This Sunday, Pope Francis will be making history again, this time by canonizing the first married couple to ever be canonized together by the Church.
Louis and Zélie Martin are most known as the parents of St. Thérèse, but their canonization this weekend verifies that they are themselves models for the Church and their fruitfulness goes beyond their saintly daughters.
Our Sunday Visitor has just released a translation of “Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin: The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,” by Hélène Mongin.
To tell us about the book and the lives of these saints, ZENIT spoke with Joseph White, author of another book from OSV, “St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Meditations with the Little Flower.”
White has given talks on Louis and Zélie at the National Shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisiuex and most recently at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
As a Catholic child and family psychologist, he says, “I have a special devotion to this family of saints.”
In this interview, White explains the message the synod of bishops on the family can learn from the Martins, and what the couple teaches all of us as well.
ZENIT: This new book from OSV gives readers a thorough look into the lives of the Church’s first canonized couple. Could you give us an overview of their biographies, as many people might only know them as the parents of St. Therese.
White: Louis Martin was born in 1823 in Bordeaux, France, where his father, a military captain, was garrisoned. The family settled in Alençon when Louis was 7 years old. When he was older, Louis went to live with his father’s cousin, a clock maker, and learned his trade. He initially felt a call to religious life, but eventually settled into his trade as a watch and clock maker in Alençon.
Zélie Guérin was born in 1831 in Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, near Alençon. Like Louis, Zélie initially felt herself called to religious life, but when she interviewed with the Sisters of Charity, it was decided that she did not have a vocation. She learned the trade of lacemaking and excelled in this craft, establishing an office in Alençon.
Louis and Zélie saw one another one day as they were crossing the same bridge in opposite directions. They each asked about the other around town and eventually met. They married within three months.
Though they were skilled in their trades and did well, financially, Louis and Zélie faced many hardships. They had nine children, four of whom died very young. During the Franco-Prussian war, their home was occupied by enemy soldiers, whom they were forced to host and feed with very little resources. When their youngest child, Thérèse, was just four years old, Zélie died of breast cancer, leaving Louis to raise his five girls alone.
Through it all, Louis and Zélie remained faithful to God and to their vocations as spouses and parents. Evidence of this is seen in the lives of their children, all of whom entered religious life. Louis died of arteriosclerosis in 1894, at the age of 72.
ZENIT: What are some elements about their sanctity that strike you as particularly important for our day?
White: One of the most striking things about Louis and Zélie Martin is the ordinariness of their lives. They were, in many ways, an average couple presented with challenges, some unusual, at least to us (e.g., infant mortality, military occupation) and others quite common (such as family illness and parenting difficulties – especially with their daughter Leonie, for whom there is also now a cause for Beatification). But the couple lived by the principle of doing each everyday act with great love, as if for Jesus himself. Zélie used to speak of making small sacrifices that would “set pearls in your crown” in heaven. In this, we can see the seeds of Thérèse’s own spirituality.
The devotion of Louis and Zélie to their faith led each of them to initially consider religious life, yet they found that God had not called them to give themselves in this way. Instead, their vocation was to give themselves in love to one another and to their children. Their lives affirm the dignity of the vocation of marriage as a path to sanctity.
ZENIT: The canonization of the Martins during the synod of bishops on the family is a reminder that the vocation of marriage and family is a vocation to holiness. What do you think a canonized couple offers to the synod? And to all of us living the vocation of marriage in the world today?
White: Louis and Zélie Martin show us how it is possible to live an ordinary life with extraordinary virtue. For those with a vocation to marriage and family – the majority of Catholics today -- they provide an example of living out that vocation in a faithful and holy way. In short, they are a shining reminder that by loving our spouses faithfully and raising our children with love, we are living holy lives.
In a time when the ideas of traditional marriage and the nuclear family are under attack, the Martin family serves as an inspiration to married couples, showing us that through the vocation of marriage and parenthood, even as we are called to bear crosses, we can become more like Jesus. In giving to one another in small sacrifices of love, we become ever more the people God made us to be.
We also recognize that the circumstances of life are sometimes less than ideal. Louis Martin spent the better part of Thérèse’s childhood as a single parent, having been widowed when Thérèse was just four years old. Still, his faithfulness and openness to God’s grace allowed him to raise five saintly daughters – including a Doctor of the Church.
On the Net
“Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin: The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,”: https://www.osv.com/Shop/Product?ProductCode=T1728&ref=slider