The Martin Couple



 parent-vie couple


   parent-louis  parent-zelie  

Louis before Zélie


Zélie before Louis


Zélie and Louis


Louis without Zélie

Physical appearance

“Tall (1m 76cm) with a military bearing, pleasant facial features, large, bare forehead, a light complexion with a handsome oval face framed with chestnut hair and in his blue-green eyes, a flame that was gentle and deep. He was at the same time a gentleman and a mystic and did not fail to impress.”
Description by Fr. Piat
in Story of a family


If his family originated in Normandy, Louis Aloys Stanilas Martin was born on August 22nd, 1823 in Bordeaux where his father, army captain, was in garrison. The only brother of Louis, Pierre, was four years old, his sister Marie, 3 years old. Given emergency baptism at birth because his father was in Spain on duty, Louis was baptized in Sainte-Eulalie church in October.

After his return from Spain, Captain Martin was transferred to Avignon where Louis’ little sister Anne-Fannie was born in 1826. In 1828 the family moved again, this time to Strasburg, Captain Martin’s last post. When he retired in December 1830, he returned to his native Normandy in Alençon.

Louis had an aptitude for French literature; he quoted with ease from classics and copied down his favorite quotations in notebooks. He was as well good at drawing. During his apprenticeship, he learned German.


In 1842 Louis began studying watch making, first in Rennes with his father’s cousin Louis Bohard. He discovered Brittany and developed a passion for its culture and folklore.

In September 1843 he left Rennes for Strasburg where he did his apprenticeship. In the meantime, he took a trip that even led him to the Swiss Alps and discovered at this time the monastery of the Grand-Saint-Bernard.


In Strasburg Louis lived and worked with the Mathey family, watch makers and friends of his father. After two years, he left again for the pass of Saint Bernard and its monastery but this time in hopes of being received by the community. His lack of knowledge in Latin did not allow his project to become reality but the prior encouraged him to study Latin and return again. Louis went back to Alençon and took up the study of Latin (and Greek too). He continued his studies for more than a year but stopped after a period of illness. He took up again his apprenticeship in watch making, this time in Paris where he stayed with his maternal grandmother. He made the acquaintance of his cousin Henri-Charles de Lacauve, student at the Ecole Militaire and both of them became friends.

Master watch-maker

Louis came back to Alençon in 1850 with the title of master watch maker and set up his workshop in the Saint-Pierre de Monsort parish, rue de Pont Neuf. The house was huge and his parents lived there with him. He worked hard and prospered, all by strict adherence to the precepts of the Church, never opening his shop on Sunday.

In 1857 he purchased the Pavillon, a small property in the quarter of the Sénatorie. This hexagonal tower and its little garden became a place of sanctuary where he liked to read and prayer. He stored his fishing equipment there. In the Pavillon’s garden he placed a statue of the Blessed Virgin.

For about eight years Louis would live a peaceful life of a secluded bachelor. Work, prayer, good works, healthy distractions and serious reading were sufficient to fill his existence. It seemed he had no inclination to marriage much to the great distress of his mother. Until the day when he crossed the Saint-Léonard bridge....



“A little shorter than average, a very pretty face with a virtuous expression, brown hair plainly knotted, a long nose with a harmonious line, black eyes sparkling with decisiveness where sometimes a shadow of melancholy was seen at times. Zélie had what it took to please. Everything about her was vivaciousness, sensitivity, kindness. A spirited and cultured nature, extremely practical and having great character, above all a bold faith. She was a woman of high quality who would draw glances.”
Père Piat, repeating Pauline's comments

The most memorable qualities that we have from testimony about Zélie are her deep faith and her great ability to work. She had a complex and interesting personality. She never abandoned her dream of the cloister and still loved her husband and children, perfectly fulfilled her role as spouse and mother. She had a tremendous enthusiasm for life. She even confessed to being impatient. She was very gifted for lacemaking and was a shrewd business woman, all the while keeping her eyes turned toward Heaven. A great letter writer, her many letters that have been kept help us discover her personality; she revealed herself as a vivacious and witty woman who did not spare the society in which she lived her critical remarks. If suffering did not spare her, she also knew a lot of love. 

Zélie's childhood

Marie-Azélie Guérin was born December 23rd, 1831 in the parish of Saint-Denis sur Sarthon near Alençon. She was baptized the next day, the day before Christmas. After twelve years in the army, her father joined the police force. Her mother had given birth two years before to their first child, Marie-Louise and the family grew ten years later with the birth of Isidore.

Zélie’s mother was a woman of faith but stern, especially in her relationship with her daughters. Sensitive and delicate, Zélie suffered a lot from it as she wrote years later to her brother Isidore: “My childhood, my youth were sad as a burial shroud because if my mother spoiled you, she was very too severe with me as you know; she, who was so good, didn’t understand me, I had a lot of heart aches” (CF 15). The father was also strict but tenderer with his children. Zélie bore witness to that with a very great affection for him all her life.

In order to give the children a chance for a good education, the family moved to Alençon, rue Saint Blaise. To increase his small police pension, the father became a carpenter and the mother opened a café, an activity that didn’t last. Zélie, then 13, went with her sister to the school of Perpetual Adoration with Sisters of Picpus. 

Close-knit siblings

Zélie and Marie-Louise, close in age-they were two years apart-were very close since early childhood and remained so until their deaths in 1877, several months apart. They, with their mother, belonged to pious associations, notably that of the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1845 and the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1852. They also belonged to a prayer group for the salvation of France which honored the sorrowful mysteries of Our Lord and the Virgin Marie.

Ten years younger than Zélie, Isidore is the spoiled one in the family. Gifted with a lively intelligence, generous, the silly things and escapades of his childhood and youth did not change the deep affection Zélie had for him. They teased each other with pleasure and with directness. She preached to him regularly because of the superficial nature of his faith and his too great attachment to “worldly things.”

Around 1850, Zélie who dreamed of a life consecrated to God, went to the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul to serve God there with the sick and underprivileged but was refused entry because her health. Zélie suffered her entire childhood from severe headaches and respiratory problems.

Lace-maker - a piece of her lace

At twenty years of age, Zélie was denied a religious life and needed to work so she turned to the Virgin Mary. On December 8th 1851 after a novena to the Immaculate Conception she heard an interior voice who said to her, “Have point d’Alencon lace made” and not “make”. So she did not seek employment as a simple worker but made a commitment to a career path as the head of a business. She had learned the rudiments of lace making in school with the Sisters of Picpus and bettered herself in a school where she learned notably the trade of assembler then worked in several workshops – see a wrokshop here - and pieces of lace.

In 1853, she set up her own “office” in her parents’ house, rue Saint Blaise. On Thursdays, she was available to her workers, delivering, receiving and adjusting work. In general, she kept the repair of tulle (netting) for herself, correcting the damage that happened during multiple handlings. Most of the time she undertook the joining of all the pieces. See Zelie's lace with visible netting.

The commercial side interested her less. It was her sister Marie-Louise who with her father made the first contacts with stores in Paris. In a letter to her brother on May 10th, 1874, the elder, now Sister Marie-Dosithée spoke of the events of her first trip to Paris: “It’s true that our beginning with the Point d’Alençon lace was done poorly and in tears. To start such an important thing and that with such an extraordinary timidity that I couldn’t approach our neighbors without blushing; and what’s more, to find myself in a big city without knowing anything, not even a single address of Point lace merchants. Also through fear of failing, I wanted to go to all the lace merchants.” The company got started and prospered.

Starting in 1856 and with the perspective of her sister’s departure for the Visitation, Zélie stopped producing for herself and worked for the Pigache company in Paris. On June 20th, 1858, this company received a silver medal at the Exposition of industry, agriculture, horticulture and agriculture of Alençon. The spokesperson of the jury reported that the lace of Monsieur Pigache “is highly recommended for its beauty and also by the richness of its design…and it does honor to the excellent management of Mademoiselle Zélie Guérin, responsible for the interests of this industry in Alençon.” It was only in 1863 that Zélie became autonomous when her husband took charge of client relations.



In the spring of 1858, Zélie, 26 years old, passed Louis Martin, a 35 year old watch maker on the bridge Saint-Leonard of Alençon. The moment she saw him, an interior voice that she attributed to Our Lady, told her: “This is the one I’ve prepared for you.”

On July 13th, 1858 at midnight Zélie Guérin married Louis Martin. They settled in on rue du Pont-Neuf in Alençon where Louis had his watch and jewelry store.

A couple who loved each other

Céline (sr Geneviève, in La Mère de sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, p. 23) wrote of her parents, that their “understanding was perfect”, “their union so complete” (Le père de sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, p.37). During the beatification process of Thérèse, Fr. Dumaine who was vicar of the Notre-Dame d’Alençon church and who baptized Thérèse, added his testimony: “The union of the family was remarkable in this family, either between the spouses, or between the parents and the children.” (P.A. 120)

A great regard prevailed between the two spouses. Zélie respected her husband’s authority and when she didn’t share his opinion but thought she was right, she knew how to gently get him to change his views.

They were complimentary and united. Each one approved and gave a helping hand to their charitable commitments. The same for work: it wasn’t so common that a father helped his spouse as M. Martin did with the children and even less so that he left his own work (that he loved so much) to help her work with her (and not in her place), to spend more time with her and lighten her labors (Céline in Le Père de sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, Céline Martin, p. 31).  


   At the beginning of their marriage Zélie supported the proposition that Louis made to her about living a simple fraternal union-virginity was considered perfection-until a better understanding of Christian marriage redirected this choice.

Nine children would be born in the Martin household. Four of them would die in early childhood; five girls would become religious. Their parents attached a great value to their human and spiritual formation. M. and Mme. Martin loved their children. They knew how to say it to them and they knew how to prove it.

They wished to make them happy with outings in the country, with afternoons spent at the fair, evenings enlivened with roasted chestnuts, songs and poems without forgetting imitations that Louis was particularly good at. They respected the freedom of their children. As much as Zélie desired to see her daughters become nuns, she was careful not to influence them, simply listening to their secrets. Same discretion with Louis who gave his daughters the greatest freedom in their role as mistresses of the house at the Buissonets.Louis and Zélie worked a lot. The goal of their professional activity was again their children-without a dowry, no future for a girl: it was an indispensable component for marriage or religious life.At Thérèse’s beatification process, Marie stated: “Education in our family was affectionate but was in no way soft.”This also came from the testimony of her sisters, friends and servants of the family. Discipline was obligatory. We stuck to conduct, to order, punctuality. Neither deviation of language or laziness was tolerated. Flaws were identified and suppressed at the earliest age, stubbornness and whims were vanquished. This firmness based on love, always directed toward the good of the child, was always practices with discernment: “brutality never converted anyone, it only makes slaves.” (CF 195)This does not mean there were no difficulties. Léonie’s education would be a problem for Louis and Zélie. The Martin girls, as adults, agreed unanimously that they benefited from a good upbringing.

Charity through deeds

Louis et Zélie were far from living enclosed in their family cocoon. On the contrary, they were in the front line of all the preoccupations of their time, attentive to those that Providence put in their path. Attention to the poor, welcoming them in the house even, time spent taking steps to make a better life for one or another of them…the examples were numerous in family life.

The two spouses drew their strength from prayer, attending workers’ Mass early in the morning. They remained attentive to the sick that they knew, particularly the dying who might be helped with a loving presence and through the sacraments. Zélie had a great concern for her workers. Despite exhausting work, she did not hesitate to visit them if they were sick and worried about each of them. 

Zélie's illness

In 1865, Zélie noticed a lump in a breast resulting from a blow she took bumping into the corner of a table in her youth. No treatment was prescribed. The physical pain erupted eleven years later, revealing a cancerous tumor.

Letters from this time period showed complete abandonment. She continued to work, devoting herself to her children, her husband, faithful to herself. In June 1877, she who didn’t like pilgrimages, left for Lourdes. But upon return, nothing had changed. Summer was very hard, the illness progressed quickly and the pain intensified. She died on August 28th at age 45.



Life as a widower    

Widower, Louis chose to leave Alençon, moved to Lisieux near the Guérin family in the house of the Buissonets. Having sold the lace trade for 3,000 francs to the Persehaye ladies on September 25, 1877 he lived on independent means, surrounded by the affection of his five daughters. The oldest girls shared the management of the house and undertook the education of the younger ones. He took care of his garden, went fishing in the rivers near Lisieux and went on several trips. He continued going to the first Mass each day and succeeded in convincing Isidore Guérin to set up night Adoration. He joined the Saint Vincent de Paul society that came to the aid of the poor.      

     In 1882, Pauline was the first to follow the path of the cloister. This was not a surprise for Louis who was waiting for it. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux. When Marie joined her there on October 15th, 1886, it was hard on Louis. She was his “first”, as he called her, the mistress of the house, she who he put in charge of leading his flock during his trips. The same year, Léonie on a sudden impulse entered the Clares during a trip to Alençon. Louis supported his daughter even if the suddenness surprised him. The convent’s austere rule did not suit her fragile health and she only stayed several months. Louis went to get her without criticizing her for anything.

     On the day of Pentecost 1887, Thérèse, age 14, announced as well her desire to enter Carmel. She was very young and Louis began by reminding her she had time but Thérèse convinced him. And from then on he would be her unfailing support. Léonie was then at the Visitation from which she left after several months because of her health. She made a third try in 1893 which ended again in failure. As for Céline, although attracted to religious life, decided to stay with her father. It was only after the death of Louis that she entered Carmel.


Louis's illness

     In the spring of 1887, Louis’s health had its first serious scare: a paralytic attack of a leg. A year later, worrisome symptoms appeared: memory loss, absent-mindedness, oversight. He who was always impeccably dressed appeared sometimes in unkempt clothing.

     In June 1888, he left without warning and disappeared for several days; they found him at the Havre. Circulatory strokes which caused cries, tears and insane speech, alternated with periods of remission where Monsieur Martin made plans. Today doctors agree that Louis suffered from cerebral arteriosclerosis with uremia. 

     February 12th, 1889: Louis felt threatened and wanted to defend his daughters against imaginary assailants. To do this he armed himself with his revolver. This serious attack led to his confinement in the Bon Sauveur de Caen, a hospital specializing in the mentally ill; “insane asylum” as it was then called.  

     Louis was committed with the number 14 449 for this reason: incoherent behavior with possession of a gun. The Bon Sauveur is one of the primary psychiatric establishments in France. At the time, it was run by 215 nuns and had up to 300 employees. The sick were placed in eight sections. Louis was placed in one for the “calm and semi-calm”. He stayed there for 3 years and 3 months. 

     Medically if the moments of attack were followed by moments of lucidity, humanly they admired his exemplary behavior which earned him the names of “venerable old man” and “good patriarch”. Through humility, he refused a single room that was offered to him, sharing with his companions in misery the sweets he received from his family. 

     During his good moments, he attended Mass every day in the hospital’s chapel and received communion there. He was aware of the apostolic mission around him when he mentioned the need for conversion of so many of the sick.

     The ordeal was a serious one and the humiliation deep when on June 8th, 1889 he had to sign an abdication of the management of his assets.

     On May 12th 1892, it was the return to Lisieux, the “end of the exile”, as Céline would say. One last time he could see his Carmelite daughters in the parlor. Louis was not healed, but his legs being almost paralyzed, he could no longer run away. Isidore rented a house next to his for his brother-in-law, Céline,  Léonie and a couple of servants, Marie and Désiré LeJuif.

     According to Madame Guérin, Louis was easy to take care of, “he wants everything we want.” Désiré helped him to move, pushed his wheelchair and helped him eat. Together, it happened that they sang canticles. He had periods of agitation, sadness but never revolt or violent reactions. He spoke little but took interest in things around him (he loved to listen to his niece Marie play the piano). At the beginning of summer 1893 and 1894, the Guérins took him to the chateau of the Musse near Evreux that they inherited.

     Beginning in May 1894, his state worsened and his heart began to give out. A very violent attack led to last rites being administered. At the beginning of June, a heart attack led them to think it was the end. But the crisis passed. The trip to the Musse took place early July; it was an ordeal for the invalid but went well. On July 11th, Louis fell out of his bed. On July 28th, he again received extreme unction. He died Sunday, July 29th in the morning.

     His funeral was held at St. Pierre Cathedral in Lisieux. He was buried in the municipal cemetery where on the following October 10th, Isidore gathered together the remains of Zélie, the four children who died in early childhood, Grandmother Guérin and Grandfather Martin.