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Catholic Heroes . . . Saints Louis And Azelie-Marie Guerin Martin

July 12, 2016 saints No Comments


The Lord sends the Church the men and women who are needed to keep her holy in times of trouble. Among these are: St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Faustina, and the first married couple ever to be canonized together: Louis and Azelie-Marie (Zelie) Martin. Their feast day is July 12. Pope Benedict beatified them in 2008 and Pope Francis canonized them on October 18, 2015.
Louis Martin, the third of five children, was born August 22, 1823 in Bordeaux, France. His father came from a long line of soldiers. His parents, Pierre-Francois Martin and Marie-Anne-Fanny Boureau, baptized him Louis Joseph Aloys Stanislaus Martin and, of all his siblings, only he lived past the age of 30.
From an early age, enamored with the life of the monks and their dogs who roamed the Alps to save weary and lost travelers, Louis yearned to join the monastery. He joined the Great St. Bernard Monastery, of the Augustinian order, but the monks eventually rejected him because of his failure at learning Latin.
Refused his first choice, Louis turned to the occupation of jeweler and watchmaker, studying the trade in Rennes and then in Strasbourg. Eventually he ended up in Alençon, where he would meet his future wife.
Azelie-Marie was born in Gandelain, near Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, Orne, France, the second daughter of Isidore Guerin and Louise-Jeanne Macé. Her older sister, Marie-Louise, became a Visitation nun, and a younger brother, Isidore, became a pharmacist. She was born on December 22, 1831.
From a young age, Zelie wanted to become a nun with the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but constant headaches and respiratory complications kept her from fulfilling her dream. In turn, since the religious life was not open to her, she prayed to God that she would become the mother of many children who would be consecrated to God.
Zelie then became a lacemaker, producing the world-famous Alençon lace, one of the most beautiful and intricate handmade laces. She became so skilled at this occupation that she started her own business and became very successful.
While Louis was making watches and jewelry, and while Zelie expanded her lace-making trade, they met in Alençon on July 13, 1858. These two faithful Catholics, who had both been thwarted in becoming religious, fell in love and were married in October of the same year at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Alençon.
For the first ten months of their marriage, by mutual agreement, they lived a celibate life even though Zelie had prayed for many children consecrated to God. Both Louis and Zelie were open about the life they were leading when they met with their spiritual director.
When he learned of the celibacy, he explained the obligations of the Sacrament of Matrimony, and that they should not deny the unitive and procreative purpose of the state of life they had chosen. Thus they consummated their marriage and had nine children over the next 14 years:
Marie Louise, 1860-1940, became Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, a Carmelite. Marie Pauline, 1861-1951, Mother Agnes of Jesus, also became a Carmelite. Their third daughter, Marie Leonie, 1863-1941, Sr. Francois-Therese, became a Visitation nun at Caen — her cause for canonization was opened in January 2015. Marie Helene only lived from 1864-1870. Two boys lived less than a year: Joseph Louis (September 1866 to February 1867) and Joseph Jean-Baptiste (December 1867 to August 1868).
Marie Celine (1869-1959) became Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face, also a Carmelite. Marie-Melanie-Therese lived only eight weeks in 1870.
When the last of the nine children was born, the doctors held little hope that she would survive, but God had other plans. Little Marie Francois-Therese, born on January 2, 1873, became Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, a Carmelite who not only became a saint but has also been declared a doctor of the Church. She died on September 30, 1897.
As parents Louis and Zelie found great joy in their children: loving them deeply, training them in the faith as well as in the joys of nature. Although they lost the two boys, their five-year-old daughter, and an infant girl within a short time, they never regretted having children. As Zelie wrote, “We lived only for them — they were all our happiness.”
It was after the deaths of these little children that Louis and Zelie welcomed their last child, who became the Little Flower, St. Therese. But Zelie wrote of her at the time, “I have no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers so horribly…it breaks your heart to see her.” Thankfully for Zelie — and for the Catholic Church — the little girl survived and just one year later became a “big baby, browned by the sun.” She was an entirely different child, full of life, laughter, and the joy of knowing that she was loved.
The Martin family was a bright light of Catholic charity and orthodoxy in post-revolution France. After their marriage both Louis and Zelie continued their crafts, but eventually Louis gave up his skill to help Zelie with her successful business. Unlike many businesses of their time (and our time), the Martins refused to open on Sundays.
They were heroic examples of Catholic living, as they attended daily Mass and received the sacraments frequently. As a family they prayed and read spiritual classics such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.
Their piety was complemented by times of play and pilgrimage.
Sadly, Zelie became ill in 1877 and died from breast cancer on August 28, 1877. The funeral was held in the same basilica where Louis and Zelie were married. Louis was left alone to raise their five remaining daughters.
Less than a month later, Louis sold the lace-making business and moved his family to Lisieux in Normandy, France. In Lisieux he purchased a brick two-story home with a lovely garden just a few blocks from the Cathedral of St. Pierre, built in the 12th century. (Visitors can see the pew the Martins used as well as the altar they donated to the cathedral.)
As Therese grew up she greatly missed her mother, but spent much time with her father, who loved nature’s animals and plants. He also made pilgrimages to Lourdes, Chartres, Rome, and the Holy Land.
At their home, now a museum, there is a marble bench in the garden with replicas of Louis and Therese when he gave his consent to her entering the Carmelite monastery. His face reflects his loving sacrifice and her arms are slightly raised in joy.
After his wife’s death, Louis lived like a monk, turning the top floor room into a “cell” where he spent many hours in prayer and meditation. His days were divided into worship, prayer, and garden work. Shortly after his last child entered religious life, Louis suffered a stroke which left him mostly paralyzed. He died on July 29, 1894.
Dear Louis and Zelie, during these chaotic times when families are being attacked and undermined from all directions, intercede for children and their parents that they may be heroic examples of both the love and the holiness so necessary to enter eternal life and to lead others to Christ. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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