Pope Francis canonized Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, on Mission Sunday, October 18, 2015. They are being canonized during the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is focusing on “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.”
The couple is the first to be canonized together as husband and wife, giving testimony to their “extraordinary witness of conjugal and familial spirituality,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. He said that their lives “positively impacted their historical context through witness to the Gospel for the renewal of the face of the earth.”
Blessed Louis and Marie Zélie Guerin Martin were married in 1858. The couple had nine children, but four of them died in infancy. All five of the surviving children, including St. Therese, entered religious life, highlighting the important role parents play in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing. Zélie Martin died of cancer in 1877, at the age of 45; her husband died when he was 70 in 1894.
Fr. Antonio Sangalli, vice postulator for the cause for the canonization of the couple, said, “Louis and Zélie demonstrated through their lives that conjugal love is an instrument of holiness, a way to holiness consummated by the two persons together.” He noted that this aspect today is “the most important aspect to value in the family. There is an enormous need for a simple spirituality lived out in daily life.”
In March of this year, Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Louis and Zélie’s intercession. The miracle involves a little girl in the Archdiocese of Valencia, Spain. Born prematurely and with multiple life-threatening complications, the little girl named Carmen, suffered a major brain hemorrhage, which could have caused irreversible damage. Her parents prayed to the Martins for their daughter. The little girl survived and is now healthy.
It is no coincidence that the Martins are being canonized on Mission Sunday. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, in his book The Martin Couple: a Path of Sanctity that Imparted Faith, had this to say about Louis and Zelie’s missionary spirit:
A missionary family from the start, when, in France, soon after, there arose the work of the Propagation of the Faith by Pauline Jaricot and that began the missionary movements of the nineteenth century. We know that the Martin parents signed up all their daughters in the Work of the Holy Childhood (Thérèse’s inscription dated January 12, 1882, is preserved), and they contributed generously for the construction of new churches in foreign missions. For Thérèse, being able to participate in the activities of the Work of the Holy Childhood certainly helped to develop her missionary zeal. Louis and Zélie were saints who produced a saint. They were missionary spouses who not only participated in the missionary spirit of their time but also raised up for the Church the Patroness of the Universal Missions (1927).
Zélie and Louis are saints not so much for the methods they chose for evangelization, rather they are saints because they lived and imparted the faith to their family in a concerted and committed way. They evangelized their children by their example as a couple, living their faith in works and instruction in the heart of the family. Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), stresses that the family is the place where children are evangelized and then the family becomes the evangelizer of other families:
At different moments in the Church’s history and also in the Second Vatican Council, the family has well deserved the beautiful name of “domestic Church.” This means that there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church. Furthermore, the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates.
In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them.
And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms part. Evangelii Nuntiandi, §71
Prayer to Saints Louis and Zélie Martin
God of eternal love, you give us Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse, as an example of holiness in marriage.
They remained faithful to you and your commandments in all the duties and trials of life.
They desired to raise their children to become saints.
May their prayers and example help Christian couples to blossom in their vocation to family life as they carry out their mission to evangelize their children and other families.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As the exemplars of holy family life, we have designated Louis and Zélie Martin as the patron Saints of the Calling Couples to Christ Apostolate. Pray for us, Louis and Zélie that we may be an instrument of hope and healing to families as they strive to live out their vocation to marriage and family life well.