Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
When my husband was discerning his vocation during the semester we spent abroad taking classes in Gaming, Austria and traveling around Europe he prayed to St. Thérèse of Lisieux to be “offered red roses” if he was meant to marry me. And one afternoon in Venice outside St. Mark’s Basilica (my husband’s namesake) a flower vendor offered red roses. Mark did not purchase them, nor did he give up his discernment immediately, but I still credit the Little Flower’s intercession to him feeling what I had felt all along—that we were meant to be married. Three years later our dear St. Thérèse led us to her parents.
A month into our marriage, brimming with the joy of expecting our first child, and newcomers to Buffalo, New York, a young priest invited us to go to a novena of Masses he was preaching at the Carmelite convent up to the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16). The homily series was about the beautiful marriage of St. Thérèse’s parents, who were to be beatified that year. We heard about their great love of God, how they both had first discerned religious life, and the fateful meeting on the bridge, which lead to their marriage and the saintly family life they had together. We were intrigued and knew that the Church was giving us a great gift in beatifying a couple.
If you have not heard their story, I will give it to you briefly. Louis and Zélie had nine children, four of whom died in infancy or childhood. Their five surviving daughters all joined convents. Four of them including the youngest St. Thérèse of Lisieux became Carmelites, and their daughter who struggled the most to behave, Leonie, became a Visitation sister after three other attempts to enter the convent. Leonie now has a cause for canonization. Zélie died of breast cancer at the age of 45 in 1877, but Louis lived on and eventually died at the age of 71 in 1894 after suffering from dementia and other illness for six years. They were beatified in 2008 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis.
My husband and I have continued to be devoted to Sts. Louis and Zélie throughout our marriage, looking to their model of family life as one to emulate. When we celebrated our anniversary in June 2014 we reflected on how the previous year of marriage had been our hardest—family issues, health issues, house issues and so on had built up our stress. Then the idea to pray to Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin for our marriage, and for several other marriages of those close to us, came to me in prayer.
A quick internet search brought me to a lovely novena to them, and I invited family, friends, and blog readers to join me in praying it and to offer their intentions for marriages. It was such a grace-filled novena, as I prayed with my husband for other couples, for our families and for ourselves. I remember the feeling of God’s movement and grace in our marriage so strongly that summer. And I saw and heard about great fruits in the lives of those I prayed for as well.
So, we have continued to pray the novena every year, and I have delved into my devotion to them even further. I read a beautiful book of their letters, and reading St. Zélie’s words to her sister-in-law, daughter, and husband brought great consolation to me in a time when I felt overwhelmed in my vocation. She taught me to trust in God, and that even the holiest of family lives do not go smoothly. It was helpful to see how her she always kept her focus on God even while stretched between material cares, health difficulties and the loss of her young children.
This year some friends of mine, who live across the nation from us, reached out to me with a different beautiful novena to Sts. Louis and Zélie. They came across this particular novena to the Martins in France from Basilique Notre-Dame des Victoires in Paris. My friends have worked laboriously to translate the novena from French into English and have even obtained permission from the rector of the basilica to share their translation publically. There is a link to a PDF download on my personal blog (link here), and I am publishing the prayers of the novena each day on my blog until July 12, which is the feast day of Sts. Louis and Zélie. This year I am praying for marriages and families, for couples struggling with infertility, and for young people discerning their vocations. Is God calling you to pray as well?
Note: There is beautiful icon of the whole Martin family by Paolo Orlando for sale, which we have on our icon wall, and Catholic artist Sue Kouma Johnson sells a beautiful medallion of Sts. Louis and Zélie on her website. Both are worth checking out.