When it comes to friendship with the saints, it can be challenging to pick a favorite. After all, they’re all holy men and women, offering unique stories on their path to Heaven.
If I had to pick my favorites, Edith Stein, John Paul the Great, Maria Goretti, and Theresa of Avila are some of the friends I turn to regularly. I want to be a great saint, and I love surrounding myself with witnesses who encourage me along that journey.
But when I chatted with people about their favorite saint, one beautiful lady kept popping up in conversation and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. For the longest time, I couldn’t stand Saint Therese of Lisieux.
Wow, that’s sounds harsh.
Maybe it was her neatness. Her gentle smile seemed to find me in every chapel that I went to – a stray holy card there, a statue here, a constant presence of roses.
She was the epitome of humility, while I struggled with my biggest vice of pride. She was tidy and calm and I was wrestling internally and externally the definition of chaos.
Therese’s Story of a Soul was easy to read. She communicated through evident signs, like roses. My life was all over the place and I struggled to organize anything.
But, I gradually realized that Therese had a lot of lessons to teach me about humility and the little way.
It wasn’t until Joseph and I lost our son, Marion, to a miscarriage that I discovered Therese’s saintly parents, Louis and Zelie Martin. Their marriage became a source of inspiration for me as I started into my own vocation with Joseph. The Martins taught me about suffering, joy, and living life together.
Here are six marriage lessons that Louis and Zelie have taught me so far - I hope you enjoy getting to know this gem of a couple!
1. Listen to God’s voice
Before Louis and Zelie met each other, both had discerned a call to religious life. Because he could not master the Latin language, Louis was rejected by the Augustinian Great Saint Bernard Monastery. Zelie also pursued a call to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, but due to respiratory difficulties and reoccurring headaches, she was also rejected.
In April 1858, Louis and Zelie passed each other on a bridge over the Sarthe River. When she noticed Louis, a young man in his mid-thirties, Zelie heard an interior voice telling her “This is the one I’ve prepared for you.”
Louis’ mother was in a lace-making class with Zelie, and she later introduced the two. They courted for 3 months before their wedding.
2. Love and suffering go hand in hand
Suffering was no stranger to the Martin home. Although Louis and Zelie had nine children together, four of the children did not live past childhood. Two of their sons, Marie-Joseph-Louis and Marie-Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, passed away before their first birthday. Both of their daughters died in 1870. Marie Helen died when she was five years old. Finally, Marie Melanie Therese died when she was just seven weeks old after being neglected by her wet-nurse.
After Therese was born, Zelie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five weeks before her death, Zelie penned a letter begging God for “if not for a cure, then for perfect abandonment to the will of God.”
Zelie’s funeral was held in the same basilica where she and Louis had said their wedding vows.
Twelve years after Zelie’s death, Louis suffered two paralyzing strokes, which were followed by cerebral arteriosclerosis. He was hospitalized for three years in a mental health asylum in Caen. Louis returned home to Lisieux, where two of his daughters took care of him before his death in 1894.
3. Strive for holiness in your vocation
After their deaths, Louis and Zelie were both recommended for sainthood, but their causes were separate. Then, in 1971, Blessed Pope Paul VI recognized that their marriage was at the center of their holy lives together. He united the causes into one. In 1994, Saint Pope John Paul the Great declared the couple blessed.
Two miracles were needed for the canonization of the couple, and both involved the miraculous healing of babies. In 2002, Pietro Schiliro was healed from lung trouble. He would go on to attend the couple’s canonization Mass. Carmen Perez Bons, a little baby girl born in Spain, was healed thanks to the saintly couple’s intercession in 2008.
It was incredible reading about the miracles attributed to the Martins. I thought it was beautiful to see their love of families and children influence everything - even the miracles that they worked after their death here on earth.
4. Community is crucially important
Louis was a member of a group of men called “The Catholic Club”. They met regularly under the direction of Father Hurel, the priest who witnessed the vows of Zelie and Louis! The men supported one another in charitable work and regularly met for prayer and worship in the chapel at Notre Dame de Lorette.
Afterward, they would go play billiards together (a game that Louis was a pro at!).
Meanwhile, Zelie kept up regular correspondence via letters with the women in her life.
It can be easy to let community fall by the wayside after marriage. Louis and Zelie offer a beautiful example of the necessity of friendship and community in marriage.
5. Choose what works best for your family
Before they’d met each other, Zelie and Louis were both skilled creators. Louis ran a watch making business, and Zelie created lace. Zelie’s business was so successful that she employed 15 women, all of whom worked from their own home.
The success of Zelie’s lace making business encouraged Louis to quit his job as a watchmaker, a business that he sold to his nephew. Louis took over the business end of Zelie’s lace-making shop. They each set up a desk in the living room of their home.
I loved reading about the Martin’s business together. It wasn’t common then (and still isn’t too common these days!) for the man of the house to sell his business in favor of his wife’s endeavors. Although it was traditional, the Martins chose the path that worked the best for their family.
6. Pray together
Every night, the family gathered around a statue of Mary to pray together.
In 1883, Therese fell ill after her sister, Pauline, left for the convent. Although Marie took Pauline’s place, the separation caused Therese to become ill. At age ten, she was in grave danger. Her sisters began to pray over her bed together, and one suggested to bring in the statue of Mary that they prayed in front of every night into Therese’s bedroom.
While the sisters continued to pray, the statue came alive and smiled at Therese, curing her. The statue is now referred to as “Our Lady Smiles”
When she was eleven, Therese made her first communicants. Together with her class, she consecrated herself to the Blessed Mother. The Martin’s devotion to Mary and to a steady prayer life inspired Therese all throughout her life.
The Martin’s five living daughters all went on to pursue a vocation to religious life, inspired by the holiness of their parents and their prayer life together.