On Sunday, October 18, Pope Francis canonized Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Thèrése of Lisieux. Here is information about St. Louis Martin and St. Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, reprinted from Ten Christians by Bonface Hanley, OFM:
Born in 1823 into a family of soldiers, Louis Martin spent his early years at various French military posts. He absorbed the sense of order and discipline army life engenders. His temperament, deeply influenced by the peculiar French connection between the mystical and the military, tended toward things of the spirit.
At 22, young Martin 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 Alpine snows appealed powerfully to Louis Martin. Alas, 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 lost among the peaks and valleys of Latin syntax. His most determined efforts failed. He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life.
Eventually Monsieur Martin settled down in Alencon, a small city in France, and pursued his watchmaking trade. He loved Alencon. It was quiet place and he was a quiet man. A lovely trout stream nearby offered Louis the opportunity to pursue his favorite recreation.
Most famous of Alencon’s 13,000 inhabitants were its lace makers. French people greatly admired the skill and talent required to produce exquisite lace known throughout the nation as “Point d’ Alencon.”
Zelie Guerin was one of Alencon’s more talented lace makers. Born into a military family in 1831, Zelie 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 convent. Zelie turned then to lace making. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with common sense, she started her own business and became quite successful. Notable as these achievements were, Zelie was yet to reveal the depth of strength, faith, and courage which she possessed.
Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin eventually met in Alencon and on July 13, 1858, Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life. Within the next fifteen years, Zelie bore nine children—seven girls and two boys. “We lived only for them,” Zelie 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, Zelie’s two baby boys, a five-year-old girl, and a six-and-a-half-week-old infant girl all died.
Zelie was left numb and 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, Zelie 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 up above.”
The Martins’ last child was born January 2, 1873. She was a tender plant and doctors feared for the infant’s life. The family, so used to death, was preparing for another blow. Zelie wrote of her three-month 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 a much tougher plan than anyone realized. She survived the illness. A year later she was a “big baby, browned by the sun.” “The baby,” Zelie noted, “is full of life, giggles a lot and is a sheer joy to everyone.”
Louis and Zelie named her Marie-Francoise-Thèrése Martin. A century later people would know her as St. Thèrése and call her the “Little Flower.”