Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, are the first spouses who were not martyrs to be canonized as a couple (October 18, 2015). Louis was a watchmaker, Zélie a manufacturer of point d’Alencon lace. They married in 1858 and had nine children. In this icon by Paolo Orlando they are pictured with the five daughters who survived to adulthood: Marie, Pauline, Céline, and Thérèse in the Carmelite habit, and Léonie in the habit of the Visitation. An inquiry into Léonie’s possible sainthood was opened in 2015. Also pictured are the four children who died young: Marie-Mélanie-Thérèse, Marie-Joseph-Louis, Marie-Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, and Marie-Hélène, who died at the age of five.
In nineteen years of married life, Louis and Zélie faced many challenges: becoming skilled artisans; searching for good child care; educating a special child; caring for aging parents; finding energy to pray and to be active in their parish; forming their children in the faith. Loving spouses and parents and devout Catholics, they were faithful to prayer and to the works of mercy. They supported the poor and the Church generously with energy as well as with money, and served the needs of their employees, servants, tenants, and neighbors. Faced with frequent and serious sickness in the family and with the deaths of four children, they were constant in faith, hope, and love. In 1877 Zélie died of breast cancer at 45, leaving Louis with five minor daughters. He was diagnosed with cerebral arteriosclerosis and spent three years in a mental hospital before his death in 1894. They lived heroically their motto: “God must be served first.”
Their Feast Day is July 12.
THE LIVES OF LOUIS AND ZELIE MARTIN
Louis Martin was born in Bordeaux in 1823 and baptized Louis-Joseph-Aloys-Stanislaus. He grew up in Alençon and after school learned clock-making eventually opening his own watch-making and jewelry business on the rue du Pont-Neuf in Alençon. As a young man he wished to become a priest but it was not to be. Prayer was an important part of his life. He liked reading, fishing and walking in the countryside. His travels included his well-known pilgrimage to Rome in 1887 with his daughters Thérèse and Céline on the occasion of which Thérèse - still not fifteen years old - asked Pope Leo XIII for permission to enter Carmel.
Zélie Guérin (christened Marie-Azélie) was born in 1831 near Alençon. She had a strong faith. She too wished to embrace the religious life and again it was not to be. Much is written of her great energy and capacity for work. She became a professional and talented maker of Alençon point lace and she also started her own business in Alençon.
When Zélie was 26 years old she encountered Louis Martin on the Bridge of St Leonard over the Sarthe River in Alençon and had a premonition that they would marry. Three months later on 13 July 1858 the wedding took place in the Church of Notre-Dame now the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Alençon. Louis gave Zélie a silver medallion – which he had designed – depicting Sarah and Tobias. This medallion was used as the template for the commemorative medallion issued on the occasion of their Beatification.
The couple lived in Alençon, initially at 15 rue du Pont-Neuf and later at 35 rue Saint-Blaise, where St. Thérèse was born. They had nine children only five of whom survived infancy and early childhood. The surviving children were Marie, Pauline, Léonie, Céline and Thérèse all of whom embraced the religious life. Marie, Pauline, Céline and Thérèse became Carmelite Sisters in Lisieux and were known respectively as Sr Marie of the Sacred Heart, Mother Agnes of Jesus, Sr Geneviève of the Holy Face and Sr Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Léonie became a Visitantine Sister, in Caen, and was known as Sr Françoise Thérèse.
Thérèse, their youngest daughter, was only four year old when Zélie died in 1877. After this Louis and his five daughters moved to Les Buissonnets in Lisieux. In 1887 Thérèse asked for and received her father’s permission to enter Carmel which she did in 1888.
Thérèse in her autobiography conveyed the goodness of her parents and the sense of prayerfulness and care for others which was instilled in her home. She wrote in the opening pages of Story of a Soul ‘God granted me the favor of opening my intelligence at an early age and of imprinting childhood recollections deeply on my memory. Jesus in His love willed perhaps, that I know the matchless mother He had given me, but whom His hand hastened to crown in Heaven.’ Of her father she wrote ‘I cannot say how much I loved Papa; everything in him caused me to admire him’. In reference to both her mother and father in a letter to Fr Bellière just two months before she died she wrote the much quoted ”God gave me a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth.”
Beautified: July 12, 2008 by beatified by Pope Benedict XVI
Canonized: October 18, 2015 by Pope Francis