The simple, hard-working and prayerful Martin family from the small French town of Alençon was anything but ordinary. Not only is one of the family’s daughters the great St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus — the Carmelite Doctor of the Church known for her “little way” — and another daughter, Sister Leonie, under consideration for canonization, but the parents became the first married couple ever to be canonized saints. Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin built a family that shines throughout the world today as a beacon of ideal family life.
Neither had intended to marry. Both had seriously considered religious life, but doors had been closed to them as they moved closer to that vocation. God’s will became increasingly clear to them, ending up as the perfect Catholic love story that, beginning when they met on Alençon’s St. Leonard’s Bridge, was bookended with their 2015 canonization.
It was love at first sight that day on the bridge. A brief courtship resulted in their July 13, 1858, marriage. On that day, Sts. Louis and Zélie established a family grounded in a love for God and a commitment to do his will, not immune from the everyday troubles of family life nor the pains and sorrows that few families know.
The couple complemented each other well. Louis was reserved and contemplative, while Zélie was outgoing and social. Both put their children ahead of themselves and wanted nothing but their best. Prayerful and discerning, these holy parents had the clear-headed vision to know that the best for their children was to help them grow in a relationship with God.
Numerous challenges that the Martins faced was the stuff that has driven many away from God and religion. Four of the Martins’ children died at an early age, and Zélie suffered a lengthy bout with breast cancer that resulted in her death at the age of 45.
When understood improperly, one is prone to seeing suffering as a reason to doubt their faith and to give up on God. Throughout it all, the Martins confidently proclaimed a profound love of God and an undying trust in his providence.
The Little Way of St. Thérèse posits a simple spirituality of doing little things exceedingly well. She learned this first and foremost from her parents as a girl. As she said herself, “The good Lord gave me a father and a mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.”
In good times and in bad, the Martins were faithful to each other and to God. They embraced their vocation as spouses and parents with joy, and they dedicated their entire selves to their calling. They worked hard to provide for their family — Louis eventually gave up his watch shop to join Zélie in her lucrative lace-making business. But they knew that their success was found in putting God first, as evidenced by their daily habit of attending Mass together.
Their family life is a model for families the world over. The Martin home was filled with laughter and joy just as much as it was with prayer and love. It was a home of affection, tenderness and mercy. And it was a home where holiness was desired above all else. They wanted what God wanted, and nothing more. They did not give in to the temptations and weaknesses that came with trials and sufferings, but relied on Christ’s example and his grace in the sacraments to fortify them.
In the end, the sole desire of the Martins for themselves and for their children was to become saints. And now canonized, Sts. Louis and Zélie provide a clear blueprint for families today who share that same goal.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter at @HeinleinMichael.