This couple is best known as the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower), but they are models of holiness in their own right. They are only the second married couple to be canonized.
Louis was born in 1823 in Bordeaux. When his hope of entering religious life was thwarted he became a watchmaker. Zelie Guerin was born in 1831. She, too, hoped to become a religious, but eventually understood that it was not God’s will. She became a successful lace-maker.
Louis and Zelie met in Alencon and were married in 1858 after a three-month courtship. For almost a year the couple lived as celibates, but the advice of a confessor changed their minds and they decided to raise as many children as possible for the glory of God. Zelie gave birth to nine children, five of whom entered religious life.
The family lived a comfortable lifestyle, but they also suffered the loss of four children at an early age and had to deal with a rebellious daughter. Their devotion never wavered, however. The couple lived modestly, reached out to the poor and the needy, and led daily prayers in the household. St. Therese would later write: “God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”
In 1877, at age 45, Zelie Martin died of breast cancer. Louis and his daughters moved to Lisieux. Gradually his daughters left to enter the convent. Despite his loneliness he said: “It is a great, great honor for me that the Good Lord desires to take all of my children. If I had anything better, I would not hesitate to offer it to him.” Louis died in 1894 after suffering greatly, including a three-year stay in a psychiatric hospital.
Louis and Zelie Martin were beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. Their feast day is July 12, though a liturgical celebration in their honor is not included in the current General Roman Calendar.
In a Christian marriage spouses strive to lead each other to holiness. Louis and Zelie Martin show how a marriage not only benefits the couple, but their children, the Church and society.