THE WATCHMAKER – Louis Martin
Louis Martin (1823 – 1894) was a watchmaker by trade, and quite a successful one. He also skillfully managed his wife’s lace business. But, as with so many men, Louis’ life had not turned out at all the way he had planned.
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. His temperament, deeply influenced by the peculiar French connection between the mystical and the military, tended toward things of the spirit.
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. It even had a lovely trout stream nearby, offering him the opportunity to pursue his favorite recreation.
At twenty-two, 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. His most determined efforts failed. He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life.
THE LACE MAKER – Zelie Guerin
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 the religious order of the sisters of the Hotel-Dieu. Zelie then learned the Alencon lace-making technique and soon mastered this painstaking craft. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with common sense, she started her own business and became quite successful.
Notable as these achievements were, Zelie was yet to reveal the depths of the strength, faith, and courage she possessed.Most famous of Alencon’s thirteen thousand inhabitants were its lace makers. French people greatly admired the skill and talent required to produce the exquisite lace known throughout the nation as Point d’ Alencon.
Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin met in Alencon while walking on the same bridge on July 13, 1858.As Louis caught Zelie’s eye at the end of the bridge walking toward her,she heard an interior voice in her soul say:”This is the one I have prepared for you”.Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life.Louis asked Zelie to live celibate as brother and sister and even though Zelie desired children,she was so impressed by Louis’ zeal and love for God that she wholeheartedly agreed.Zelie and Louis Martin lived chastely together for the first 10 months of their marriage but a priest guiding them told them that God desired them to be parents and in the next fifteen years, Zelie bore nine children, seven girls and two boys. “We lived only for them,” Zelie wrote; “they were all our happiness.”
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.
Zelie was left numb with sadness. “I haven’t a penny’s worth of courage,” she lamented. But her faith sustained her through these terrible ordeals.
In a letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zelie remembered: “When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through…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.”
While pregnant with her last child,Zelie was repeatedly physically attacked by the devil who pushed her down repeatedly.Zelie called out to God and the attacks were put to a stop.Even before St.Therese was born the devil knew what a threat St Therese would be to him stealing hundreds of thousands maybe even millions of souls from his grasp.St.Therese was born January 2, 1873. She was 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.”
Death seemed to grant a reprieve to the Martin household. Although suffering had left its mark on mother and father, it was not the scar of bitterness. Louis and Zelie had already found relief and support in their faith.
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 new-born.
In 1876, Zelie’s sister Marie-Louise, now Visitation Sister Marie-Dosithee, was dying of tuberculosis. Her imminent death shook Zelie out of the inertia caused by lack of confidence in the medical doctors available to her. For years she had resisted consulting anyone over the lingering pain in her breast. Headaches, eye-strain, and digestive problems also troubled her ). Shortly before the end of the year, she consulted Dr. Prevost. He diagnosed a “fibrous tumor”—cancer—and told Zelie an operation would be useless. At the urging of her brother and sister-in-law, she sought a second opinion from prominent surgeon Dr. Alphonse-Henri Notta in Lisieux. His conclusion was the same. It was too late to save Zelie’s life. The best doctors could do was prolong it.
Zelie wrote to Louis from Lisieux, telling him the shocking news. They tried to hide it from their children, but Pauline overheard her parents talking and insisted on knowing what was happening. Eventually, all the girls but Celine and Therese would know the truth.
Zelie strove to go on as she had before—except for the fervent prayers she and her loved ones offered for her healing. She continued working at her lace. Family duties also kept her busy, although she gave Marie the care of much of the housework.
But when her sister died on February 24, Zelie appears to have lost hope. Her health rapidly declined.
Lent came. Zelie fasted and abstained with the Church, despite her illness.
In June, Zelie, Marie, Pauline, and Leonie went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Before leaving, Zelie threw out the prescription Dr. Prevost had given her. She was praying for a miracle, knowing that no prescription could save her. The trip brought one trial after another. They missed a train, Leonie had swollen feet, Marie was tormented by dust in her eye, and both Pauline and Leonie had motion sickness. Marie lost her aunt’s rosary in Lourdes. Pauline lost her own, and her aunt’s medals. Zelie twisted her neck. On the way home, their bottles of Lourdes water leaked.
Never one to enjoy traveling, Zelie returned home in a worse condition than she had left. Nonetheless, she was glad she had gone. “[A]t least I have nothing to reproach myself with,” she wrote to her brother Isidore Guerin and his wife Celine. She had done all she could.
The final stages of her disease
Within days of returning home, Zelie experienced such pain at night that she could hardly sleep. Still, she rose early every morning to walk to 5:30 Mass, as she had done for years. Every few steps she had to stop and rest. The pain in her neck was excruciating.
Soon fever appeared.
Marie had been caring for Celine and Therese, the two youngest daughters. As Zelie entered the final stages of the disease, she sent them to spend their days with their cousin’s wife, Madame Leriche. Although no one had spoken to them about Zelie’s failing health, they knew she was far from well.
Zelie had no fear for the futures of her two little ones. She also knew that Pauline, the daughter most like herself, would ultimately be fine. But she had some concern over Marie, who was not drawn to either marriage or religious life at this time. And “poor Leonie,” as the final Martin sister was known, caused her much anxiety. Leonie affectionately spent every moment she could with her mother, often covering her with kisses, as though that could cure her. But it was finally clear that nothing could keep Zelie in this life long. No miracle occurred.
Anointing and death
On August 26, a priest gave Zelie the last sacraments. “I can still see the place where I stood next to Celine,” St. Therese wrote nearly twenty years later. “All five of us were in line according to age, and poor Papa was there too, sobbing.”
The Guerins were present the next day when Zelie passed away about 12:30. Before dying, Zelie looked intently at her sister-in-law Celine. Celine Guerin took this as a plea to look after the Martin children. After Zelie was laid to rest, Celine Guerin urged Louis to move his family to Lisieux to be closer to their relatives. He eagerly followed this advice.
Life After Zelie and A Holy Death in the Good God’s Service
Louis was deeply heartbroken by the loss of his beloved Zelie and grief consumed him.He raised his girls to the best of his ability to be saints.And one by one each one of Louis’ daughters as it were abandoned Louis to enter religious life.Both Zelie and Louis had desired religious life but that wasn’t in the divine plan.At each of their children’s births they had consecrated their children to God and all of their daughters became brides of Christ,a beautiful legacy of the fruits of a holy marriage and family life.Louis went back to the church of Our Lady where he had married Zelie in Alencon some 20 years prior and he knelt down in front of the blessed sacrament and offered himself as a victim soul.God accepted that offering from Louis and almost immeadiately Louis started suffering strokes one after another and his health detoriated very rapidly.When asked why God would make him suffer after having lived a good life,he responded,”Because I have had a good life,I loved the Good God but I have not had to suffer all that much.God has given me many benefits and it is very fitting that I suffer before I die that I may be like Christ the Saviour.”In 1889 Louis was placed in a hospital where he suffered for many years until his birth into paradise in July 1894.
Relics of St.Zelie and Louis Martin in the Basilica of St.Therese in Lisieux,France