“The good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth,” wrote St. Thérèse of Lisieux of her beloved parents, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin.
If Monsieur and Madame Martin had not been the parents of Thérèse of Lisieux, their holiness likely would have gone unrecognized, at least officially. Yet everyday holiness has the power to transform the world, as expressed in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium:
“They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.”
Their feast day is July 12.
This couple is best known as the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (the Little Flower), but they are models of holiness in their own right. They are only the second married couple to be beatified.
Louis was born in 1823 in Bordeaux. When his hope of entering religious life was thwarted he became a watchmaker. Zélie Guerin was born in 1831. She, too, hoped to become a religious, but eventually understood that it was not God’s will. She became a successful lace-maker.
Louis and Zélie met in Alencon and were married in 1858 after a three-month courtship. For almost a year the couple lived as celibates, but the advice of a confessor changed their minds and they decided to raise as many children as possible for the glory of God. Zélie gave birth to nine children, five of whom entered religious life.
The family lived a comfortable lifestyle, but they also suffered the loss of four children at an early age and had to deal with a rebellious daughter. Their devotion never wavered, however. The couple lived modestly, reached out to the poor and the needy, and led daily prayers in the household. St. Thérèse would later write: “God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”
In 1877, at age 45, Zélie Martin died of breast cancer. Louis and his daughters moved to Lisieux. Gradually his daughters left to enter the convent. Despite his loneliness he said: “It is a great, great honor for me that the Good Lord desires to take all of my children. If I had anything better, I would not hesitate to offer it to him.” Louis died in 1894 after suffering greatly, including a three-year stay in a psychiatric hospital.
Beautified: July 12, 2008 by beatified by Pope Benedict XVI
Cannonized: October 18, 2015 by Pope Francis