By Jennifer Miller
SOUTH BEND — Celebrating a first feast day of new Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin is a special occasion. But doing so with first-class relics of the first ever-canonized married couple on their wedding anniversary adds a special blessing to an important event.
St. Therese, Little Flower Parish, honored Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin on July 16 and 17, but their first feast day was actually July 12. They are the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of the parish. The couple was canonized in October 2015, the first time that a married couple has been canonized together as husband and wife.
Father Tom Shoemaker, pastor, spoke with excitement, “We see a beautiful example of holiness lived in marriage and family life. We pray too as a parish family to be a holy family.”
“Louis and Zelie wrote nearly 300 letters to family and friends that we can read today. Nearly all of these letters mention their faith — going to Mass, praying to the saints, going on retreat or adoration. It is their constant. Nothing was more important but following Christ, following their faith. You couldn’t meet them and not know about their faith,” he explained.
The feast day celebration began with Mass, with the relics of the couple present in front of the altar, surrounded by roses. The two relics are encased in the same glass container, highlighting the fact of their unity through the sacrament of marriage and canonization together as a couple. Father Shoemaker highlighted Biblical examples from the readings in his homily, describing them as features of family life. He reminded the faithful that the Martin family experienced and lived this, as well as heartache and great happiness, serving as a model for families today.
“They went through so many struggles together, truly a family that knew the ups and downs of family life. Yet their faith was there and carried them through.” From suffering from breast cancer to losing four children as infants and not able to nurse the other children, the Martins lived through real difficulties of parenting. The couple also ran a lace business in their home, survived occupation of their home by foreign troops and a war in France, all while raising their five daughters. All became religious and St. Therese of Lisieux, the youngest, is a saint and Doctor of the Church.
A full procession installing the relics followed Mass, after Father blessed the faithful with them. As a litany of the Martin’s virtues was sung, Father Shoemaker incensed the relics and people of all ages came together to kneel and pray, asking the new saints intercession in the reliquary chapel space. A beautiful icon of the entire Martin family and a plaque with their names and dates now hangs on the side of the chapel. The parish’s relics of St. Therese were moved there, next to her parents.
A wonderful, welcoming 19th century French wedding reception then followed in the parish center. Parishioners dressed in period costume greeted guests. A hand painted sign surrounded by red roses set the scene of the Martin’s 1858 wedding. A large plaster and lace 5-tiered cake surround by presents set the mood as a dramatic recreation of the wedding of the saints was performed. All of one’s senses were employed in transporting the faithful to Alscon, France.
Pete Gaffney played the role of the priest, wearing authentic French priestly vestments borrowed from the Diocesan Museum. Bill Odell and Felicia Leon-Driscoll played Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin. The reenactment allowed the faithful to imagine the events, recall the beauty of the sacrament as well as see the humanity of the new saints.
“There was so much energy and joy in the church and hall,” said one visitor from the University of Notre Dame’s ACE program, Claire Wojda. “I knew of the Martins before but can’t wait to learn more now.”
A festive and fun French quadrille by parishioners followed. Parishioners Carolyn Hine-Edington and Karen Schaefer, professors of dance at IUSB researched and taught the quadrille to the volunteers. Bryan Edington, parishioner and professional musician, composed and recorded the music that they danced to. All guests were then invited to dance in a French version of the chicken dance.
Delicious wedding cake was then served to all by Father Shoemaker himself. Linda Molenda, captain of the food committee, organized the beverages and helped frost the Martin’s initials over 45 sheet cakes for the reception. Blessed medals of Sts. Louis and Zelie were given as well as special holy cards of the three Martin saints. Lastly a special family prayer book written and created by parishioner Martha Ortega was distributed.
Parishioners Elizabeth and Randy Styles greatly enjoyed the event. “This is something that solidifies the sanctity of marriage and it is so nice to have their great example. We noticed a neat change in our parish family too. These events help our community expand — new, young families, join and our youth and adults are active again.”
“The parish has taken to the parents of St. Therese, Little Flower and is falling in love with Sts. Louie and Zelie Martin,” Father Tom Shoemaker stated. “One newly baptized baby in our parish was even just named Charlotte Zelie in her honor.”
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