jesus. She mostly prays for priests.”
“If you embrace all things in this life as coming from the hands of God, and even embrace death to fulfill His holy will, assuredly you will die a saint.” – Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Lia’s impact is not limited to our family. Everyone with whom she comes in contact with is affected by the joy she radiates. “Whenever she gets sick she tells us that she offers it up to Jesus.” My parents have witnessed: “When she sees a wreck, she makes the sign of the cross and prays for the victims. She has been praying for her friend who died recently. When she wakes in the morning and (we) go in her room she is praying her morning prayers and she prays every evening when she goes to bed. When she sees some one in a cast or in a wheelchair she prays for them. As you can imagine her whole life is a prayer, a constant prayer.” God has truly taken what appears to be the weakest of all possible instruments and has used Lia for great and powerful works through her intimate participation in the sufferings of Christ.
Early on in my pursuit of a vocation to the priesthood Lia has always assured me of her prayers. Though I never appreciated her life and prayers as I do now, I slowly began to see the effect that Lia has on the lives of others. My entire life Lia has been in and out of doctors’ offices, operating tables and pharmacies; and whenever she is asked whether she would like God to fix her arm, legs and voice, she shakes her head no and just points up to Heaven knowing that God will take care of all that later. Despite having what the doctors have assured us is nothing more than the mind of a six year old girl; she truly understands the gift that God has given her. With just a smile Lia can change the hearts of complete strangers. It is often times the gift we take for granted that is the one with the most benefit.
The fact that Lia has taken on a special apostolate to pray for priests and vocations to the priesthood is evidenced, I believe, in my own vocation. My entire life I have felt, to some degree or another, a calling to the priestly life. It is only now, within months of my ordination to the priesthood, that I begin to realize the work that God has performed through my sister. Looking back one can see the hand of providence guiding and directing all of our lives through the existence of Lia. Especially as the first born in the family Lia plays a special part as a role model for her younger siblings (even if we do not always recognize her as such). In a unique way I can look to Lia as an example of truly holy suffering as I pursue a vocation that is conformed to Christ the High Priest and Victim. God has provided me with not only a powerful intercessor; he has given me a glimpse into the very nature of priesthood. Lia’s power can be found in the witness of her life as imitation of Christ; thus making Lia a gift to all priests.
“We must understand then, that even though God doesn’t always give us what we want, He always gives us what we need for our salvation.” – Saint Augustine
The story is not over and Lia continues to pray for so many every day. She continues to labor in the Lord’s vineyard as God has not deemed her work yet complete. The purity and innocence that supports her prayer life makes her all the more an effective tool in the hand of the Craftsman. So Lia perseveres in her mission; would that all Christians have the same zeal and passion for a world centered on Christ.