The following comes from Salt and Light:
“The good Lord gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth”.
These words come to us from Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Carmelite nun and youngest daughter of Louis and Zélie Martin. Their names will soon be added to the book of saints next October during the Synod on the Family. They are the first couple to be canonized together. A holy couple, their story has a modern twist.
Louis and Zélie Martin met on the Saint Leonard Bridge in Alençon, France. It was an unexpected encounter. Both had previously contemplated entering the religious life. But as it became clear neither one of them were called to a life of celibacy, they vowed to offer their future marriage to God. When Zélie saw Louis, she heard a voice tell her this man was the one God had prepared for her. This conviction deepened the more they spent time together. They got married three months later on July 13th, 1858. Zélie was 27 years old and Louis 35.
Zélie already managed her own lacemaking business which she started at only 20 years old. She regularly received clients who needed her skillful hand to create or repair pieces of lace. She eventually opened a lacemaking factory that allowed her to take in apprentices. Her business was thriving. Apart from her leadership and goodwill, Zélie was an anxious woman. This is a character trait she attributed to her difficult childhood.
But if Zélie dealt with worry, Louis on the other hand was a gentle and patient man. His talent lied in clock making. He also held his own shop. Louis got into the trade starting at 19 years of age. Despite his excellent reputation, he retired from the clock making business to dedicate himself to his wife’s lacemaking factory, by becoming its client manager and bookkeeper.
Career wasn’t everything to them. They were as much accomplices in their marriage as in their work. Both desired a holy marriage. They considered virginity to be an invaluable virtue even between husband and wife and so they practiced abstinence their first years of marriage. They had nine children, four of which died at a very young age. Louis and Zélie raised five girls, Pauline, Céline, Léonie, Marie, and Thérèse. They raised them in the faith and inspired in them charity and holiness. All of them eventually joined the Carmelites, except Léonie who joined the Sisters of the Visitation.
The Martins did face challenges, namely sickness. It started with Zélie when she was diagnosed with cancer. The pain intensified every day, without any hope of a cure, until she died at the age of 46. Through her suffering, Zélie held fast to prayer and patiently accepted God’s will and wisdom.
“If the Virgin Mary does not heal me, it is because I have done my time and that the good Lord wants me to find rest elsewhere” (last letter from Zélie to her brother Isidore Guerin, August 16th, 1877).
Some years after the death of his wife, Louis also fell ill. He had periods of forgetfulness or hallucinations and attacks of paralysis. After several episodes, he was taken to an asylum. He stayed there three years before going back home. Despite his evident weakness, he showed great strength, patience and perseverance.