The farmhouse at Semalle, near Alencon, where St. Therese lived for a year as a baby will be blessed and opened to pilgrims, May 20. 2017

Above is a video of the restored farmhouse in Semalle, a small commune near Alencon, where St. Therese lived with the family of her wet-nurse, Rose Taille, from March 1873, when she was three months old, until April 1874, when, at 15 months, she returned to her family in Alencon. 

The farmhouse is to be blessed and opened to pilgrims on May 20, 2017

On Saturday,. May 20, 2017, the house of St. Therese's wet-nurse, Rose Taille, will be inaugurated and opened to pilgrims.  The property of the diocese of Sees since 1956, the house had been in ruins.  Pilgrims often drove by it, but it was impossible to enter.  Fr. Jean-Marie Simar, rector of the Shrine at Alencon, reports that the gift of an enthusiastic benefactor made it possible for the diocese to fund the first stage of the restoration.  Some of the work was done by professionals.  M. Guy Fournier,a deacon of the diocese of Sees and director of volunteers for the Shrine of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin at Alencon, reports that for nearly two yearsthe Shrine's volunteers have dedicated many hours to restoring the house. 

I thank Quest-France for much of the above information.  See their story, with photos of the inside and outside of the house.  See a photo of the stained-glass window in the church at Semalle depicting St. Therese; the artist included a cow in the background! 

An early photo of the farmhouse at semalle where therese lived as a baby in 1873-1874.  at left, the farmer, moyse taille; at right, his wife, rose taille, known as "little Rose," Therese's wet-nurse.  PHOTO CREDIT: THE SHRINE OF STS. LOUIS AND ZELIE MARTIN AT ALENCON.

An early photo of the farmhouse at semalle where therese lived as a baby in 1873-1874.  at left, the farmer, moyse taille; at right, his wife, rose taille, known as "little Rose," Therese's wet-nurse.  PHOTO CREDIT: THE SHRINE OF STS. LOUIS AND ZELIE MARTIN AT ALENCON.

Rose Taille and the Martin family

Rose Taille, the wife of Moyse Taille, a countrywoman in whom Zelie and Louis had great confidence, saved Therese's life by serving as her wet-nurse when breastfeeding was the only way to save her life.  She took Therese to her own home where Therese lived among her children. Rose had earlier nursed the two little Josephs, the baby sons of Louis and Zelie, each of whom died before his first birthday.  Later, after Zelie's death, when Louis moved to Lisieux, his mother did not want to change towns, so he entrusted her to the care of Rose Taille. 

The program for inauguration day

The Shrine of Louis and Zelie Martin at Alencon announces the program of the inauguration on May 20:

  • Mgr Jacques Habert, bishop of Sees, will bless the house at 10:00 a.m.
  • Mass will be celebrated in the village church at 11:00 a.m., followed by a toast, a picnic lunch, and a walk to the house followed by a group visit

St. Therese's Poem, "The Divine Dew, or the Virginal Milk of Mary"

The little girl who had to leave home because she could not be breast-fed there grew up to associate this nourishment not only with the saving of her earthly life but with salvation itself.  See the image Therese kept of Mary nursing the child Jesus.  The title of Therese's first poem, "The Divine Dew, or the Virginal Milk of Mary," shows that the mystery of the child Jesus being breast-fed by his mother never ceased to fascinate her:  "Your divine blood is Virginal Milk!" Thanks to the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.  For a fuller explanation of the doctrinal background of this daring poem, which unites the childhood of Jesus, Mary's nourishing him, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist, see the introduction to this poem in The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, tr. Donald Kinney, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996), pp. 35-37.  The introductions and notes, which greatly enrich our understanding of the poems, are not available online. 

A prayer of thanksgiving

Please congratulate the diocese of Sees, the shrine of Sts. Louis and Zelie, and all the generous persons who have made it possible for pilgrims to visit this sacred space.  Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for their faithful stewardship.  May God allow it to be not merely a visit to an historic house but a place to be drawn more deeply into the mystery of how Jesus nourishes us with the Eucharist as Mary nourished Him with her virginal milk.

125 years ago with the Martin family: Louis Martin's last visit to his daughters in Carmel, May 12, 1892

An early photo of the lisieux carmel.  visitors entered the speakroom, where louis visited his daughters, through a door at the right of the chapel above.

An early photo of the lisieux carmel.  visitors entered the speakroom, where louis visited his daughters, through a door at the right of the chapel above.

After more than three years in Bon Sauveur (the "Good Savior"), a big mental hospital in Caen, Louis Martin was discharged on May 10, 1892.  At last he returned to his family in Lisieux.  Leonie and Celine, then laywomen, had visited him every week in Caen, but his three Carmelite daughters, Marie, Pauline, and Therese, had not seen him in all that time.  As enclosed nuns, they had had to rely on news from others.  On May 12, he paid them a last visit.

Three days later Madame Celine Guerin, the wife of Zelie's brother Isidore, wrote to her daughter, Jeanne La Neele, in Caen and described this visit:

. . .  it was touching at the Carmel. We took him there on Thursday, and one would say the day was very special, and in fact, I believe God blessed it because it was the best day he has had. He seemed to be aware of everything that was taking place. The Carmelites were happy to see their father again, but afterward the tears they held back flowed freely. They found him very much changed, and nevertheless here we find him less changed than we might have thought. However, all of us are very grateful. It was touching to see the way they expressed their gratitude to your father.

Read the rest of this short note on the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

Louis returned from Caen much thinner and substantially paralyzed.  His appearance after three years in "the asylum" must have been a shock to the daughters, who had not seen him in so long.  In 1898 Pauline added an account of this visit to the first edition of Story of a Soul.  These words were not written by Therese, who omits the visit from her memoirs:

Because of the state of his infirmity and weakness, we saw him only once in the speakroom during the whole course of his illness. Ah! what a visit that was!  When he was about to leave us, as we were bidding him "au revoir," he raised his eyes and pointing to heaven with his finger, he remained this way for a long time, with only these words to express his thoughts, spoken in a voice filled with tears:  "Au ciel!" ("In heaven!")

Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, Volume II, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988, pp. 751-752).  

Then Louis was taken back to the Guerin home on rue Paul Banaston, where he lived until, in early July, he moved with his daughters to a small house nearby.  We will meet him again there.  His doctor evidently believed that to visit his daughters regularly would be too emotional for him in his weakened state.  Although he lived more than two years longer, his Carmelites never saw him again.

Louis was able to hear and sometimes to understand conversations, but was hardly ever able to speak, and then only a few words.  Inability to communicate was one of his sharpest sufferings.  His remarkable holiness was forged in a veritable martyrdom. and the words "In heaven!" summed up the faith he lived in every circumstance. 

125 years ago with the Martin family: May 10, 1892 - St. Louis Martin returned to Lisieux from the Bon Sauveur hospital

Entrance to the Bon Sauveur mental hospital, rue Caponiere, Caen, where St. Louis Martin was a patient from February 12, 1889 through May 10, 1892.  Photo credit: "herbaltablet" 

Entrance to the Bon Sauveur mental hospital, rue Caponiere, Caen, where St. Louis Martin was a patient from February 12, 1889 through May 10, 1892.  Photo credit: "herbaltablet" 

On May 10, 1892, St. Louis Martin was discharged from the Bon Sauveur mental hospital (the "asylum," as it was then called) in Caen, where he had been a patient since February 12, 1889.  [See my story about Louis Martin's admission to the Bon Sauveur].  

Chapel of the Bon Sauveur Hospital in Caen where St. Louis Martin attended Mass while he was a patient there.  Photo credit:  "herbaltablet"

Chapel of the Bon Sauveur Hospital in Caen where St. Louis Martin attended Mass while he was a patient there.  Photo credit:  "herbaltablet"

The Bon Sauveur Hospital

Although the Bon Sauveur is still operating today, some of the buildings Louis knew, including the ancient cloister of the Franciscans, were demolished (under protest) a few years ago.  Very few good photographs of this big campus in the heart of Caen are available online, and I was delighted to find on FlickR a precious archive of 63 photographs of the various buildings of the Bon Sauveur Hospital, fortunately photographed before the demolition.   "Herbaltablet," who has photographed many historic buildings in France, generously gave me permission to use them.  Please visit his photo album, which is a visual delight.

Louis Martin's Return to Lisieux

Louis's legs were now paralyzed, and his brother-in-law, Isidore Guerin, had decided it was safe to bring him back to Lisieux.  On May 10, 1892, Isidore went to Caen to bring Louis home.  Isidore’s daughter, Jeanne Guerin, lived at Caen.  Because she was away, we have a precious letter her mother, Celine Guerin, wrote that same day: 

Your father went today to Caen to get your uncle. He lunched at your place, and he brought back good M. Martin at four o'clock. The trip went along very well. His morale is as good as it can possibly be, but his limbs can no longer support him. He had to be carried into the carriage. He cried all the time and appears so happy to be among his children. 

Read the complete letter at the Web site of the archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

Marie Guerin, Louis’s niece, remembered the trip: 

“When Papa brought him back from Caen, Uncle was very much moved to see Papa caring for him in this way . . . he began to weep and say “I will repay all this, you will see.”

[Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, Vol. II, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988, p. 750.  This book, which contains much family correspondence and rich introductions and notes, is a gold mine of information about Louis and the Martin family).

For about six weeks Louis joined the Guerin household, where his daughters Leonie and Celine had been living, before the three Martins moved to a small house nearby.  As we continue to trace the events of the Martin family 125 years ago, look for more articles about his last years in Lisieux.

May 1, 2017: Celebrating the feast of St. Joseph the Worker with Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin

An icon of St. Joseph the Worker with the Christ Child by Lewis Williams, OFS.  Available from Trinity Stores.  For ordering information, please click on the image.  Your purchase supports this Web site.

An icon of St. Joseph the Worker with the Christ Child by Lewis Williams, OFS.  Available from Trinity Stores.  For ordering information, please click on the image.  Your purchase supports this Web site.

     Although the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955, long  after Louis and Zelie Martin died, it has significance for these married saints.  Both of them were hard workers, who had gotten trained in skilled crafts (for Louis, making watches and clocks; for Zelie, manufacturing point d' Alencon lace).  They earned a place for themselves in the new class of artisans, and they employed workers in their businesses and domestic servants in their homes.  Although in their lifetimes, and solely by the work of their hands, they earned a great deal of money (enough to buy three castles in France, as their vice-postulator, Father Sangalli, told me)[i], they identified closely with those who worked for them.  A careful analysis of their lifestyle shows that they lived far below their means.  As their income increased, instead of yielding to lavish spending, they saved and invested their money, lent money to those in trouble, and gave generously to the poor, to charities, and to the Church.

     In Alencon Louis and Zelie got up early every morning to attend the 5:30 a.m. Mass, first at St. Pierre de Monsort, the parish church of the working-class neighborhood where they lived from their marriage in 1858 until they moved in 1871, and later at Notre Dame.  The neighbors, hearing their door close, would say "Oh, it's only that holy Martin couple going to Mass. We can turn over and sleep some more."[ii]  Later, when Louis was a widower, his daughters sometimes persuaded him, out of concern for his health, to wait for the seven o'clock Mass. But, when alone, he always chose the first Mass at 6:00 a.m.  When they asked why, he answered "Because it is the Mass of the poor and the working people."  (Workers had to be on duty so early that they could attend only the Mass at dawn).  For the same reason, Louis always traveled third class.[iii]  Although he had no choice but to recognize the rigid class distinctions then operating in French society, Louis did what he could to cross the barriers.

     Louis Martin was a careful and exact businessman, and he was known for paying his workers and all his debts promptly.  His motto was “always cash: no credit.”  “He considered it a crime against society to delay in paying, to the detriment of the workers and tradespeople, whose credit is limited, and that such practices led to ruin.”[iv]  He used to recount the story of a dressmaker, a poor widow with four children, the youngest only two, whose whole family depended on her daily wages.  The wealthy women who employed her refused to pay their bills promptly.  When she knocked at their doors and begged for the money they owed, they refused to pay.  Because of their refusal,she eventually died of tuberculosis.  Louis’s voice used to tremble with anger when he told this story.[v]

     Zelie was known as a very good employer.  At least one lacemaker worked for Zelie for 15 years, and she employed the same dressmaker for 18 years.  These women made lace for Zelie in their homes, bringing it to her every Thursday to receive payment and to pick up the lace designs for the next week.  She visited them after Vespers on Sunday and, when they were sick, made sure they lacked nothing. 

     Zelie was also known as a good mistress to her domestic servants.  On March 2, 1868 Zelie wrote to her sister-in-law, Celine Guerin:

 It’s not always high wages that assure the loyalty of household help; they need to feel that we love them. We must be friendly towards them and not too formal. When people are good-hearted, one is sure they’ll serve with affection and devotion. You know that I can be very sharp; however, all the household help I’ve ever had loved me, and I’ve kept them as long as I wanted.
The one I have at the moment would be sick if she had to go away. I’m sure if she were offered 200 francs more she still wouldn’t want to leave. It’s true that I don’t treat my servants any differently than my children.[vi]

When Zelie went out socially, she was uncomfortable at being waited on and unhappy about the distinctions made between different classes of people, looking forward to heaven where “the last will be first.”  Commenting on an entertainment where the wealthy were invited by letter to the best seats and the poor received only cards for back seats (separated by a barrier from the seats of the wealthy!), Zelie wrote “It’s no use; only in heaven will the poor be able to have the best of everything.”[vii] 

            Zelie and Louis were both very devoted to St. Joseph.  One of Louis’s baptismal names was Joseph, and they named both of the two baby sons they lost “Joseph.”  Zelie had a statue of St. Joseph before which she loved to pray.  As Joseph is the patron of a happy death, she often prayed to him for those she knew who were dying, especially asking him to allow those who had not practiced the faith to return to the Church before they died. 

            On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, let the Martins inspire us to imitate their diligence at work; their concern for workers and for the unemployed; and their simple living.  .  St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!  Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!

Notes and further reading: 

[i] Personal interview in Lisieux, October 20, 2008.

[ii] The Father of the Little Flower, by Celine Martin (Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face).  Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 2005, pp. 4-5.

[iii] Ibid. p. 19,

[iv] Story of a Family, by Stephane-Joseph Piat.  New York; P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1947, p. 69. 

[v] Ibid., p. 69-70.

[vi] A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, 1863-1885..  Staten Island, New York: Alba House/Society of St. Paul, 2011, pp. 33-34. 

[vii] Ibid., p. 305.

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February 12, 2017: the anniversary of St. Louis Martin's entrance into the Bon Sauveur mental hospital at Caen

The Bon Sauveur mental hospital at Caen, where St. Louis Martin was a patient from February 12, 1889 through May 10, 1892.  Photo credit: "Herbaltablet"

The Bon Sauveur mental hospital at Caen, where St. Louis Martin was a patient from February 12, 1889 through May 10, 1892.  Photo credit: "Herbaltablet"

On Tuesday, February 12, 1889, St. Louis Martin was suddenly taken to Caen to be confined in the Bon Sauveur mental hospital.  On the anniversary of this day, which his daughter Therese called "our great treasure," let's revisit the occasion.

Context of Louis Martin's illness

Since 1887 Louis Martin had given some signs of illness that worried his family.  In November 1887, during the pilgrimage to Rome, Celine and Therese had noticed that he tired more easily than usual.  After Therese entered Carmel in April 1888, his sickness presented more frequently.  In May and June 1888, he tried to put his affairs in order.  He wanted to secure the future of his daughters and to purchase Les Buisonnets, their family home in Lisieux, which he held on a lease.  Preoccupied with the desire to become a hermit, he suddenly disappeared from home in June 1888  and was found four days later at Le Havre.  (Read my article about this episode).  

The gift of an altar

the main altar of st. pierre's cathedral, donated by st. louis martin in december 1888

In December, when Canon Rohee, arch-priest of St. Pierre's Cathedral, announced that he was launching a drive to raise 10,000 francs for a new main altar, Louis, asking that his gift be kept private, pledged the whole sum at once.   But his brother-in-law, Isidore Guerin, as deputy guardian of the Martin daughters, had to be informed.  He considered the gift reckless and began to be afraid that Louis would impoverish himself and his daughters.  (Sainte Therese de Lisieux (1873-1897), by Guy Gaucher.  Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2010, p. 300), but Therese approved it.  She wrote:  "Papa had just made a donation to God of an altar, and it was he who was chosen as a victim to be offered with the Lamb without spot."  (Story of a Soul).  Read a few paragraphs written by Therese in 1895 to describe the context of Louis's illness.  (These lines are from Story of a Soul and are online thanks to the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites and the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux).

February 12, 1889 - "Our great treasure"

For Therese's reception of the Habit on January 10, 1889, Louis was perfectly lucid; he could enjoy what Therese called his "last feast on earth."  But scarcely a month later, a crisis suddenly erupted.  Louis was living at Les Buissonnets with his daughters Leonie and Celine and with the family's maid, Maria Cosseron.   He began to suffer from hallucinations, imagining that he was seeing slaughter and military battles, and hearing the sounds of drums and cannons.  (He had spent his early childhood in Army camps).  An attempted robbery at Lisieux made things worse, and he began to carry a revolver to defend the three women.

The Bon Sauveur Mental Hospital at Caen

Seeing the gun, Isidore Guerin,  feared for the lives of his nieces, and, having disarmed Louis, thought it safest to have him admitted that same day to the Bon Sauveur, a large mental hospital or "asylum" at Caen.  The very name of this institution ("the Good Savior") evoked mixed feelings of irony and fear throughout the whole region.  (Louis et Zelie Martin, by Thierry Henault-Morel (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2015, p. 245).  [See an exhaustive photo album of the Bon Sauveur posted by "Herbaltablet" on FlickR].

Little is known of the painful scene that took place at Les Buissonnets that day: we have only a fragment of a letter of that day from Celine to her sisters.  The precise details of Louis's departure for Caen are not fully documented. To read most of the information that has survived, see The Letters of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Volume I, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988), pp. 532-535.  [Because many of the details are contained only in the footnotes, which do not appear online, it is necessary to consult the book in hard copy to get the most complete picture we have in English]. 

M. Guerin asked their mutual friend, M. Auguste Benoit, to take Louis to Caen immediately by train.  En route to the train, Auguste and Louis, with Therese's spaniel, Tom, visited the Carmel briefly.  Pauline's account of this heartbreaking visit appears in the footnotes to the Letters at page 535.  Louis believed that he was going to Caen on an outing. Dr. Notta, who had treated Therese when she fell sick in 1883 at age ten, signed the certificate, noting that Louis had been placed in the hospital at the request of his family, who could arrange his release whenever they liked.   The institution had 1,700 patients. Louis became inmate no. 14,449.  His illness was called "cerebral arteriosclerosis," possibly a form of Alzheimer's.  Louis was placed in the section called "Saint Joseph," among five hundred men, the "tranquil and semi-tranquil." (Henault-Morel, cited above, at page 244).  He would remain there for more than three years. 

The reaction of the Martin daughters to their father's illness

To understand the feelings of Louis's daughters at this time, see Celine's account in a letter she wrote to Pauline's godmother, Mlle. Pauline Romet, on February 18, 1889, six days after Louis’s transfer.  Information about Louis's condition and about how it affected his family is contained in the letters of the Martin family in early 1889.  In particular, don't miss the first surviving letter Therese wrote to Celine afterward, on February 28, 1889.  In this moving letter, Therese writes prophetically "What a joy to be humbled; it is the only thing that makes saints!" and adds "The Martyrdom is beginning.  Let us go into the arena together."