"To become saints in their daily lives: reflections on the canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin by Laurence de Valbray of Alencon. June 27, 2015

Laurence de valbray

Laurence de valbray

When I learned the joyful news of Louis and Zelie Martin's canonization, I reached out to Laurence de Valbray, who until recently was responsible for receiving the pilgrims who come to Alencon in the footsteps of the Martin family.  Laurence is very knowledgeable about Louis and Zelie, and she was enthusiastic about them long before they were even as well known as they now are.  Knowing that she has listened to the hopes and prayers of many pilgrims, I asked her to share with you her thoughts about the canonization and her reflections about what the pilgrims who come to Alencon are seeking and what they find.

Louis and Zelie did not want to be “canonized” . . . they simply desired in their daily lives to become saints!

     On the day that we learn that Louis and Zelie are to be canonized, I smile at the thought that they certainly would not have been in agreement with this great honor, and, if not for their great love of the Church, would have wondered if the Pope were in his right mind in raising them to the altars!  Zelie once sent a letter to her family, saying that many couples had lived a more exemplary life than theirs, and that if her husband had not been a holy man, she would have struggled greatly to live a good life.

I am always most happy with Louis”, she wrote, “he makes my life sweet. He is a saintly man, my husband, and I wish all women could have the same. This is my New Year’s wish.” (letter to Isidore Guerin, 1 Jan, 1863)

     No doubt this is one of the reasons for the news that we learned with such joy today: Louis and Zelie did not want to be "canonized"...they simply wanted in their daily lives to become saints.

     They shared this desire with their children, their friends and with their professional circle.  They concealed from no one, not even from those who did not share their faith, that their only object in life was to serve God, and their trials and troubles never caused them to change their way of life.  Although they came from Normandy, the traditional Norman way of saying "maybe yes or maybe no" was not their way, but instead a total and definitive “Yes” to the will of God - like that pronounced at their wedding in Notre Dame d'Alencon on July 12, 1858!

     Many places in Alencon evoke the memory of this couple and their family. But in visiting these places, the pilgrim sees more than history; one undertakes a veritable spiritual journey.

     One can understand that couples today, when they come to Alencon, seek not so much a model as an example.  What they find is two hearts in one, welded together by conjugal love: the heart of a man and wife, of a father and mother. They come to Alencon from all over the world, from all walks of life and from all generations, to speak to Louis and Zelie and leave here their daily joys and cares: children, work, illness, birth and death, the afflictions of love, the welfare of their souls. These pilgrims are not looking for complicated dialogue.  They confide their souls; it is a very simple heart-to-heart. Often they speak to Louis and Zelie of their daughter Therese. Often it is she who has led them to their house at 50 rue St. Blaise.

“The good Lord has given me a father and a mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.” St. Therese

     If the example of the Martins draws many pilgrims to the shrine at Alencon it is because, as Mgr. Habert, bishop of Seez, puts it:

     The lives of Louis and Zelie were lives given.
     Given to God
     Given to each other
     Given to their children
     Given to the Church and to the society of their day."

“It is best to leave all things in the hands of God and to await events calmly, abandoning oneself to his will.” - Zelie Martin

    We at Alencon are humble witnesses of the burdens left and the graces received here by all those who come to follow in the footsteps of Louis and Zelie.  Don't put it off! Come! We are waiting for you!

Laurence de Valbray

My thanks to Gordon Davis of Vancouver for the translation.


  • For information about going to Alencon on pilgrimage, please visit the English Web site of the Shrine at Alencon.
  • About Louis and Zelie's wedding date, note that they were married at midnight on the night between July 12 and July 13.  For this reason, their feast day is on July 12.
  • Please see Laurence de Valbray and Fr. Thierry Henault-Morel, former rector of the Shrine at Alencon, in the eight-minute video 'Louis and Zelie Martin: Un foyer d'Amour" ("A House of Love").  Both, of course, speak in French. Even if you do not understand French, this film is a chance to see what the birthplace of St. Therese looked like before its restoration about 2008.

"A marriage is as much a road to holiness as a monastery" - Fr. James Martin, S.J. on the canonization of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin

fr. James Martin, S.J.

fr. James Martin, S.J.

"The canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin is a reminder from the Vatican that married people are just as holy as--and often holier than--priests, sisters, brothers, bishops, cardinals and popes.  And that a marriage is as much a road to holiness as a monastery."

James Martin, Jesuit priest and author of My Life with the Saints.  June 27, 2015

When Louis and Zelie were beatified in 2008, Fr. Martin wrote "His Wife's a Saint; So Is Her Husband" for the Wall Street Journal, an article worth reading or re-reading.

My Life with the Saints has a chapter about his favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux.

Below, in the five-minute video "In Praise of Lay Saints," he speaks engagingly of the universal call to holiness and the need for the Church to recognize saints to whom lay people can relate.  He mentions Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin and displays their portrait.  

Why the Vatican needs to recognize ordinary men and women who have lead extraordinary lives of holiness. A commentary by James Martin, S.J.

June 27, 2015: statement from the bishops of Seez and of Bayeux-Lisieux on the announcement that Louis and Zelie Martin will be canonized on October 18, 2015

With thanks to the Shrine at Lisieux, I share with you this English translation of the statement given by Mgr Jacques Habert, Bishop of Seez, and Mgr Jean-Claude Boulanger, bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, immediately after the Pope announced the canonization of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin.  

Communique immediately after the announcement
of the canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin

The news that we have just received from Rome announcing the canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin fills us with joy.

Joy in heaven for this family, joy on earth for the whole Church.

We thank Pope Francis for giving to the church and  the world, for the first time, saintly spouses and parents as an example.

We thank Pope Francis for telling us how marriage is a path to holiness.

We awaited this decision with confidence.  It is the successful conclusion of a process begun sixty years ago (1956).  The beatification in 2008 was a milestone.

For the Shrines of Alençon and Lisieux, this canonization is also a responsibility.

  • Alencon: the city where the family lived, where Louis and Zelie celebrated their marriage, where they celebrated the baptisms of their children.  The place of the ordinary family life, happy, committed, and often tested by trials.
  • Lisieux: the city where the family moved  after the death of Zelie, the place where the daughters successively decided to enter religious life.  The place of Louis’s illness and death. 

If the Church canonizes some of her children, it does so to offer them as examples, so that they may inspire Christians of all times.  It is for us to deepen the wealth.  The one who wants to discover the Martin family in all its truth must go both to Alençon and Lisieux. This couple, this family has experienced the joy of the Gospel in all its dimensions.

Now that the Church has recognized their holiness, may they help us, with their daughters Therese and Leonie, to move forward on this path.


+ Jean Claude BOULANGER. (Bishop of Bayeux).

+ Jacques HABERT. (Bishop of Séez).

Note that Bishop Boulanger is conducting a press conference at the Basilica at Lisieux right now (12:30 p.m. Lisieux time).

June 27, 2015: Pope Francis announces canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin for Mission Sunday, October 18, 2015

Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin

Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin

The Shrine at Lisieux has announced that at an "ordinary public consistory" (a meeting of cardinals) this morning in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace in Rome, Pope Francis announced that on Mission Sunday, October 18, 2016Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, will become the first spouses in the history of the Church to be canonized as a couple.  Thanks be to God. 

Canonization 2014- The Canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II (14036966125)
Palais apostolique et aile de Constantin

The Apostolic Palace seen from St. Peter's Square.  By Gaspard Miltiade (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Louis and Zelie will be named a saintly couple on the liturgical anniversary of their beatification in 2008 and of their daughter, St. Therese, being named a Doctor of the Church in 1997.  In 1997 and again in 2008, Mission Sunday fell on October 19.  In 2015 it falls on October 18.   The canonization ceremony will take place in Rome during the fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which has as its theme "the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world."

Pope Francis announced the news during the celebration of Terce, the midmorning hour of the Divine Office.  He also announced, for the same date, the canonizations of Blessed Vincenzo Grossi, a diocesan priest from Italy, and Blessed Mary of the Immaculate Conception, a nun from Spain.