On Thursday, September 3, 1868, Isidore Guerin, the father of St. Zelie Martin and the grandfather of the future St. Therese of Lisieux, died at the home of Louis and Zelie Martin on rue Pont-Neuf in Alencon at the age of 79.
Isidore's family and early life
Isidore had been born on July 6, 1789, at the very dawn of the French Revolution, to Pierre Marin-Guerin and Marguerite Elisabeth Dupont, at Saint-Martin-l'Aiguillon, a rural commune in the department of the Orne in France. At the time of his marriage, Pierre Marin-Guerin was listed as a “cultivator;” by the day of Isidore’s baptism, he had progressed to “proprietor.”[i] (The public associates St. Therese with Lisieux, in the department of Calvados, but the roots of both her parents were in the Orne, and Louis and his five daughters moved to Lisieux only because Zelie had died, and Louis saw that his older daughters preferred to be near Zelie's brother, also named Isidore Guerin, and his wife, Celine). Isidore’s paternal uncle, Father Guillaume-Marin Guerin, was one of the priests who did not take the civil oath the revolutionary government demanded of the clergy. He went into hiding and functioned as a clandestine priest for some time before his arrest. Little Isidore was often asked to accompany his uncle on his pastoral journeys, and the story is often told of how,when furious soldiers came to the home of Isidore’s parents and searched everywhere for Father Guerin, Isidore saved him. Father Guerin hastily hid in the kneading trough, and Isidore spread his toys out on the lid,at on it, and played peacefully with the toys. Seeing the child at play, the soldiers passed on.
Isidore's service in the army and as a policeman
At the age of 20, Isidore, then listed as a “day laborer,” was drafted into the army.[ii] He fought in the battle of Wagram and saw action in Spain and in Portugal. After he left the army, he joined the police force of the Orne as a foot patrolman, first in theVendee. In 1823, he transferred to the mounted police, and, in 1827,left the Vendee for the Orne. He served on the police force of St. Denis-sur-Sarthon from then until he retired in 1844.[iii]
Isidore did not marry till late. He was 39 when, on September 5, 1828, he married Louise-Jeanne Macé, of Pre-en-Pail in the Mayenne. Louise was 23, 16 years younger than her husband, one of three children of a widowed mother who worked hard to bring them up. Louise, while still a teenager, went to work to help her family. No portrait of her survives, but it is clear that she was a severe mother to her two daughters.[iv]
Isidore and Louise lived at Pont, in the commune of Gandelain, where the “gendarmerie” (police headquarters) was located.
Today a statue of St. Therese marks Pont, Zelie’s birthplace.
When I visitted Pont in May 2018, a neighbor pointed out this house as the one in which the Guerin family had lived. I have not substantiated this belief. To locate the exact site of Zelie's birth, if that is possible, and to determine whether the Guerins later changed houses,would require further research into the archives of that region.
Isidore and Louise had three children: Marie Louise in 1829, Zelie in 1831, and Isidore in .1841. In 1844 Isidore, retired from the police force, bought a house on rue Saint-Blaise in Alencon. His daughters were now in their early teens, and he wanted a better education for them than was available out in the country. In Seotember 1744 Marie-Louise, known as Elise, and Zelie both became day students with the Religious of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, known as the “Picpus nuns,” in Alencon. Isidore tried to supplement his meager pension by opening a woodworking business, a billiards room, and a café at his new home, but these ventures did not succeed. Later Zelie and her sister started a business to manufacture the “point d’Alencon lace” for which the town was famous.
The Guerin daughters settle in life
The year 1858 was a momentous one for Isidore’s family. Early that year Marie-Louise entered the Visitation monastery in Le Mans. In April Zelie met her future husband, Louis Martin, and they were married at midnight on July 12, 1858; Isidore was among the witnesses who signed the marriage certificate.
Isidore's later years
Scarcely a year after Zelie left the Guerin home on rue Saint Blaise, her mother died on September 9, 1859, at the age of 54. Isidore was then 70. He and his wife had had almost 31 years of marriage together. The following year, with the birth of Louis and Zelie’s first child, Marie, Isidore became a grandfather for the first time. Wheb Marie was baptized at the church of St. Pierre de Montsort, Isidore was her godfather. Now widowed, Isidore lived sometimes on the rue Saint-Blaise. Later, he leased that house to a tenant and lived in a house near Louis and Zelie’s. Then, as his health declined, he moved in with Louis and Zelie and lived there until his death. He lived to see their first six children: Marie, Pauline, Leonie, Helene, and the two little boys who died. The youngest boy, Marie-Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, had died just two weeks before the death of Isidore.
When the seriousness of the elder Isidore’s condition became clear, Zelie’s brother, also named Isidore, had rushed from Lisieux to Alencon to be with his father and sister. The father died in the early morning of September 3, which was a Thursday. The same day Zelie wrote to Isidore’s wife, Celine, in Lisieux to describe everything that had happened. Her letter gives a detailed account of her father's death. (Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux).
On Sunday, September 7, Zelie wrote to Celine again describing how on Saturday she had gone to the cemetery and how she was looking everywhere for her father, unable to believe that she would not see him again. the shock was much greater because her father died only two weeks after her son, Marie-Joseph-Jean-Baptiste. (Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux). Please read both these letters, which tell the story of Isidore's death and of Zelie's heartbroken but faith-filled reaction to it much better than I can.
[i] The Story of a Family, by Stephane-Joseph Piat. New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1947, p. 16.
[ii] Hénault-Morel. p. 26.
[iii] Piat, p. 17
[iv] Hénault-Morel, p. 26