We arrived yesterday afternoon at four-thirty. My brother was waiting for us at the station and was delighted to see us. He and his wife are doing everything they can to entertain us. This evening, Sunday, there’s a beautiful reception in their home in our honor….
As for me, I’m finding it hard to relax! None of that interests me! I’m absolutely like the fish you pull out of the water. They’re no longer in their element and they have to perish! This would have the same effect on me if I had to stay a lot longer. I feel uncomfortable, I’m out of sorts. This is affecting me physically, and it’s almost making me sick. However, I’m reasoning with myself and trying to gain the upper hand. I’m with you in spirit all day, and I say to myself, “Now he must be doing such and such a thing.”
I’m longing to be near you, my dear Louis. I love you with all my heart, and I feel my affection so much more when you’re not here with me. It would be impossible for me to live apart from you.
Saint Zélie Guérin Martin Letter CF 108 to Saint Louis Martin (excerpt) Lisieux, 31 August 1873
Explore more of the correspondence of Louis Martin and Zélie Guerin here.
Like my father, my mother was very detached from earthly things. She was highly intelligent and had extraordinary energy: difficulties were nothing to her. Her spirit of faith was remarkable and helped her to endure life’s many hardships. When she lost her children, she knew immediately where they would be and overcame her immense grief. She wrote, “I wanted to have many children in order to bring them up for heaven”.
Sr. Geneviève of Saint Teresa, O.C.D. (Céline Martin) Witness 8 for the Diocesan Process
My father and mother had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. That’s why they gave the name Mary to all their children, both boys and girls. Before he married, my father placed a statue of the Blessed Virgin on a path in his garden, and later it would become very dear to the whole family. It was this very statue that was in Thérèse’s childhood bedroom and which came to life and smiled at her when she was very sick. Praying at the foot of the same statue, my mother was granted very great favors. My parents were very helpful to the poor. When a servant happened to fall ill with rheumatoid arthritis, my mother treated her herself, day and night, for several weeks, not wishing to send her back to her parents because they were poor.
Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, O.C.D. (Marie Martin) Witness 7 for the Diocesan Process
My mother was abnegation personified; she was gifted with extraordinary energy. The lace-making business that she established alone, and which she looked after tirelessly to assure her children’s future, made her life very meritorious. When my little brothers and sisters died, her submission to God’s will, despite her deep grief, was so great that people less Christian than herself were almost shocked, to the point of saying that she did not love her children.
It was my parents’ wish that all of us be consecrated to God; they would have liked to give Him priests and missionaries. My mother had been struck by the life of Madame Acarie, and many times I heard her say, “To think that all her daughters became Carmelites! Can a mother have any greater honor?”
Sr. Agnes of Jesus, O.C.D. (Pauline Martin) Witness 6 for the Apostolic Process
View more lace-making patterns from Saint Zélie’s workshop here
Learn more about Saint Louis and Zélie’s life together here
The best thing to do is to put everything in the hands of God and await the outcome in peace and abandonment to His will.
I’m happy to see, my dear sister, that your little girl is your pride and joy. I, too, was so happy with my first child. To my eyes, there had never been a child like her. I hoped that it would go as easily for all the others. I was mistaken. What I’ll learn for another time is not to dream of lasting happiness, something quite impossible here below!
So, you can’t imagine how frightened I am of the future, about this little person that I’m expecting. It seems to me that the fate of the last two children will be his fate, and it’s a never-ending nightmare for me. I believe the dread is worse than the misfortune. When misfortunes come, I resign myself well enough, but the fear, for me, is torture. This morning, during Mass, I had such dark thoughts about this that I was very deeply moved. The best thing to do is to put everything in the hands of God and await the outcome in peace and abandonment to His will. That’s what I’m going to try very hard to do.
Saint Zélie Guérin Martin Letter CF 45, excerpt to Madame Guérin (Céline Fournet Guérin) 28 February 1869
Marie Céline Martin was born on 28 April 1869, the seventh child of Saints Louis and Zélie Guérin Martin. Her two older brothers, Joseph Louis (20 September 1866 – 14 February 1867) and Joseph Jean-Baptiste (19 December 1867 – 24 August 1868) had both died in infancy. One can understand Saint Zélie’s emotions and admire her practice of heroic faith despite her fear.
Read more correspondence from the family and friends of Saint Thérèse here
Since Wednesday, there’s a noticeable improvement. Marie is no longer delirious. However, she still has a fever. She’s still eating nothing but broth. She’s very weak and sleeps a lot. We hope that soon her convalescence will start. I’m waiting for it very impatiently.
The wet nurse brought our little Thérèse today, who’s in good health and very strong.
I thought I wouldn’t have time to write you. I’m taking advantage of a moment of rest. I hope to hear from you soon, and I’ll write to you again as soon as Marie is a little better.
Saint Zélie Martin Letter CF94 to her sister-in-law Céline Fournet Guérin
At the birth of St. Thérèse, her mother St. Zélie was unable to nurse the baby due to lifelong breast health problems. A wet nurse in the nearby farming village of Semallé had assisted Zélie in the past with feeding her babies. However, in January 1873 the wet nurse, Rose Taillé, had a newborn of her own and hesitated to make the trip from the farm to the town of Alençon. At the crack of dawn after Thérèse’s late-night birth, Zélie traveled to the farm and pleaded with Rose to come with her into town to feed Thérèse. Her persistence paid off: Rose Taillé, with her own baby in her arms, traveled to the Martin home with St. Zélie. After much drama — Rose solemnly pronounced that it was “too late” — Thérèse began to take nourishment. She spent roughly one year on the farm with Rose and her family in Semallé.
Learn more about her difficult birth and infancy from Discalced Carmelite Father James Geoghegan here. See photos from and learn about a 2013 pilgrimage to Alençon here. View a video of the farmhouse with an English explanation here. Discover more about St. Therese from expert and speaker Maureen O’Riordan here.
Explore the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux here.
As for me, I’m not confined to my bed, but I’m not doing well at all. I often have a fever, or, more accurately, I have a fever every day. I’m not suffering very much, but I have a constant headache and a general weakness. I have no more energy. I have no stamina for work, and I don’t have the heart for it. Sometimes I imagine that I’ll go away as gently as my little Hélène. I assure you that I barely care for my own life. Ever since I lost this child, I feel a burning desire to see her again. However, those that remain need me, and, because of them, I ask God to leave me on this earth a few more years.
Saint Zélie Martin
From the Saint to her sister-in-law, Madame Guérin (Céline Fournet Guérin) Letter CF 54, 27 March 1870
Read the entire letter on the website of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux
I received your last letter, and I promise I’ll put into practice all the good advice you gave me.
I’m even more inclined to constantly blame myself for my little Hélène’s death, but I never for a moment thought it would end like that. I’d seen Pauline and Léonie so gravely ill when they were little and then recover very well, that I was no longer afraid of childhood illnesses. But now it will be completely the opposite, and I’m afraid my fear will go too far as soon as I see the slightest thing.
You tell me to change doctors, but which one should I use? I tried Doctor P for Léonie, seeing that Monsieur D didn’t prescribe anything. He gave me a new prescription every day, and the more the child took his medicines, the worse she got. He had to give up on her. I tried the first doctor again who told me to stop all the medicines because the child was too young and there was nothing to be done, apart from not giving her food that’s too rich. I believe he was right. I also had such contradictory experiences with my second little boy. In the end, I have nothing to blame Doctor D for in my little girl’s illness. My dear friend, I’ll be crying for my little Hélène for the rest of my life!
Now Léonie has had a problem with her eyes for almost two years. If you know a remedy for this, please let me know. God willing, it will be more effective than those I’ve tried so far! This poor child concerns me because she has an undisciplined character and a limited ability to understand.
As for me, I’m not strong. For two weeks straight, I’ve had a fever. Thursday night I was so sick that I thought I was finished. I thought I had the same illness as my little Hélène.
Louis went to Le Mans on Tuesday to see the children. I’d promised them so long ago that he would come. He didn’t want to travel because of the death of our little darling, but I persuaded him. They would have been too sad. They’ve cried a lot for their little sister.
In April I’m going to bring Céline home from the wet nurse. Having her here will comfort us a little because in the summer I won’t have the courage to go anywhere but the cemetery. Besides, I can’t imagine seeing myself on the street without a child by my side. Give me your advice about Céline. She’ll be one year old on April 28. I don’t think it will hurt her to wean her, all the more because the wet nurse makes her eat everything, and she’s doing very well.
I hug all three of you with all my heart.
Saint Zélie Guérin Martin Letter to her brother Isidore – March 6, 1870 (CF 53)
These last two days our dear invalid has grown considerably weaker, and this morning she wasn’t able to get up to take Holy Communion. Our beloved Sister is in a state of weakness, oppression, and anxiety which leads us to think that the end cannot be far off.
She was most touched by your parcel, but she eats so little now that she only tasted it. She has asked us to convey her gratitude for this kind gesture which moved her deeply.
Letter from Sister Marie-Louise de Gonzague Vétillart, V.H.M. to Saint Zélie Martin (excerpt) 19 February 1877
I’m enclosing a letter I just received a moment ago which doesn’t leave us any more hope, as you can see. Last week I sent some roasted goose to my sister since she’d wanted to eat some cooked in our house. I also sent her a pound of gumdrops and a dozen cakes, but Pauline wrote Marie that she gave almost all of them to her.
Finally, I think her death is imminent, and it makes me very sad. But on the other hand, I want my poor sister to be freed as soon as possible.
Letter from Saint Zélie Martin to her sister-in-law Céline Fournet Guérin (excerpt) 20 February 1877