Pope Francis canonizes Saints Louis and Zélie Martin


“The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”

These were the words of Pope Francis in his homily for the Canonization Mass of Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux. Canonized Sunday, October 18, in Saint Peter’s Square, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin are the first spouses to be canonized together. The lives of these two saints are exemplary stories of faithful service to God through the vocation of marriage.

Louis Martin (1823-1894) spent his early years as a soldier in the French military, yet at the age of 22 he sought the religious life of a monk. He entered the monastery of the Augustinian Canons of the Great Saint Bernard Hospice in the Alps. Despite his desire to follow the monastic life, he could not learn Latin, a requirement for monks, and so he left the monastery behind for the French city of Alençon. There he became a successful watchmaker.

Zélie Guerin (1831-1877) also lived in Alençon and, like Louis, grew up in a military family. She attempted the religious life of the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu, but soon discovered it was not her vocation. Like Louis, she started her own trade—lace-making rather than watchmaking—which was hugely successful.

The two married in Alençon and after some years had nine children (two boys and seven girls). Four of their children died, leaving the Martins with five young girls. Zélie had to endure the pain of losing her children and did so through her faith in God:

“People said to me, ‘It would have been better never to have had them.’ I couldn’t stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above.”

Such faith persisted throughout their family life. On August 28, 1877, Zélie died of breast cancer, and Louis was left with his five daughters. He offered himself to God, and all five of their daughters entered the religious life. Louis Martin died on July 29, 1894, of cerebral arteriosclerosis. On his deathbed he remarked, “I know why the good God has given me this trial: I had never had any humiliation in my life, I needed one.”

The separate cases for their beatifications were united by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and the two were beatified on October 19, 2008. On June 27, Pope Francis announced that the spouses were to be canonized October 18, 2015. Two miracles allowed for their canonization, both involving children.

Pietro Shirilo was born in 2002 with a congenital lung defect. After the parents of little Pietro prayed a novena to the Martins, he was cured. Carmen Perez Pons was born in 2008, suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage. Her parents prayed with Carmelite nuns for their daughter’s healing, and three months later, on St. Thérèse’s birthday, Carmen was cured.

The Synod of the Family, which ended October 25, was occurring at time of the Martins’ canonization. The purpose of the Synod was to address the vocation of the family in relation to contemporary life. A canonization of two spouses known for their devotion to their family during the Synod of the Family further illustrates Pope Francis’ emphasis on the importance of sanctity in the family.

“Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith,” said Pope Francis when he addressed hundreds of thousands of families in Philadelphia this September.

Louis and Zélie Martin, according to Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, are “extraordinary witnesses of conjugal and family spirituality.” They are an example of family life to all Christians as they raised St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her four religious sisters in a home that was truly a “domestic church.”

Sarah Ortiz is a freshman studying the Program of Liberal Studies and living in Lewis Hall. She is obsessed with baking and once won a school cupcake baking competition. She can be reached at sortiz2@nd.edu.