of Louis and Zelie Martin
The Parents of
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
On October 19, 2008, World Mission
Sunday, Louis Martin and Marie Zelie Guerin, the parents of St.
Thérèse of the Child Jesus, were declared blessed
in Lisieux, France, by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, retired prefect
of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints. It was only the second
time in history that a married couple has been beatified. (The first
couple being Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi of Italy, in 2001.) Here
are excerpts from their biography, read during the ceremony by Father
Antonio of the Mother of God, O.C.D., Vice Postulator.
Louis Martin was born in Bordeaux
on August 22, 1823. At the end of his studies in Alençon,
he didnt turn toward a military career like his father, but
chose the profession of watchmaker. A man of faith and of prayer,
for a time Louis wished to enter the priesthood. In 1845, he went
to the Swiss Alps to enter a Carthusian monastery, where his first
task was to learn Latin. He tried to learn it but in the end gave
up. Having finished his watchmaking studies in Rennes and Strasbourg,
he returned to Alençon, where he dedicated himself to his
work as a watchmaker-jeweler with diligence and honesty.
Zelie Guerin was born at Gandelain,
near Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, on December 23, 1831. When her father
retired in 1844, the family moved to Alençon. Zelie studied
under the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She received training
that made her a very skillful lacemaker. She made the famous Point
dAlençon, and she was in charge of sales for her own
lacemaking business. Like her sister Marie-Louise, now a religious
at the Visitation convent in Le Mans, Zelie wanted to consecrate
herself to the Lord. After a discussion with the Superior of the
Daughters of Charity at the Alençon hospital, she understood
that it was not the will of God.
A providential meeting united these
two young people thirsty for the Absolute. One day, as Zelie crossed
the Saint-Leonard Bridge, she passed a young man with a noble face,
a reserved air, and a demeanor filled with an impressive dignity.
At that very moment, an interior voice whispers in secret, "This
is he whom I have prepared for you." The identity of the passerby
was soon revealed. She came to know Louis Martin.
The two young people quickly came
to appreciate and love each other. Their spiritual harmony established
itself so quickly that a religious engagement sealed their mutual
commitment without delay. They did not see their marriage as a normal
arrangement between two middle-class families of Alençon,
but as a total opening to the will of God.
From the beginning, the betrothed
couple placed their love under the protection of God, who, in their
union, would always be "the first served." Their marriage
was celebrated at midnight on July 13th, 1858 in the parish of Notre-Dame
Louis and his spouse decide at the
beginning of their marriage to maintain perfect chastity. Shortly
thereafter, they welcome into their home a five-year-old boy whose
widowed father was crushed by the burden of raising eleven children.
However, Divine Wisdom, which leads all with "strength and
gentleness," has other views for this couple, and at the end
of ten months, on the advice of a priest friend, they change their
minds. They now desire to have many children in order to raise them
and offer them to the Lord.
The union of Louis and Zelie is blessed
by the birth of nine children. The work of both spouses obtains
for them a certain wealth, but their family life is not without
trials. In this time of high infant mortality, they lose four children
at an early age, at a time when they want to have a son to become
a priest. But neither the bereavement nor the trials weaken their
confidence in the goodness of Gods plans, and they abandon
themselves with love to His Will. (The surviving children, five
girls, will all become nuns, four of them in the Carmelite monastery.)
The education of the children is at
the same time joyful, tender, and demanding. Very early, Zelie teaches
them the morning offering of their hearts to the good God, the simple
acceptance of daily difficulties "to please Jesus." An
indelible mark that is the basis of the little way taught by the
most celebrated of their children, Thérèse. One cannot
conceive of the growth in holiness of Thérèse and
the religious vocations of her sisters independent of the spiritual
life of Mr. and Mrs. Martin, at the heart of their vocation to family
Towards the end of 1876, an old growth
in Mrs. Martins breast returns. Discovered too late, the cancer
is inoperable. At half past midnight on August 28, 1877, she dies
in Alençon. Louis is left with five children: Marie, Pauline,
Leonie, Celine, and Thérèse, who is four and a half
Louis consults with his elder daughters,
and decides to move to Lisieux to live close to the family of his
brother-in-law, Isidore Guerin, and thus to ensure a better future
for his children. Life at the Buissonnets, the new house in Lisieux,
is more austere and withdrawn than at Alençon. But the most
admirable work of this father, an exemplary educator, is the offering
to God of all his daughters and then of himself. In his unshakable
submission to the will of God, like Abraham, he places no obstacle
to these vocations and considers the offering of his children to
the Lord as a very special grace granted to his family.
Shortly after the entry of Thérèse
into the Carmel of Lisieux, during a visit to the parlor of the
monastery, Louis tells his daughters that at the Church of Notre-Dame
of Alençon (May 1888), as he was reconsidering his life,
he had said: "My God, I am too happy. Its not possible
to go to Heaven like that. I want to suffer something for you."
"And," said he, "I offered myself." Louis doesnt
dare pronounce the word "victim," but his daughters understand
this. This confidence really strikes Thérèse, who,
several years later, offered herself as a victim to the Merciful
Love of God (June 9, 1895).
The last years of the life of Mr.
Martin, "the patriarch", as he is affectionately called
by those close to him, are marked by several health problems. He
knows the humiliation of illness: a cerebral arteriosclerosis with
a long hospitalization at the Bon Sauveur in Caen in 1889, where
he filled those around him with admiration and respect. Returning
to Lisieux in May 1892, from then on paralyzed and almost unable
to speak, he dies peacefully on Sunday, July 29, 1894.
On March 26, 1994, Pope John Paul
II, declares the individual heroic virtues of the Martin couple.
In 2008, the Medical Commission of the Congregation for the Causes
of Saints declared inexplicable by science and general knowledge
the healing of the young Pietro Schiliro, of Monza, Italy. Born
on May 25, 2002, Pietro suffered from a serious condition following
the inhalation of meconium, which led to serious pulmonary complications.
The unexpected healing came about on June 29, 2002, after a novena
of prayers to the Venerable Servants of God Louis and Zelie Martin.
On July 3, Pope Benedict XVI approved the miracle of Pietros
healing, accomplished by God through the intercession of the Venerable
Servants of God, Louis and Zelie, "incomparable" parents
of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and he set October
19, 2008, as the date of their beatification, and July 12 as their
feast day on the liturgical calendar.
In his homily, Cardinal Saraiva Martin,
the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said that
in a time of crisis for the family, the family has in the Martin
couple a true model. He also offered them as a model for people
who face illness and death, as Zelie died of cancer, leaving Louis
to live on through the trial of cerebral arteriosclerosis. He said
that they teach us to face death, abandoning ourselves to God. Here
are excerpts from his homily.
in a letter to Father Belliere, and that many people now know by
heart: 'God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of
heaven than of earth'. This beatification of Louis Martin and Zelie
Guerin, whom Thérèse defined as 'parents without equal,
worthy of heaven, holy ground permeated with the perfume of purity'
is very important in the Church.
My heart is full of gratitude to God
for this exemplary witness of conjugal love, which is bound to stimulate
Christian couples in practicing virtue just as it stimulated the
desire for holiness in Thérèse. While reading the
Apostolic Letter of the Holy Father, I thought of my father and
mother, and now I invite you to think of your parents that together
we may thank God for having created and made us Christians through
the conjugal love of our parents. The gift of life is a marvelous
thing, but even more wonderful for us is that our parents led us
to the Church which alone is capable of making us Christians. For
no one becomes a Christian by oneself.
Among the vocations to which individuals
are called by Providence, marriage is one of the highest and most
noble. Louis and Zelie understood that they could become holy not
in spite of marriage, but through, in, and by marriage, and that
their becoming a couple was the beginning of an ascent together.
Today the Church celebrates not only the holiness of these children
of Normandy, a gift to us all, but admires, as well, in the Blessed
couple that which renders more splendid and beautiful the wedding
robe of the Church. The conjugal love of Louis and Zelie is a pure
reflection of Christs love for his Church, but it is also
a pure reflection of the 'resplendent love without stain or wrinkle,
but holy and immaculate' (Ep 5, 27) as the Church loves its Spouse,