Louis Martin (22 August 1823 – 29 July 1894) and Marie-Azélie “Zélie” Guérin Martin (23 December 1831 – 28 August 1877) were two married Roman Catholic French laypeople and the parents of five Roman Catholic nuns, including Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun who was canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church in 1925.
Louis Joseph Aloys Stanislaus Martin was the third of five children of Pierre-François Martin and Marie-Anne-Fanny Boureau. All his siblings died before reaching age 30.
Although Louis intended to become a monk, wishing to enter the Augustinian Great St. Bernard Monastery, he was rejected because he did not succeed at learning Latin. Later he decided to become a watchmaker and studied his craft in Rennes and in Strasbourg.
Azélie-Marie Guérin was born in Gandelain, near Saint-Denis-sur-Sarthon, Orne, France. She was the second daughter of Isidore Guérin and Louise-Jeanne Macé. She had an older sister, Marie-Louise, who became a Visitandine nun, and a younger brother, Isidore, who was a pharmacist. Her maternal family was from the Madré, in the neighbouring department of Mayenne, where her grandfather, Louis Macé, was baptised on 16 March 1778.
Zélie wanted to become a nun, but was turned away by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul due to respiratory difficulties and recurrent headaches. She then prayed for God to give her many children and that they would be consecrated to God. She later decided to become a lacemaker, manufacturing Alençon lace. She fell in love with the watchmaker Louis Martin in 1858 and married him, only three months later, on 12 July 1858, at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Alençon.
Even while Louis and Zélie Martin were a nineteenth-century French couple, they are refreshingly contemporary in their experience of marriage and family life. Not unlike many couples today, they married later in life by the standards of that age, when she was 27 years old and he was 35. They were both “young professionals.” From the age of 20, Zélie had owned a lace making business (which she continued as a wife and mother within the family home), managing several employees and personally assembling their embroidered work into the final product. So fine and well regarded was Zélie’s intricate “Point d’Alençon” lace, her business served as the appointed supplier to the clothier Maison Pigache of Paris. For his part, Louis was a master watchmaker and had established his shop in Alençon where he repaired time-pieces and sold jewelry for some eight years before meeting Zélie.
Although the couple lived as brother and sister for ten months after their wedding, they decided to live as husband and wife after a spiritual director encouraged them to do so. They would later have nine children, though only five daughters would survive infancy: Marie Louise (22 February 1860 – 19 January 1940), as a nun, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, Carmelite at Lisieux; Marie Pauline (7 September 1861 – 28 July 1951), as a nun, Mother Agnès of Jesus, Carmelite at Lisieux; Marie Léonie (3 June 1863 – 16 June 1941), as a nun, Sister Françoise-Thérèse, Visitandine at Caen; candidate for sainthood since January 2015; Marie Céline (28 April 1869 – 25 February 1959), as a nun, Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face, Carmelite at Lisieux; and Marie Françoise-Thérèse (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897), as a nun, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Carmelite at Lisieux, canonised in 1925.
Zélie died of breast cancer on 28 August 1877 in Alençon, aged 45, leaving her husband and daughters. Her funeral was held in the basilica where she had married Louis. A few weeks later, Louis sold her lacemaking business and their house along Rue St. Blaise,[ and moved to Lisieux, Normandy, where Zélie’s brother Isidore Guérin, a pharmacist, lived with his wife and two daughters.
In 1889 Louis suffered two paralyzing strokes followed by cerebral arteriosclerosis, and was hospitalised for three years at the Bon Sauveur Asylum in Caen. In 1892 he returned to Lisieux, where two of his daughters looked after him until his death on 29 July 1894 at Chateau La Musse near Évreux.
Pope Francis acknowledged that the Church wants and needs married couples who point to Christ and so canonized Louis and Zélia during the Synod on the Family on 18 October 2015; becoming the first spouses in the church’s history to be canonized as a couple.
The choice of a liturgical memorial on 12 July marks the date of their matrimony in 1858. May Saints Louis and Zélia help us to integrate our faith in every aspect of family life remembering that the married vocation is to help each other become saints.