My dear people of St. Mary’s,
At a Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, October 18, during the Synod on the Family, Pope Francis will canonize Louis and Zélie Martin as saints. Every canonization of new saints is important in the Church, but this will be unique. This will be the first time that a husband and wife will be canonized as a married couple. All other married saints have previously been canonized as separate individuals.
Louis Martin was born in the city of Bordeaux, France, in 1823. Very religious as a young man, he decided to enter an Augustinian monastery, but was rejected because he was deficient in Latin. He became a successful watchmaker.
Marie-Azélie Guérin, known throughout her life as “Zélie”, was born in Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, France, in 1831. As a young woman she had the desire to become a religious sister, but was ultimately turned away by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul due to poor health. She became a highly successful lacemaker, specializing in Point d’Alençon lace.
They met in 1858, crossing the Saint-Leonard Bridge in Alençon. Zélie would later reveal that in that moment she heard an interior voice speak to her: “This is he whom I have prepared for you.” They were married three months later.
The newlyweds lived in continence for the first year of their marriage, but then, with the help of a priest, discerned that God was calling them to have children. They were blessed during their marriage with nine children, four of whom died in infancy. The remaining five, all girls, each entered religious life. Their youngest daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, was canonized in 1925, and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997.
The Martins lived in Alençon as a very happy, loving and devout family until Zélie died from breast cancer in 1877. At the time of her death she was forty-five years old, a wife for nineteen years, and her youngest child, Thérèse, was a mere four years of age. Louis then moved the family to Lisieux and raised the five girls himself, living to see three enter the Carmelite convent there.
In 1889, Louis suffered two paralyzing strokes, following which he developed cerebral arteriosclerosis. He spent three years at the Bon Sauveur asylum in Caen, but in 1892 he returned home, where his daughters Céline and Léonie cared for him until his death in 1894 at the age of seventy. Céline entered the Carmel of Lisieux six weeks later, and Léonie became a Visitandine nun in Caen in 1899. Léonie’s cause for beatification has recently been accepted by the Congregation of Saints in Rome.
The statue over our tabernacle in the church is a replica of the Martin family statue of the Blessed Mother, dubbed by St. Thérèse: “Our Lady of the Smile”. It was before this statue that the Martin family said their nightly prayers for years. Now we know that extraordinary, ordinary family contains at least three canonized saints, and perhaps more to come.
In the last letter he ever wrote, St. Louis Martin had some words for his daughters: “I want to tell you, my dear children, that I have the urgent desire to thank God and to make you thank God, because I feel that our family, though very humble, has the honor of being among the privileged of our adorable Creator.”
Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, pray for us!