St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote of her parents, “God gave me a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth.” Over a century later, the Catholic Church will officially confirm what St. Thérèse already knew. On July 11, 2008, it was announced that Louis and Zelie (Guerin) Martin would be beatified on Mission Sunday, October 19, 2008. They will become the first married couple to be beatified in the history of the Church. As such, they are saintly role models for married couples and parents.
At age 22, Louis Martin (1823-1894) attempted to enter religious life at the monastery of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. Unfortunately, he was unable to master the Latin that was required. As a result, he sadly gave up his dream of becoming a monk. Instead, he became a successful watchmaker and would later manage his wife’s lacemaking business.
Zelie Guerin (1831-1877) also dreamed of religious life, but she was unsuccessful as well. She turned her attention to mastering the art of lace-making which her hometown of Alençon, France, was known for. She soon started her own business and became quite successful in her own right.
Louis and Zelie married on July 13, 1858 when Louis was 34 and Zelie was 26. By mutual agreement, they lived their first ten months of married life without consummating their relationship. Due to the spiritual direction of a confessor, they began to try to have children. Their efforts were rewarded. During the next fifteen, years, they would have nine children, although God would call four of those children back home to Him when they were very young. Despite her grief, Zelie always held onto her faith that she would see her children once again in heaven. Zelie and Louis prayed that all of their children would be consecrated to God.
The Martin’s youngest child, Marie-Francoise-Thérèse, was born January 2, 1873. She was frail and it was thought that she would soon join her siblings with God, but she pulled through and would ultimately become the famous St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, also known as “The Little Flower.”
Zelie would die young from breast cancer, when Thérèse was only four years old. She would be a dedicated mother to the very end, and all of her children had fond memories of her. She raised them with love and encouraged them to be generous and to make sacrifices for others. Her own life was a model of that self-giving.
After Zelie’s death, Louis would move the family to Lisieux to be near Zelie’s brother Isidore and his wife Celine. He was a devoted, faith-filled father. He would pray frequently with his children and would often take Thérèse on his daily visits to local Churches to visit the Blessed Sacrament.
While he was sad to lose his daughters, he strongly supported their religious vocations, even accompanying Thérèse to Rome so that she could beg the Pope for permission to enter the Carmelite order at the young age of fifteen. By the time of Thérèse’s Clothing in the Carmelite Habit in January 1889, Louis himself was very ill, but he was able to walk his daughter, dressed in her wedding gown decorated with her mother’s lace, down the aisle to become a bride of Christ.
Louis would suffer several strokes before his death in 1894. His daughter Celine would care for him until the end. After his death, she, too, entered religious life. Louis and Zelie, who both wanted so desperately to enter religious life, would have all five of their living children live out that dream.