Louis and Zélie Martin were canonized by Pope Francis in October 2015 during the Synod of Bishops on the Family. It was a fitting setting, as they became the first couple in the history of the Church to be recognized for having achieved holiness in the context of family life. To be sure, their recognition for holiness doubtless rested on the fame of their daughter Thérèse, a canonized saint and Doctor of the Church, who memorialized them in her autobiography.
The couple was married in 1858, three months after they first met. Both Zélie, a lacemaker, and Louis, a watchmaker, had been attracted to religious life before concluding that their true vocation—and they meant this in the deepest sense— was to marriage and family. Together they had nine children. The five daughters who survived childhood all became nuns, four of them in the same Carmelite convent in Lisieux.
Their youngest, Marie Françoise, who later took the religious name Thérèse, was born in 1873. She lost her mother to breast cancer when she was four, an event that marked the end of her carefree childhood. One by one her sisters left for Carmel, and Louis eventually gave his blessing to Thérèse as well, though she was only fifteen. Her sister Céline stayed behind to care for their father until he died in 1894, when she too left for Lisieux. Thérèse died in 1897 at twenty-four. Her Story of a Soul, published posthumously, assured that the story of her loving parents would become part of the Church’s story.
“I used to jump on Father’s knee and tell him what marks I had, and when he kissed me all my troubles were forgotten.”
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux