by Katie Daniels
Pope Francis will canonize Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of the Little Flower, this upcoming October during the Synod of Bishops on the family.
“Thanks to God in October two spouses will be canonized: the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The announcement came during an event titled “Of What Use Are Saints?” organized by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house. The event discussed the importance of sanctity within the family. Cardinal Amato pointed to the Martins as an example of daily piety.
“Saints are not only priests and nuns, but also lay people,” he said of the couple. The Martins will be the first married couple canonized together in the history of the Church.
Zelie, a successful lace maker, met her future husband in 1858. They were married three months later. Both had previously tried to enter the religious life. Louis was denied because he could not read Latin, while Zelie’s poor health kept her out of the convent.
The couple lived in celibacy for a year, before going on to have nine children. Four died in infancy, while the surviving five daughters all grew up to enter the religious life.
Much of what the world knows of St. Therese of the Little Flower and her family comes from the 218 letters that her mother Zelie wrote between 1863 until her death in 1877. The letters illustrate the quiet holiness with which the Martins raised their family.
The family attended Daily Mass at 5:30 a.m. every morning, fasted during Advent and Lent, and prayed the Angelus and Vespers daily. Louis and Zelie also made a point of visiting the sick and elderly, as well as inviting the poor to eat with their family. Although Zelie died of breast cancer at age 46 when Therese was only four years old, Therese later wrote that she always remembered her mother as a saint.
Louis moved his family to the French countryside after Zelie’s death. When Therese was still a young girl, two of her older sisters, Pauline and Marie, entered a cloistered Carmelite community. Inspired by their example and by her discovery of the spiritual guide The Imitation of Christ, Therese convinced Louis to make a pilgrimage to Rome. The 15-year-old Therese sought out an audience with Pope Leo XIII and begged him to grant her permission to enter the Carmelite order. The Pope replied that she would enter if it was God’s will and gave her his blessing. The Swiss guards had to carry Therese out of the room because she would not leave the Pope’s feet. She entered the same Carmelite convent as her older sisters on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1888 and would remain cloistered there until her death in 1897.
Benedict XVI beatified the couple on October 19, 2008, eleven years after John Paul II declared Therese a doctor of the Church. At the time, she was only the third woman to have earned the title.
Bishop Jean-Claude Boulanger, who oversees the diocese of Bayeuz-Lisieux, has also nominated Therese’s older sister Leonia Martin, a member of the Order of the Visitation, for beatification.