Louis Martin (1823-1894) and Marie
Zelie Guerin Martin (1831-1877) will be the first married couple
with children to be canonized in the same ceremony.
Pope Francis issued the decree approving
their canonization during the public consistory on canonizations
at the Vatican; attended by more than 40 cardinals.
During the consistory, Cardinal Angelo
Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, said the
couple lived an "exemplary life of faith, dedication to ideal
values, united to a constant realism, and persistent attention to
the poor," according to Vatican Radio.
The cardinal said the French couples
serves as an "extraordinary witness of conjugal and family
The Watchmaker -
Louis Martin (1823 - 1894) was a watchmaker
by trade, and quite a successful one. He also skillfully managed
his wife's lace business. But, as with so many men, Louis' life
had not turned out at all the way he had planned.
Born into a family of soldiers, Louis
spent his early years at various French military posts. He absorbed
the sense of order and discipline that army life engenders. His
temperament, deeply influenced by the peculiar French connection
between the mystical and the military, tended toward things of the
At twenty-two, young Louis sought
to enter religious life at the monastery of the Augustinian Canons
of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. The blend of courage
and charity the monks and their famous dogs manifested in rescuing
travelers in Alpine snows appealed powerfully to Louis Martin. Unfortunately,
the Abbot insisted the young candidate learn Latin. Louis, whose
bravery would have carried him to the heights of the Alps in search
of a lost pilgrim, got himself lost among the peaks and valleys
of Latin syntax and grammar. His most determined efforts failed.
He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic
Eventually, Louis settled down in
Alençon, a small city in France, and pursued his watchmaking
trade. He loved Alençon. It was a quiet place and he was
a quiet man. It even had a lovely trout stream nearby, offering
him the opportunity to pursue his favorite recreation.
The Lace Maker -
Most famous of Alençon's thirteen
thousand inhabitants were its lace makers. French people greatly
admired the skill and talent required to produce the exquisite lace
known throughout the nation as Point d' Alençon.
Zélie Guerin (1831 - 1877)
was one of Alençon's more talented lace makers. Born into
a military family, Zélie described her childhood and youth
as "dismal." Her mother and father showed her little affection.
As a young lady, she sought unsuccessfully to enter the religious
order of the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu. Zélie then learned
the Alençon lace-making technique and soon mastered this
painstaking craft. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed
with common sense, she started her own business and became quite
successful. Notable as these achievements were, Zélie was
yet to reveal the depths of the strength, faith, and courage she
Louis Martin and Zélie Guerin
eventually met in Alençon, and on July 13, 1858, Louis, 34,
and Zélie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage
through life. Within the next fifteen years, Zélie bore nine
children, seven girls and two boys. "We lived only for them,"
Zélie wrote; "they were all our happiness."
The Martins' delight in their children
turned to shock and sorrow as tragedy relentlessly and mercilessly
stalked their little ones. Within three years, Zélie's two
baby boys, a five year old girl, and a six-and-a-half week old infant
girl all died.
Zélie was left numb with sadness.
"I haven't a penny's worth of courage," she lamented.
But her faith sustained her through these terrible ordeals. In a
letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zélie
remembered: "When I closed the eyes of my dear little children
and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through....People said
to me, 'It would have been better never to have had them.' I couldn't
stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is
short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again
The Martins' last child was born January
2, 1873. She was weak and frail, and doctors feared for the infant's
life. The family, so used to death, was preparing for yet another
blow. Zélie wrote of her three month old girl: "I have
no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers horribly....It
breaks your heart to see her." But the baby girl proved to
be much tougher than anyone realized. She survived the illness.
A year later she was a "big baby, browned by the sun."
"The baby," Zélie noted, "is full of life,
giggles a lot, and is sheer joy to everyone." Death seemed
to grant a reprieve to the Martin household. Although suffering
had left its mark on mother and father, it was not the scar of bitterness.
Louis and Zélie had already found relief and support in their
The series of tragedies had intensified
the love of Louis and Zélie Martin for each other. They poured
out their affection on their five surviving daughters; Marie, 12,
Pauline, 11, Leonie 9, Celine, 3, and their newborn. Louis and Zélie
named their newborn; Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin.
A century later people would know her as St. Thérèse,
and call her the "Little Flower."