Mr. and Mrs. Martin, Role Models

Family Matters: Married Life

(photo: Public domain image via CNA)
Recent political events have left Catholic families like ours reeling.

As our oldest child visits colleges, it is hard not to worry about the confused moral climate in which his generation will be immersed. 

Through the Providence of the Holy Spirit, however, we finally received good news: Pope Francis will canonize Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse, on Oct. 18.

We really believe that the Lord raises up saints for his Church at the very time they are most needed, and we certainly need the faithful witness of the Martins!

They were married a little later in life and had nine children.

Only five daughters survived to adulthood, and all five joyfully entered cloistered monasteries. The Little Flower was their youngest.

Here’s why we believe the Martins to be perfect allies and role models for parents and why we encourage all married couples to ask for their intercession and help:

1) They had a “problem child” and worried about how to best raise her. Leonie was the Martin’s unruly third child and was difficult from the beginning. Today we’d call it “Middle-Child Syndrome.” She was stubborn and prone to tantrums, and, reportedly, she was not as pretty or smart as her sisters. She was expelled from school more than once. Zélie wrote in her journals that she loved Leonie dearly but simply didn’t know how to handle her: “I don’t know what to do with Leonie. She does exactly as she pleases.” But patience, prayer and tenderness from her parents overcame all of Leonie’s struggles. They never gave up on her and had multiple people praying for her. Zélie confided to her sister-in-law, “As for Leonie, only God can change her, and I am confident that he will.” At the age of 35, Leonie entered the Visitation Monastery in Caen. And it was Leonie who cared for her father through his debilitating illness until his death. Her cause for canonization is now open, which should give all parents of difficult children great hope.

2) They knew what it meant to work hard in the world. It is tempting to envision all saints as contemplative mystics, but that’s only one kind of sainthood. The Martins were completely real: hardworking parents with a home business who agonized over finding the right balance between family life and work. Zélie ran a lace-making business with 15 employees under her direction, and Louis was a successful clockmaker and jeweler. He eventually sold his shop to become Zélie’s business manager and traveled all over Europe selling her famed “Alençon lace.” She was the last to bed every night — and never before midnight. Yet they still prayed as a family around a statue of Mary in the mornings and evenings. Mr. and Mrs. Martin went to 5:30am Mass together every day.

3) They had to embrace deep suffering. The Martins knew the deepest sorrow parents can face: In six years, they lost four children, three as infants and one as a 5-year-old. Through it all, they never stopped trusting in God’s will. Zélie’s words have been a comfort to us personally, after we experienced a miscarriage, as well as to countless others: “When I had to close the eyes of my children and bury them, I felt deep sorrow. … I did not regret the pains I had endured for them. Many persons said, ‘It would have been better if you had never had them.’ I could not bear that kind of talk. I do not think that the troubles I endured could possibly be compared with the eternal happiness of my children with God. They are not lost forever; life is short and full of crosses, and we shall find them again in heaven.”

We have repeatedly asked for the prayers of the Martins and have taken comfort in the knowledge that they are part of that “great cloud of witnesses,” cheering us on and urging us to the eternal finish line. To learn more about their moving life story, visit Maureen O’Riordan’s excellent website,

Tom and Caroline McDonald are the parents of five children.

They teach high school and

are the family-life ministers for their parish in Mobile, Alabama.