November 3, 2015 // Local

Recently canonized saints celebrated at St. Therese, Little Flower

Father Tom Shoemaker
St. Thérèse, Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend has been celebrating throughout the month of October the canonization of Louis and Zélie Martin, two of the Church’s newest saints known primarily in connection to their youngest daughter, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Oct. 31, closed the month-long series of festivities.

By Allison Ciraulo

SOUTH BEND — All saints have parents, but not every saint has parents who themselves were saints. While Louis and Zélie Martin, two of the Church’s newest saints, may always be known primarily in connection to their youngest daughter, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the heroic holiness achieved by this French couple is worth celebrating in its own right.

St. Thérèse, Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend has been doing just that throughout the month of October, by way of pilgrimage, all-night Eucharistic Adoration, a lecture on Carmelite spirituality, and theatrical display, in addition to a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Oct. 31, the closing event in the month-long series of festivities.

The Martins are unique among the canonized saints of the Church in that they are the first married couple ever to be made saints in the same ceremony. Their canonization was held in Rome on Oct. 18 during the final days of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

The timing of the event was no accident, says Father Tom Shoemaker, pastor of Little Flower Parish, but rather “a deliberate choice by Pope Francis.”

“The pope saw this as a reflection on the life of a family. There were no martyrdoms, no historic deeds, and no great acts of scholarship behind these canonizations. This is simply a family that prayed together, celebrated sacraments together, encouraged one another, challenged one another, and laughed and cried together through the ups and downs of life,” Father Shoemaker said.

If Louis and Zélie’s original plans had come to fruition, however, this holy family would never have existed. Louis, born in 1823, was apprenticed as a watchmaker in Switzerland when he felt the call to religious life. He was turned away for his lack of knowledge of Latin and returned home to Alençon.

Zélie, born in 1831, was also drawn to religious life but was rebuffed and told she had no vocation. Instead, she went to lacemaking school and became skilled in the manufacture of fine Alençon point lace.

The couple was married on July 13, 1858. Though initially determined to live a celibate marriage, they were soon advised by their priest to have children. Within the space of 13 years, Zélie gave birth to nine children, four of whom died in infancy. The remaining five daughters would all eventually enter the convent. Louis and Zélie both ran successful businesses, were known for their practice of the works of mercy, and participated zealously in the sacramental life of the Church.

Among the events organized by Little Flower Parish in October in honor of the Martins, perhaps the largest in scale was the dinner-theatre held on Oct. 24 in the parish social hall. More than 90 parishioners were involved in some aspect of the evening, from cooking and serving an authentic five-course French meal to writing, directing, and acting in a short play on the family life of the Martins. Around 300 people attended the event.

Bill Odell and his wife, Cathy, co-chaired the planning committee for the dinner-theatre, which began meeting many months ago. Odell says that what strikes him most about the Martins is that “they were very real people with personalities that were thoroughly modern. Their holiness was in the context of family life, with all its trials and tribulations.”

In the midst of the stresses families face today, Odell thinks that the Martins “can provide us moorings as people of faith and particularly as parents.”

In his homily during Mass on Oct. 31, Bishop Rhoades reflected on the sorrows that Louis and Zélie endured. In addition to their agonizing grief over the loss of four children, Zélie suffered greatly before dying of breast cancer at the age of 46. Still mourning his beloved wife, Louis then had to release each of his daughters to the convent. He also experienced attacks of cerebral arteriosclerosis, suffering both physical and mental deterioration toward the end of his life.

Those who knew Louis and Zélie testified to the heroic virtue with which they faced these trials, never failing to attend Mass, pray daily with their children in the home, and even make lengthy pilgrimages. In his homily at the canonization, Pope Francis spoke of the Martins’ tireless dedication in “nurturing the vocations” of their children, for which they made many personal sacrifices.

One attendee at the French dinner-theatre, Ben Wilson, noted that despite the discipline and exactitude required by Louis’ and Zélie’s respective professions, they were generous and uncalculating when it came to responding to those in need, whether their children, employees, neighbors or the homeless.

Wilson said he is grateful for these new saints who were “equally sincere in the life of faith, for whom marriage or a spouse or work were not obstacles to holiness but were the path to it.”

Bishop Rhoades closed his homily with an exhortation to look to the example of the Martins as exemplary saints for our time.

“Louis and Zélie Martin’s canonization is a wonderful blessing for the Church,” he said. “What a beautiful example they are for spouses and parents, for business owners, and for the sick and suffering! They can be an inspiration for those mourning the loss of a child and for those suffering from breast cancer or mental illness. Truly they are an example and inspiration for the Church and the world during this time of crisis in marriage and family life.”

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.