Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin
By Louise Medeiros
In 1850 at the age of twenty-seven, Mr. Louis Martin set up shop as a watchmaker and jeweler.
Then in 1858 he married Zelie Guerin who bore him two sons and seven daughters. Unfortunately, four of those children died in infancy.
Their family was devoted to the Blessed Virgin, as she was the patron saint of France. A statue of the Virgin Mary always presided over the family prayers.
One of their daughters (Leonie), who was born in 1863, was a special needs child and had serious emotional problems. They tried to assist her in many ways by supporting her but most of all they loved her. When she was born they were concerned about her health. She was very weak and had a chronic cough, but Mr. Martin knew that God sends only what one can bear and, being a devout Christian, went on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Sees on foot to pray for the health of his frail youngest daughter.
In 1871 the Martin family moved to a house that the Guerin grandparents had bought. Mr. Martin gave his watch making and jewelry shop to his nephew in order to help his wife with her lace-making business.
Mrs. Martin, who had been constantly suffering with a sore throat, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1875. She was overburdened with work in her lace-making business and more and more weakened by her illness; she could not pay constant attention to her troubled child. Her husband was heavily involved in the commercial side of the business and travelled often to Paris.
Sadly, all parents suffer, as do their children’s upbringing, from their lack of availability in the home.
In January of 1877, Zelie visited her sister, Sister Marie-Dosithee, in the Visitation convent and found her quite ill. She told her sister “as soon as you are in Paradise go and find the Blessed Virgin and say to her ‘my dear Mother, you played quite a trick on my sister (Zelie) when you sent her poor Leonie; that is not the kind of child she asked for! You must sort that out’.” Sister Marie-Dosithee died February 24, 1877.
Mrs. Martin, who was in increasing pain from her cancer, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with her three eldest daughters. “If the Blessed Virgin doesn’t cure me I shall implore her to cure my child [Leonie] to develop her mind and to make her a saint.” Zelie was not cured but she returned from Lourdes at peace, confident that after her death God would take care of her children, the youngest of whom, Therese, was only four-and-a-half years old.
On August 28, 1877 in the early hours of the day, Zelie Martin died. She was forty-six years old. In the morning a tearful Mr. Martin, surrounded by his daughters, took four-and-a-half year old Therese in his arms and brought her to her mother’s deathbed. Later in “The Story of a Soul” Therese would write: “Without a word I touched my lips to my beloved mother’s forehead!”
In November of that year, Mr. Guerin (Zelie’s brother) brought his nieces from Alencon to live at Les Buissonnets, a lovely villa surrounded by a garden in the hills of Lisieux, to be near Zelie’s family. Mr. Martin stayed behind in Alencon to settle his business.
In February of 1889 one of the Martin family’s greatest trials began in a fresh attack of Mr. Martin’s illness (amnesia.) He was committed to the Bon-Sauveur asylum in Caen where he would spend more than three years. In 1892 Mr. Martin was now nearly sixty-nine years old and both of his legs had become paralyzed. There was therefore no longer any danger that he would wander away; and so on May 10, 1892 Mr. Guerin brought him from Caen to Lisieux to live with him and his wife and also Celine and Leonie.
Two days after his return to Lisieux he was brought to the Carmelite visiting room. It was to be his last meeting with his three Carmelite daughters. As he left them he raised his eyes to the sky, pointed upwards and said tearfully, “Until we meet in heaven.”
Mr. Martin was severely disabled and spoke very little. Sometimes he gave way to terrible outbursts of tears. His daughters Celine and Leonie pushed his wheelchair around the little garden and made every effort to make him happy.
Mr. Martin had suffered several setbacks that left him weaker and weaker and worried those around him.
On July 28, 1894 Mr. Martin had another heart attack and the next day, a Sunday, his daughter Celine was alone with him. Suddenly he opened his eyes and looked at her with great tenderness; then he closed them forever.
Peacefully, he went to meet the God whom he loved and the loved ones who had gone before him, in Eternity. He was seventy-one years old. A telegram was sent to the Carmelites at once and Celine wrote to them “Papa is in heaven. I heard his last breath; I closed his eyes. His beautiful face took on an expression of bliss, of the deepest calm.”
Zelie and Louis Martin’s was a closed bourgeois family in a provincial town in the late nineteenth century. The exemplary lives of this Christian couple have earned them the admiration of the world. Theirs was a model marriage. Families face the same problems today as the Martins did more than a century ago.
The family’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin and their love for Jesus and one another certainly brought them peace in their lives. It would definitely be worth bringing that kind of devotion into our lives; perhaps the world would see peace as they did.
Many families with deep difficulties with each other or with their children seek the intercession of these holy persons.
In the Court of Rome the Informative Process for the Cause of the Martin parents is already studying their lives.
NOTE: Their union produced four Carmelite nuns and one nun in the Visitandine Order. Saint Therese of Lisieux was their youngest child.