Monday, October 19, 2015

Two new Saints

Tapestry of the Martins hung at the Vatican yesterday
Two new Saints were canonized yesterday on Mission Sunday, October 18, 2015, by Pope Francis. They are Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower.
Louis Martin (1823–1894) was a watchmaker by trade, and quite a successful one. He also skillfully managed his wife’s lace business. Born into a family of soldiers, Louis spent his early years at various French military posts. He absorbed the sense of order and discipline that army life engenders.
At age 22, young Louis sought to enter religious life at the monastery of the Augustinian Canons of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. The blend of courage and charity the monks and their famous dogs manifested in rescuing travelers in Alpine snows appealed powerfully to Louis Martin. Unfortunately, the Abbot insisted the young candidate learn Latin. Louis, whose bravery would have carried him to the heights of the Alps in search of a lost pilgrim, got himself lost among the peaks and valleys of Latin syntax and grammar. He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life. Eventually, Louis settled down in Alencon, a small city in France, and pursued his watchmaking trade. He loved Alencon. It was a quiet place and he was a quiet man.
Zelie Guerin (1831–1877) was one of Alencon's more talented lace makers. Born into a military family, Zelie described her childhood and youth as “dismal.” Her mother and father showed her little affection. As a young lady, she sought unsuccessfully to enter a religious order. Zelie then learned the Alencon lace-making technique and soon mastered this painstaking craft. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with commonsense, she started her own business and became quite successful. Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin eventually met in Alencon, and on July 13, 1858, Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life. However, they vowed to live a celibate life. When the local priest heard about this strange arrangement, he scolded them and told them that was not the way married couples should live their lives. Apparently they listened to him, because within the next 15 years, Zelie bore nine children, seven girls and two boys. “We lived only for them,” Zelie wrote. “They were all our happiness.”

Zelie and Louis Martin with St Therese as a young girl
The Martins’ delight in their children turned to shock and sorrow as tragedy relentlessly and mercilessly stalked their little ones. Within three years, Zelie’s two baby boys, a five-year-old girl, and a six-and-a-half-week-old infant girl all died. The series of tragedies had intensified the love of Louis and Zelie Martin for each other. They poured out their affection on their five surviving daughters: Marie, 12, Pauline, 11, Leonie 9, Celine, 3, and their newborn daughter. Louis and Zelie named her Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin. Therese was born on January 2, 1873. She was, however, weak and frail, and doctors feared for the infant’s life. The family— so used to death—was preparing for yet another blow. Zelie wrote of her three-month-old girl: “I have no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers horribly. . . . It breaks your heart to see her.”
But the baby girl proved to be much tougher than anyone realized. She survived the illness. A year later she was a “big baby, browned by the sun.” “The baby,” Zelie noted, “is full of life, giggles a lot, and is sheer joy to everyone.” A century later, people would know her as St. Therese, and call her the “Little Flower.” She was canonized in 1925.

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