A brief history of the Little Flower's parents, who are an example of Christian marriage for our own time.
From DICI we offer this overview of Louis and Zelie Martin, the holy parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.
The Martin Spouses “Honored Marriage and the Christian Family”
On Sunday, October 18, 2015, Pope Francis canonized the spouses Louis Martin (1823-1894) and Zelie Guerin (1831-1877), St. Therese of Lisieux‘s parents. In St. Peter’s Square, before an important number of bishops and cardinals, including those participating in the synod on the family, the pope meditated on the theme of service and the call “to follow Jesus on the path of humility and the cross.”
The parents of the Carmelite whom St. Pius X called “the greatest saint of modern times”, had chosen to live holy lives: “Yes, I have a goal; my goal is to love God with all my heart,” said Louis Martin. His wife, who realized that sanctity is a long work of patience, wrote to her daughters: “Better late than never.”
The son of a soldier whose family settled in Alencon, Louis Martin learned clock-making in Rennes, Strasburg and Paris. Over the years, the desire to consecrate himself to God at the monastery of the Great St. Bernard was born. The difficulty he had learning Latin forced him to renounce this plan. He then opened a clock and jewelry shop in 1850 on the rue du Pont Neuf in Alencon, and spent his time in work, leisure (especially fishing), meditation and partaking in the parish life.
He participated in the Vital Romet Circle, composed of a dozen young Christian adults, and discovered the apostolate of the Soceity of St. Vincent de Paul. His mother, who could not resign herself to seeing him single, spoke to him of Zelie Guerin, with whom she had learned the art of making lace. Their first meeting in April 1858 on the bridge of Sarthe was decisive. Three months later, on July 12, 1858, their civil marriage took place at 10:00 p.m. and two hours later, at midnight on July 13, in the strictest privacy, they exchanged their wedding vows at the church of Notre Dame, before Fr. Hurel, doyen of St. Leonard.
Second child of Isidore Guerin and Louise-Jeanne Mace, Azelie-Marie Guerin (called Zelie) was born on December 23, 1831, and baptized the next day at the church of St. Denis sur Sarthon. Her sister, Marie-Louise, two years her elder, became Sister Marie Dosithee at the convent of the Visitation in Mans. Her brother, Isidore, was born almost 10 years later, and was the spoiled child of the family. She herself described her childhood, in a letter to her brother, as “sad as a shroud, for while my mother spoiled you, she was too severe with me, you know; although she was so good, she didn’t know how to handle me, and I suffered greatly in my heart.” After her studies at the convent of Perpetual Adoration, rue de Lancrel in Alencon, she felt called to the religious life, but at the superior’s refusal, she turned to a professional formation and successfully learned to make the famous “point d’Alencon” lace. Towards the end of the year 1853, she set up as a “maker of Point d’Alencon” at 36 rue St. Blaise and procured work for women who worked from home. Her workshop was soon famous for the quality of the work.
After Louis and Zelie Martin’s marriage, from 1860 to 1873, 9 children were born, 4 of whom died at a young age:
- Marie-Louise (2/22/1860-1/19/1940), the godmother of Therese and a Carmelite in Lisieux: Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart;
- Marie-Pauline (9/7/1861-7/28/1951), a Carmelite in Lisieux: Mother Agnes de Jesus;
- Marie-Leonie (6/3/1863-6/17/1941), a Visitationist in Caen: “the Servant of God, Sr. Francoise-Therese”;
- Marie-Helene (10/3/1864-2/22/1870);
- Marie-Joseph (9/20/1866-2/14/1867);
- Marie-Jean-Baptiste (12/19/1867-8/24/1868);
- Marie-Celine (4/28/1869-2/25/1959), a Carmelite in Lisieux: Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face;
- Marie-Melanie-Therese (8/16/1870-10/8/1870);
- Marie-Francois-Therese (1/2/1873-9/30/1897), a Carmelite in Lisieux: St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.
The spouses lived in Alencon for 19 years, until Zelie Martin passed away.
Beginning in 1865, Zelie Martin suffered greatly from a gland in her breast that became cancerous.
If God wishes to heal me, I will be very happy, for deep down I desire to live; it would cost me to leave my husband and children. But then I tell myself: if I do not get better, it means it would be better for them if I go."
On August 28, 1877, at half past midnight, Zelie died in the arms of her husband and her brother. St. Therese would later say of her mother: “Doubtless Jesus in His love wished to make me know the incomparable mother He had given me but whom His divine hand was in a hurry to crown in Heaven." (The Story of a Soul, Ms. A, 4)
Fr. Stephane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M., who wrote a biography of the Martin family with the help of St. Therese’s sisters, explained in the second edition of the L’Histoire extraordinaire de la famille Martin (The Extraordinary Story of the Martin Family) (Tequi, p. 339-340):
On February 24, 1956, on the diamond anniversary of the last surviving member of the Martin family, Celine, Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face, Bishop Andre Jacquemin, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, announced to her that he was going to open the cause of her father. The informative process was opened in Bayeux on March 22, 1957, for the cause of the servant of God Louis Martin; on October 10, 1957, the cause of his spouse was opened in Sees (since Mme Martin had lived and died in Alencon, her cause was under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Sees).
The general representation of the Discalced Carmes took over the cause, with the help of two vice-postulators, Rev. Fr. Francois de Sainte-Marie, O.C.D., and Canon Terrillon. Louis Martin’s process was closed under Bishop Jacquemin’s presidency, in the chapel of the Carmel of Lisieux, on February 12, 1960, with the apposition of the seals. The acts were brought to Rome by Rev. Fr. Francois de Sainte-Marie. The documents on Mme Martin had arrived at the Sacred Congregation of Rites in January 1959."
(sources: apic/imedia/radiovatican/sanctuaire alencon—DICI no.323, 10-23-2015)