Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, were the first parents of a saint to be beatified. They were the first spouses in the history of the Church to be proposed for sainthood as a couple and the second who were beatified together on October 19, 2008 in Lisieux, France. They will be proclaimed saints by Pope Francis on Sunday, October 18, 2015 at the Vatican.
The Martins worked hard while raising a large family. Though they lived In 19th century France, this couple faced challenges we face in the 21st: finding good child care; achieving professional excellence; operating a successful business; caring for elderly parents; educating a special-needs child; forming their children in the faith; finding time to pray and to be active in their parish community.
In 1877 Zélie died of breast cancer, leaving Louis a single parent with five minor daughters to bring up. Later Louis was diagnosed with cerebral arteriosclerosis and spent three years in a psychiatric hospital. Life came at them unexpectedly, just as it comes at us. They could not prevent their tragedies: the Franco-Prussian war, during which they housed nine German soldiers; the infant deaths of four of their nine children, one from abuse by a wet-nurse; their painful diseases; Zélie’s premature death. Nor could they escape their responsibilities as business owners, caregivers, spouses, and parents.
Zélie and Louis were not declared “blessed” nor will they be proclaimed saints because of their daughter, Thérèse. She became a saint because of them. They fostered an environment that invited Thérèse to grow in holiness. She responded freely to the invitation they offered her. When the Church recognized Louis and Zélie as a blessed couple, she pointed to the mystery of the vocation of marriage, the way of life in which most people are called to reach the common goal of all Christians: sainthood.
Thinking of the Martins, we cannot help but recall the words of St. John Paul II: “Heroism must become daily, and the daily must become heroic.” Their relics were present at the 2014 Synod on the Family for our veneration and they have been present during this year’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops.
The relics of a second holy couple, Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, are also present for veneration at the Synod. The husband and wife lived in Rome in the first half of the 20th century, and they were proclaimed blessed by St. John Paul II on October 21, 2001. In his homily at their Beatification ceremony in Rome, Pope John Paul II said:
“This couple lived married love and service to life in the light of the Gospel and with great human intensity. With full responsibility they assumed the task of collaborating with God in procreation, dedicating themselves generously to their children, to teach them, guide them and direct them to discovering his plan of love. From this fertile spiritual terrain sprang vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, which shows how, with their common roots in the spousal love of the Lord, marriage and virginity may be closely connected and reciprocally enlightening.
Drawing on the word of God and the witness of the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life. At the centre of their life was the daily Eucharist as well as devotion to the Virgin Mary, to whom they prayed every evening with the Rosary, and consultation with wise spiritual directors. In this way they could accompany their children in vocational discernment, training them to appreciate everything “from the roof up”, as they often, charmingly, liked to say.”
The Martins and the Quattrocchis are the heroes of the everyday. Their witness, memory and relics among us are blessings, and invitations to each of us to aspire to daily heroism.
Relics of Blesseds Zélie and Louis Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux for veneration during the Synods of 2014-2015.