At Martha House this morning, Pope Francis spoke of the hidden holiness of the saints of daily life. In words that could have been written about Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, he said:
Let us consider so many mothers and fathers of families, who, with so much effort, raise their families, educate their children, carry on their daily work, bear their problems, but always with hope in Jesus, who do not strut about, but do what they can. They are the saints of daily life.
Paradoxically, Louis and Zelie Martin each at first believed themselves called to the consecrated life, then entered into a marriage that was extraordinarily fruitful for souls, next gave birth to five daughters, all of whom embraced the consecrated life, and finally, thanks be to God, gave the world their youngest daughter, St. Therese of Lisieux, the consecrated virgin who has inspired countless women and men in every state of life "to love Jesus and to make Him loved."
As the Year for Consecrated Life begins today, note that, while Louis and Zelie entered wholeheartedly into their lives as lay persons, they continued to esteem the religious life highly. Zelie retained a keen affection for her sister Marie-Louise, a nun of the Visitation, and had a close friendship with the Poor Clares in Alencon. She belonged to an association of Christian mothers that met at their monastery, met with the secular Franciscans there, and confided in the nuns when she and her family needed prayers for a special intention: when her brother needed to pass the test for his pharmacist's license, or when one of her children was ill. Zelie also worked closely with the nuns of the Refuge and the local priests to free little Armandine V. from an abusive situation.
Louis held priests in such high regard that he would not presume to socialize with them casually, but he entertained his parish priest formally once a year and gave a dinner for the clergy when one of his daughters received the habit or made her religious vows. Priests were often his companions when he went on pilgrimage, and, when he went fishing, he usually gave his catch to one of the local communities of nuns.
In addition to showing their respect for religious and offering their friendship, Louis and Zelie supported various congregations generously. Louis (followed later by his brother-in-law, Isidore Guerin) was the chief benefactor of the Lisieux Carmel, offering his daughters with generous dowries, giving large sums of money at other times, giving food, flowers, fish, religious artefacts . . . It is evident that the life of the Martin family was enriched by the relationships Louis and Zelie maintained with priests and religious, and that the religious communities, too, were enriched. Pope Francis's Letter for the Year of Consecrated Life makes an appeal to the whole church that reminds me of the gift Louis and Zelie were to religious:
So I invite every Christian community to experience this Year above all as a moment of thanksgiving to the Lord and grateful remembrance for all the gifts we continue to receive, thanks to the sanctity of founders and foundresses, and from the fidelity to their charism shown by so many consecrated men and women. I ask all of you to draw close to these men and women, to rejoice with them, to share their difficulties and to assist them, to whatever degree possible, in their ministries and works, for the latter are, in the end, those of the entire Church. Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them.
In the Western world especially, where the numbers of women and men in religious life have diminished and the population of religious is aging, religious communities are in speical need of the partnership of the lay persons they have served. Thinking, on the First Sunday of Advent, of how we can imitate Blessed Louis and Zelie in the friendship, confidence, and generosity they showed to the religious of their time, it struck me that, when purchasing gifts (and items for ourselves), we can select items that support religious communities in the contemplative witness of their lives of prayer and in their service to the poor. If the Spirit leads you to explore that option, please see my page of gifts that support religious communities.
The doctors of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have declared that the healing of little Carmen (the child whose cure from a cerebral hemorrhage soon after she was born in 2008 is being examined as the "presumed miracle" for the canonization of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux) cannot be explained by medical intervention. The announcement appeared today on the Facebook page of the "Bookstore of Therese of Lisieux" in Lisieux. I hope details of the announcement will be available soon. It is the first public announcement of progress in the cause of Blessed Louis and Zelie since the miracle was approved by the diocese in which it happened and submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in May 2013. Little Carmen celebrated her sixth birthday on October 15, 2014.
The diocesan inquiry in Valencia, Spain (Carmen's home diocese) closed in May 2013, and the file was immediately brought to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, where it was to be examined first by a panel of physicians, then by a group of theologians, and finally by a group of cardinals. The successful completion of this first phase of the Congregation's examination is an important step toward the possible canonization of Louis and Zelie. Although I have no other information about today's announcement yet, to learn more about the "presumed miracle," please see:
Father Antonio Sangalli, O.C.D., vice-postulator for the cause of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, at the close of the diocesan inquiry into the "presumed miracle" of the healing of little Carmen, May 21, 2013
Speech by the Vice-Postulator, Father Antonio Sangalli, O.C.D., at the conclusion of the diocesan phase of the canonical process concerning the allegedly miraculous healing of a little girl from Valencia by the intercession of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of Saint Thérèse.
May 21, 2013
On October 15, 2008, the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, Carmen Perez Pons was born in “9 de Octubre” Hospital in Valencia (Spain). Four days later, on October 19, in Lisieux (France), Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Delegate of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, proceeded solemnly to beatify Louis and Zélie Martin, who were husband and wife.
Apparently nothing seems to connect these two events: only later did faith enable us to discover the mysterious ties that unite us in the communion of saints, as we declare in our Profession of Faith.
Carmen, born prematurely after a very difficult pregnancy, suffered from very serious pathologies. Among other things, she contracted a double septicemia [blood infection] and a stage-IV left intraventricular cerebral hemorrhage, the most serious form. The situation looked very serious from the start. The parents of the newborn, Santos and Carmen, seeing that the child was in danger of death, turned immediately to God and to the Virgin Mary. They intended to ask for a miraculous cure of their second child through the intercession of Teresa of Avila. Providence willed that, thanks to the intervention of the Carmelite monastery in Serra, the parents began a novena of prayer to Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin at the suggestion of the Mother Prioress. This established within the family a communion of real and intense prayer by the parents, friends, the Monastery in Serra, and all those who had taken to heart the fate of little Carmen as she battled against death.
On January 17, 2009, I accompanied for the first time in Spain the traveling reliquary containing the relics of Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin. We returned to France after a stopover in Rome to deliver an important reliquary to Benedict XVI. The traveling reliquary had reached the Shrine in Lleida [also called Lérida] dedicated to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. That was the occasion on which I met Father José Castellá, Rector of the Shrine of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who spoke to me about an alleged miracle. Therefore I listened to the father and the grandparents, who were there with Ismaël, the brother of little Carmen. They had come expressly from Valencia (a round trip of 650 kilometers [400 miles]) to thank Louis and Zélie for having saved Carmen from a certain death.
I immediately had the sense that I was dealing with a truly unusual event that deserved to be studied in greater depth. I then told Msgr. Bernard Lagoutte, leader in the cause of canonization for the Martins, and also told the Carmelites at the monastery in Lisieux. He asked me to do whatever was needed to verify the alleged cure and supported me in all the steps that I have taken to this day.
From November 6 to 11, 2009, I traveled for the first time to Valencia with a little team, including Msgr. Ennio Apeciti. From the beginning he has been an invaluable support because of his competence. We started a preliminary investigation to collect testimonies so as to establish a clear diagnosis about the alleged cure of Carmen.
Both by telephone and by mail I contacted the family of the girl who had been “allegedly cured.” I always remained optimistic, without any doubt or hesitation. Carmen’s dad and mom were always very cooperative and unstinting with their time and efforts. They were seeking only the glory of God so as to thank him for Carmen’s cure.
During a second mission, from November 8-12, 2010, I observed new and surprising progress made by Carmen. At that time it became clear that it would be necessary to examine the child in-depth at a center that specializes in evaluating the presence of possible abnormalities, which the physicians who followed Carmen’s case always feared.
In order to take advantage of a precise, scientific setting, Carmen’s family came to Italy from July 6 to 13, 2011. The child was subjected to a series of specialized examinations in the Association La Nostra Famiglia in Bosisio Parini (Lecco). The result was surprising: Carmen showed no ill effects from the stage-IV hemorrhage that she had suffered. This reassured me and prompted me to keep believing that the “alleged cure” had been sudden, complete, and lasting.
The conclusive phase of the investigation is a recent story. During my third visit, from September 16 to 18, 2012, I met Your Excellency to inform you directly about the alleged miraculous healing attributed to the Martins that occurred in your Diocese.
Like an accommodating, benevolent father, Your Excellency immediately offered me the best possible collaboration concerning the “alleged miracle,” with three families playing major roles: the Pérez Pons family, the family of the Carmelites in Serra, and the “holy family” of little Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
On December 8, 2012, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was so dear to Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin, I sent you the Supplex libello [additional dossier], thereby asking you officially to open the diocesan investigation. After exactly one month, on January 7, 2013, the opening Session was held with the appointment of the Tribunal and the interrogation of the witnesses, which concluded between April 2 and 4. In all, 18 testimonies were heard: the parents and grandparents of Carmen, her teacher, a priest, four Carmelites from Serra, and eight physicians, two of whom were doctors ab inspectione appointed directly by the ecclesiastical Tribunal.
Today, on May 21, 2013, we find ourselves assembled for the conclusion of the Process and to send it to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (i.e. to Rome). While waiting, in the school of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, we dare to express the bold wish that with her help, her Blessed Parents might, God willing, be canonized by the Successor of Peter, Pope Francis. During this Year of Faith, the Christian witness of this married couple who taught the faith and sanctity is clearly of current interest for the whole Church. They were an exceptional couple who educated not only the most famous of their five daughters, Thérèse, but also four others, in particular Léonie. Léonie was a complicated girl, who caused problems. Now, almost seventy-two years after her “entrance into eternal life,” she is surrounded by a true reputation for holiness. I hope that a Process of Beatification and Canonization can be opened without delay for Léonie Martin also: countless letters from all over the world, from the pilgrims who ceaselessly flock to the Monastery in Caen, ask us for it.
I repeat emphatically: the Martins are a special couple for our families today; they are masters in the realm of faith and of education for domestic, ecclesial, and social sanctity.
I assure you, Your Excellency, of my appreciation and gratitude for the great competence of the members of your [Diocesan] Curia. They welcomed us as brothers and placed themselves at our service, with genuine evangelical self-denial.
We all admire, first, Bishop Jacques Habert, Ordinary of the Diocese of Séez in which the Martins lived. There they grew up, accepted their vocation to marriage, and celebrated their wedding in the parish of Our Lady of Alençon. They stayed there for 19 years until the death of Madame Zélie. Next, [we are grateful to] Bishop Jean-Claude Boulanger, Ordinary of the Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux, where Louis Martin resettled and lived for seventeen years with his daughters and finished their education until the illness that brought on his death. The two bishops were anxious to be present today in order to show their gratitude for the work that has been done, under the direction and competence of the members of the Tribunal that Your Excellency appointed. They were joined gladly by Msgr. Bernard Lagoutte, Rector of the Basilica of Lisieux, and Father Thierry Hénault-Morel, who are present here. This is the only case like it the world: two shrines have been designated by Providence to proclaim and spread the message of holiness in the family.
I wish also to thank the Tribunal that you appointed:
Msgr. Ennio Apeciti, Delegated Judge, Fr. José-Vicente Castillo Peiró, Promoter of Justice, Dr. Giuseppe Paterlini, expert physician Msgr. Ramón Fita Revert, notary actuary
Thanks to Sister Monique-Marie for her work as an intermediary and translator, and to Señora Asun Sotillos for her gracious assistance.
Together with the Order of Discalced Carmelites and with a multitude of the faithful throughout the world, we ask with all our hearts for the canonization of this couple, who were spouses and parents, and we pray incessantly for this intention.
Valencia, May 21, 2013, during the Year of Faith
[We thank the Shrine at Alençon for its generous permission to translate and publish the text of Father Sangalli's speech, and we thank Michael J. Miller for the gift of his translation. Please see the original French text. Father Sangalli delivered the dossier to Rome immediately, where Carmen's healing is now being examined by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome].
For more details of the story of little Carmen and of the diocesan process, see