Zélie and Louis Martin—parents of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux—were canonized in St. Peter’s, Rome, on October 18, 2015. This coincided very fittingly with the Synod on the Family, which was then taking place in the Vatican.
It was also exactly 90 years since Thérèse’s canonization. The preceding stage in their glorification took place on Mission Sunday, October 19, 2008, in the magnificent Basilica of Lisieux dedicated to the couple’s youngest daughter Thérèse.
On that occasion, Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Pope Benedict’s delegate, beatified Zélie and Louis Martin. This was the anniversary of the day on which Thérèse herself was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1994.
Louis and Zélie Martin were beatified and canonized purely as a married couple, not as individuals. A married couple canonized whose daughter moreover has been declared a saint is a scenario unique in the history of the Church [Luigi and Maria (Corsini) Beltrame-Quatrocchi were beatified by St Pope John Paul II on October 21, 2001. The Corsinis were a noble Italian family and one of their number, Andrew Corsini is a Carmelite saint].
The holiness of Zélie and Louis Martin can be said to be extremely well attested. Their daughter Thérèse, one of the great figures of the modern church, has been proclaimed a “Doctor of the Church” for her profound insights into the spiritual journey.
Because of Thérèse, her parents, and indeed her whole family, especially her elder sisters Pauline and Céline—Mother Agnès and Sr. Genéviève respectively—have become well-known figures in the Catholic world also. Odd one out Léonie has now joined her elder sisters in that role and even tends to outshine them. Léonie is now [a Servant of God] and her cause of Beatification was introduced on February 22, 2020 [date of the formal closure of the diocesan inquiry].
As Jesus says: “A tree is recognized by its fruits” (Cf. Mt 7:17–20). Thérèse herself led the movement to recognize the holiness of her parents when she wrote in her autobiography: “I was blessed in having saints for parents.” Again she wrote, “I have only to look at my father to see how the saints pray” (Cf. Ms A, 09v–11v).
Is this latest model of Christian family life too far beyond our reach? Perhaps. Certainly, many people will regard it so. And yet in an age where families are marked by frequent tension and domestic violence, an attractive alternative is all the more necessary.
Our age is not radically different from nineteenth-century France. The Martins would have been aware of the anti-Christian and anti-marriage ideas current in the France of their day. In the intervening 150 years, such attitudes have only hardened. The prevailing attacks on Christian family life have taken an even more revolutionary turn in our day.
In canonizing Zélie and Louis Martin the Church places before us the ideal of strong Christian family life. It’s a high standard. Yet we can reflect that if athletes never raised the bar above a certain height, no records would ever be broken and mediocrity would prevail all-round.