October 16, 2015


St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s parents’ canonization

Could anything show the concern that Pope Francis has for the family more than what will happen this Sunday, Oct. 18? During the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the family, he will canonize Louis and Zelie Martin, known primarily as the parents of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, also known as St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

They are not the first parents of saints to be canonized. St. Basil the Great’s parents were St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. They also are not the first married couple to be canonized. St. Isidore the Farmer was married to St. Maria de la Cabeza. However, this is the first time that a married couple will be canonized together in the same ceremony.

Their causes for canonization were introduced separately, but Pope Paul VI united the two causes. They were beatified by the legate of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 after the miraculous cure of Pietro Schiliro, an Italian child who had lung trouble.

A second miracle attributed to the intercession of the Martins involved a little girl named Carmen in the Archdiocese of Valencia, Spain. She suffered a major brain hemorrhage that should have caused irreversible damage. After her parents prayed for the Martins’ intercession, the girl survived and is healthy.

Louis and Zelie Martin lived in France in the 19th century. He was born in 1824, and she in 1832. Both tried to enter religious life, but Louis was rejected because he did not know Latin and Zelie was rejected because she had respiratory problems and frequent headaches. Both eventually discerned that their vocation was to married life. They were married in 1858.

They had nine children—seven girls and two boys. However, two of the girls and both boys died while still infants. Louis and Zelie hoped that their sons would be priests, and naturally were saddened when they died. But their faith was strong enough that they accepted God’s will.

They were living in Alencon, which is famous for its lace. Zelie became a lace maker with her own boutique, employing 20 other women. Louis was a watch maker at the time of the marriage. His business was so successful that he eventually sold it and managed Zelie’s business.

The Martins were known for their charity. Zelie would frequently invite the poor for dinner, and Louis founded a Catholic workers’ society along the lines of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The family was also known as a happy family, with time for play.

However, their religious devotion came first. Their days began with Mass at 5:30 a.m., and ended with prayers at home with the children. They prayed that the children would be granted vocations to the religious life, and their prayers were answered when all five of the remaining girls entered religious orders.

But Zelie was not to see that. She contracted breast cancer when Thérèse was only 3. Hoping for a cure, she and three of her daughters made a pilgrimage to Lourdes. There was to be no cure, and Zelie died in 1877 at age 46.

Louis sold Zelie’s business and moved his family to Lisieux, where his sister-in-law helped rear the girls. Then the girls began to leave home to join the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux—all except Leonie. She had been a difficult child, frequently sick, and less intelligent than her sisters.

During that pilgrimage to Lourdes, Zelie had prayed that, if she wasn’t to receive a cure herself, that the Blessed Virgin would make Leonie more intelligent and make her a saint. Leonie eventually joined the Visitation Order, where she lived a holy life for 42 years. Her cause for canonization was introduced earlier this year.

Louis lived for 19 years after Zelie died. He believed that his life had been such a joyous one that he prayed that God would send him some sacrifice. God answered his prayer in the form of two paralyzing strokes and dementia. He spent three years in a home for those suffering from dementia. He returned to Lisieux, where his daughters Celine and Leonie cared for him until his death in 1894 at age 70.

Louis and Zelie Martin are role models for all of us.

—John F. Fink

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