It was on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila in 1886 that Marie Louise Martin, the oldest sister of St. Therese of Lisieux, entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux.
Marie was a free spirit. At first, she refused to consider the religious life, and also stated flatly that she would never marry. As a young woman, she hated to take trouble with her dress. She wrote that she detested the little white lace veils it was customary for young women to wear suspended from their hats. "To put on a new dress was a genuine trial for me." She said that she loathed the custom of wearing a medallion sewed to a ribbon around one's neck (seen in the photo at right). She said "I felt like a little parlor dog when I wore that velvet neckband." After she received the Carmelite habit, she wrote "Every morning, it seemed, I put on a garment of liberty, and it was also a festive garment to me. Even, as when I was a child, I could say 'I am quite free.' To go to choir, the only toilette necessary was to let down one's sleeves. My happiness was unbelievable!'
Marie decided somewhat reluctantly to enter Carmel, acting at the direction of Fr. Almire Pichon, her spiritual director. She wrote later “The hour of sacrifice was about to strike. I saw this hour approach without enthusiasm . . . While passing through the cloister to enter the choir, I cast a glance at the cloister courtyard. It is indeed as I imagined, I thought. How austere it is! But after all, I did not come here to see cheerful things. That was the extent of my enthusiasm! . . . Then with you, my Pauline of old, I was sent to make a tour of the garden. I was still unimpressed. The garden seemed so small to me after the immense enclosure of the Visitation at Mans [the Lisieux Carmel is one of the smallest Carmels in France], and, besides, everything seemed to me to be so poor. I did not even think of the happiness of being with you. I just wondered how I would succeed in spending my life within those four walls.
Ah! Mother, I have found Jesus within these four walls and, in finding Him, I have found heaven! Yes, it is here that I have passed the happiest years of my life.”
Marie worked in the infirmary, the garden, and the kitchen during her life in Carmel. She was deeply loved by all the sisters, and she helped take care of Mother Genevieve of St. Teresa, foundress of the Carmel, who called Marie "her ray of sunshine." For these and other details, see "Marie, Sister of St. Therese," a short life written by her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes, translated by Roland Murphy. O. Carm. and Joachim Smet, O. Carm. and edited by Albert Dolan, O. Carm. Carmelite Press, 1943.
Marie's life, like Therese's, was very hidden, but her visible part in the history of salvation is considerable, for it was she who asked her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, who was prioress, to instruct Therese to write the manuscript which became the first manuscript of "Story of a Soul" and she who asked Therese for a souvenir of her retreat. That souvenir was Therese's beautiful manuscript "My vocation is love."
In this article I refer to the little book "Marie: Sister of St. Therese." Thanks to the generosity of Fr. Robert Colaresi, director of the Little Flower Society, and of the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, which has done so much to make St. Therese known and loved in the United States, you may now read "Marie: Sister of St. Therese" online at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.