The Martin Couple : a halo for two

Text by Guy Gaucher, emeritus auxiliary Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux

Work for a possible beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin began in 1957.

But it was for even longer that couples and families prayed to them and received special graces from them. Obviously they are not being beatified because they gave life to the « greatest saint of modern times » (Pius X) but because each of them lived the Bible as best they could. It was John Paul II who wanted that their causes be presented together. He declared them « venerable » on 26th March 1994. Only a miracle was needed for the beatification. This happened on 29th June 2002 in Monza (diocese of Milan) where the little baby Pietre Schiliro, who was condemned because of a serious problem on his lungs, which he suffered from birth, was cured after a novena to the Martin parents. A medical file of 967 pages was given to the doctors of the Congregation for the cause of Saints who admitted his cure could not be explained, accept by a miracle. On 3rd July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI signed the document approving this decision.

In the little town of Alençon, Louis Martin was a watch-maker and jeweler and Zélie (maiden name Guérin) lace-maker, used to sew the famous Alençon stitch. Fervent Christians, who were truly charitable people, had nine children. Infant mortality, a terrible problem in XIX century, took four children, two of whom were boys. They did not want for their daughters to have lives of working-class women or having to face unemployment, so they worked very hard, going through a period of Prussian occupation in 1870.

Suffering from breast cancer that generalized, Zélie had « little Thérèse » at the age of 41, who was saved at birth thanks to her nurse, Rose Taillé de Semallé. Thérèse only knew her mother for four and half years. She remembers these years of being full of love and family joy.

Exhausted by her suffering, Zélie died on 28th August 1877. The shock was terrible for the entire family but in particular for her youngest daughter. It took her ten years to get over it.

Widower with five young daughters, Louis Martin made the great sacrifice of leaving Alençon and coming to Lisieux where his brother-in-law Isidore Guérin, pharmacist and his wife would help educating the children. He was to live another seventeen years but was to know his own « passion » in sickness that was to last six years. He accepted the religious vocations of his five daughters ; this « ordinary » family was not that ordinary. It experienced what Thérèse wrote in 1897 : « To love is to give all and to give oneself. » (Poem n°54)