This is one rare thing that happens in the procedures of Catholic Church. Husband and wife being raised to sainthood together! When we go through the canonization history of Catholic Church, there are not many married saints. Even if there were, they were most often those who abandoned family life in the midway and opted for religious life. Somehow, a notion existed that family life is not a very good place to achieve the greatest degree of holiness.
But, things are changing now. Louis Martin and Zelie Martin, who led a family life, are being raised to the altar, inspiring the family people and encouraging them to strive for holiness. This comes at a very fitting time, when less people look for religious life, and many people tend to abandon family values. The saintly couple stands for homely holiness. As Christ says, ‘a tree can be known from its fruit’, the stuff of the couple is proven in their great daughter ‘St Therese of Lisieux, and her virtuous sisters.
Born into a family of soldiers, Louis Martin always had a mystical leaning. At twenty-two, Louis entered religious life at the monastery of the Augustinian Canons of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. But, the God’s different plan fell upon his in the form of illness; and eventually he abandoned the monastic life. Louis settled down in Alencon in France, as a watchmaker.
Zelie Guerin, the mother of Little Therese hailed from Alencon, a member of lace making family. Coincidentally, Zelie too had a failed attempted to enter religious life. Nevertheless, she was a very skillful lacemaker, who by her own effort made a successful business.
Destiny brought them together on July 13. At that time Louis was 34 and Zelie was 26. They realized that God has a plan for them, and they married. They had nine children, of which only five survived. We lived only for them. They were all our happiness” Zelie wrote later. Nevertheless, the early deaths of her children were excruciating experience for her. Her health failed gradually.
Therese was their last child. She was born on January 2, 1873. She was weak and frail; doctors doubted her survival. Zelie 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 providence of God prevailed. The baby girl grew up. Zelie later wrote: “The baby is full of life, giggles a lot, and is sheer joy to everyone.”
Zelie suffered greatly during her waning ages, and eventually she succumbed to breast cancer and died on August 28, 1877. Even though Louis Martin outlived her, the father of St. Therese suffered terribly during his last years, which caused great suffering to Little Flower who loved her father so dearly.
In 1889, Louis suffered two paralyzing strokes followed by cerebral arteriosclerosis, and was hospitalised for three years at the Bon Sauveur asylum. He died on 29 July 1894 at the chateau La Musse.
The blessed couple whole bore great fruits for the Lord, proving that a home can be transformed into heaven by good deeds and prayer, is being canonized tomorrow (18 October). Let us seek the intercession of the saints to help us glorify God through our family lives.