150 years ago with Saints Louis and Zelie Martin: St. Therese's grandfather and St. Zelie's father, Isidore Guerin, died September 3, 1868

Isidore Guerin, the father of St. Zelie Martin and the grandfather of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Photo credit:  Web site of the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel

Isidore Guerin, the father of St. Zelie Martin and the grandfather of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Photo credit: Web site of the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel

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's marriage

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]

The "gendarmerie," or headquarters of the police force for which Zelie's father worked.

The "gendarmerie," or headquarters of the police force for which Zelie's father worked.

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. 

A house near the site of St. Zelie's birth at Pont in Gandelain

A house near the site of St. Zelie's birth at Pont in Gandelain

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's children

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. 

Isidore's death

        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

How can the Mass for the first feast of Louis and Zelie Martin as Canonized Saints be celebrated on July 12, 2016?

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

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

With the approach of July 12, 2016, the first feast of Louis and Zélie Martin as canonized saints, I have received a number of inquiries about how to celebrate the Mass.  [Disclaimer: I don't speak for the authorities of the Church, so please consider the information below as a fraternal attempt to answer these inquiries with the information I have, not as an official communication from any ecclesiastical authority].  

The Mass in French for Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin

After their beatification in 2008, a Mass for the blesseds began to be offered in France.  It is dated “Lisieux.  October 20, 2008,” two days after the beatification.  I thank the Shrine at Alençon for posting it.  You may see the text at http://louiszeliemartin-alencon.fr/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Messe-des-bienheureux.pdf  I believe that it was authorized for use in certain dioceses in France, but I can’t say exactly where. 

For your information, the readings chosen for that Mass were:

First Reading:  Proverbs 31;10-13; 19-20; 30-31

Psalm:  Psalm 37: 3-4; 5-6; 30-31; 39-40

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-12

Gospel:  John 2:1-11

Prospect of an approved Mass for Louis and Zélie Martin as canonized saints

The Shrine at Alençon confirmed to me recently that the Mass for the feast of Louis and Zélie as canonized saints has not been approved by the Church even in French.  I believe that, sadly, it may take a long time for translations into other languages to be approved.

When will the feast of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin appear on the liturgical calendar in the United States?

The optional memorial for Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin on July 12 does not presently appear on the 2016 or 2017 calendars of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I do not know how long it will take for this to happen.  St. Therese was canonized in 1925, and Pope Pius XI extended her feast to the Universal Church in 1927.  I hope that the Church will soon recognize that, even though Louis and Zélie were French nationals, their status as the first spouses canonized as a couple and as the parents of St. Thérèse, Doctor of the Church and patron of missions, makes their feast of international significance.

How can the Mass be offered for the feast of Sts. Louis and Zélie  Martin now? 

An American liturgist whom I consulted suggested that to celebrate the Mass for their feast, one might use the Common of Holy Men and Women, but insert the names of Sts. Louis and Zélie  in the prayers. 

Excerpts from "A Map of the Way of Confidence and Love of St. Therese of Lisieux"

As a gift for the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux I publish below an excerpt from my conference "A Map of Therese's Way":

During Thérèse’s illness Céline asked her

“Do you believe I can still hope to be with you in heaven?  This seems impossible to me.  It’s like e, xpecting a cripple with one arm to climb to the top of a greased pole to fetch an object.” 

Thérèse answered,

“Yes, but if there’s a giant who picks up the little cripple in his arms, raises him high, and gives him the object desired! This is exactly what God will do for you, but you must not be preoccupied about the matter; you must say to God, ‘I know very well that I’ll never be worthy of what I hope for, but I hold out my hand to You like a beggar, and I’m sure You will answer me fully, for You are so good!”[vi]

Thérèse’s littleness is not immaturity, but a complete detachment from self.  She outlines for us a program of searching interior asceticism.  She asks us to give up attachment to consolation in prayer, to beautiful thoughts, to complicated methods in the spiritual life, to all spiritual beauty-culture and all thought of ourselves as virtuous people. 

“You are very little; remember that and, when one is very little, one doesn’t have beautiful thoughts.”[vii] 

“For simple souls there must be no complicated ways.”[viii] 

“O Mother!  I am too little to have any vanity now, I am too little to compose beautiful sentences in order to have you believe that I have a lot of humility.  I prefer to agree very simply that the Almighty has done great things in the soul of His divine Mother’s child, and the greatest thing is to have shown her her littleness, her impotence.”[ix]

To be little does not mean to have little hope, or little desire, or little love; it means to have no conceit, no attachment to self, but great love and great confidence in the power of God.  “We can never expect too much of God, Who is at the same time merciful and almighty, and we shall receive from Him precisely as much as we confidently expect of Him.”  Thérèse’s “littleness” is an experiential knowledge of the wholly gratuitous action of grace.  What could be our frustration becomes our cause for joy.  A child cannot take care of herself, cannot earn her living, so no one expects the child to do so.  In the same way, if we acknowledge our littleness, God will accept full responsibility for us, but, if we try to go it alone, God may leave us to do so until we turn to God.

Thérèse said her way was related to the doctrine St. John of the Cross set forth in his The Ascent of Mount Carmel: “To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing.  To desire to be all, desire the possession of nothing.”  At seventeen Thérèse wrote to her cousin, Marie Guérin:

Marie, if you are nothing, you must not forget that Jesus is All, so you must lose your little nothingness in His infinite All and think only of this uniquely lovable All. . . . You are mistaken, my darling, if you believe that your little Thérèse walks always with fervor on the road of virtue.  She is weak and very weak, and every day she experiences has a new experience of this weakness, but, Marie, Jesus is pleased to teach her, as He did St. Paul, the science of rejoicing in her infirmities  This is a great grace, and I beg Jesus to teach it to you, for peace and quiet of heart are to be found there only.  When we see ourselves as so miserable, then we no longer wish to consider ourselves, and we look only on the unique Beloved! . . .

Dear little Marie, as for myself, I know no other means of reaching perfection but (love).[xii]

The teenaged Thérèse turned away from the classical ideal of sanctity: that a saint must be perfect, a brave, vigorous person who “walks always with fervor on the road of virtue.”  The ideal of sanctity set before her at Lisieux Carmel included physical mortification, anxious attention to one’s state of soul, and collecting “good deeds” to enrich one’s reward in heaven.  Thérèse said firmly that these methods were not for her or for “little souls.”  And the life Thérèse led was not what most of the people around her expected of a saint.  Sister Anne of the Sacred Heart, a nun from Saigon who lived with Thérèse for seven years before returning to Vietnam, was often asked about Thérèse after she became famous.  She invariably answered:  “There is nothing to say about her, she was very good and very self-effacing, one would not notice her, never would I have suspected her sanctity.”[xiii] 

Most of the nuns who lived with Thérèse did not venerate her during her lifetime.  She was misunderstood and rejected just as we are.  Pauline said that Thérèse “often had to suffer from people’s dislike of her, from clashes of temperament or of mood, and, indeed, from spite and jealousy on the part of certain sisters . . .”[xiv] 

Sister Marie-Madeleine, the novice who used to run away and hide when it was time for her to see Thérèse for spiritual direction, testified: 

“She was unknown and even misunderstood in the convent.  About half the sisters said she was a good little nun, a gentle person, but that she had never had to suffer and that her life had been rather insignificant.  The others . . . had a more unfavorable view of her . . . they said she had been spoiled by her sisters.”[xv] 

Sister Vincent de Paul once said: 

“I cannot understand why they talk about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus as if she were a saint.  She does nothing extraordinary; we do not see her practicing virtue; it cannot even be said that she is a really good nun.”[xvi] 


“She does nothing extraordinary.  We do not see her practicing virtue.” This testimony speaks volumes about the way of confidence and love.  In place of extraordinary deeds, Thérèse proposes a way of deep interior detachment, a childlike and spousal intimacy with God, and a life of hidden love.

 “I am not always faithful, but I never get discouraged.”

Like us, Thérèse was not perfect.  Unlike many of us, she never lost confidence that in the end she would be consumed by the fire of love:

After seven years in the religious life, I still am weak and imperfect.  I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I don’t count on my merits since I have none, but I trust in Him who is Virtue and Holiness.  God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to Himself and make me a saint, clothing me in His infinite merits.[xvii]

Some have interpreted Thérèse’s way to mean simply offering every little thing to God, a kind of constant “morning offering.”  But a focus on Therese's little acts distorts the way, as if, instead of concentrating on doing great things for God, we should worry about doing little things for God.  Thérèse does not allow us to become preoccupied with trivialities; she challenges us to let nothing escape us, to realize that the smallest happenings of our lives are all fuel for the fire of love which will transform us.  She turned away from focusing on any deeds of her own, big or small, and concentrated on trusting in the action of Jesus. 

“Let us not refuse Him the least sacrifice.  Everything is so big in religion . . . to pick up a pin can convert a soul.  What a mystery! . . . Ah!  It is Jesus alone who can give such a value to our actions; let us love Him with all our strength. . . .[xviii]

In the texts Thérèse wrote we find a radical doctrine with cosmic reverberations.  The “way of confidence and love” is not something we do.  The heart of the little way is to revision our relationship with God, to touch the heart of God, and, above all, to let the heart of God touch our own hearts

To Thérèse sanctity is not perfection; it is bearing with one’s imperfections. 

“If you want to bear in peace the trial of not pleasing yourself, you will give me a sweet home. . . . do not fear, the poorer you are the more Jesus will love you.”[xix] 

“How happy I am to see myself always imperfect and to have such need of God’s mercy at the moment of my death!”[xx] 

To Thérèse the holy person is not the perfect one, the superhero who has conquered weakness and limitation.  To Thérèse, holiness is not a victory, but a surrender.  It’s a loving acceptance of our own fragility, our weakness, our impotence, our inability to do any good on our own.  And this loving acceptance is an invitation to the creative action of love and mercy in our hearts.

 copyright 1988-2010 by Maureen O'Riordan.  All rights reserved.



[vi] Last Conversations of St. Therese of Lisieux, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1977, , p. 221.

[vii] Ibid. , p. 218.

[viii] Story of a Soul (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1976), p. 254.

[ix] Ibid., p. 210.

[xii] Letters of Saint Thérèse, Volume I.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1982, p. 641.

[xiii] Letters of Saint Thérèse, Volume II.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988, p. 1091.

[xiv] St. Thérèse of Lisieux by those who knew her.

[xv] St. Thérèse of Lisieux by those who knew her, p. 264.

[xvi] Last Conversations

[xvii] Story of a Soul, p. 72.

[xviii] Letters, Volume II, May 22, 1894, p. 855.

[xix] Letters, Volume II, December 24, 1896, p. 1038.

[xx] Last Conversations, July 15, 1897, p. 98.

"A Map of St. Therese's Way of Confidence and Love"

October 13, 2009:  In honor of the visit of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux to Great Britain and of "Little Way Week" (October 18-24 in Great Britain), I am posting an audio in two parts of my conference "A Map of St. Therese's Way of Confidence and Love" for personal use until October 24, 2009.  I invite visitors from around the world to join in solidarity with the Church in Great Britain in observing "Little Way Week," which begins on World Mission Sunday. 

The conference is copyright 2009 by Maureen O'Riordan and all rights are reserved; please do not download it or reproduce it, but feel free to listen to it here.  Each part is less than half an hour. 

 Part One




Fr. J. Linus Ryan, O. Carm., the great apostle of St. Therese in Ireland, has entered into life

Dear friends,

On the morning of July 18 I received a letter from Sister Monique-Marie of the Community of the Beatitudes at Lisieux telling me that Fr. J. Linus Ryan, O. Carm., director of the National Office for St. Therese in Ireland and a dear friend, died on the morning of July 17, a little before eight o'clock Dublin time.  Father Ryan consecrated his life to making St. Therese and her gentle Jesus known and loved, and he was tireless in promoting the cause of her parents, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin.  He contributed much to causing 75% of the population of Ireland to turn out to venerate the major reliquary of St. Therese when it visited Ireland in 2001, to the annual visit of the relics of St. Therese to Ireland every year, and to the Irish National Pilgrimage to Lisieux on the feast of St. Therese every year.  With his devoted co-workers, he maintained a Web site about St. Therese.  Every year his office produced a calendar and a brochure; these were focused recently on the Martin family.

For a bigger photo of Father Ryan wearing the stole commissioned for the beatification of the Martin spouses which was presented to him by the authorities at Lisieux and holding the reliquary containing the relics of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, click the image.  Msgr. Lagoutte, rector of the shrine at Lisieux, traveled to Ireland in May to present the reliquary to Father Ryan in recognition of his lifetime of dedicated service to the apostolate of St. Therese.

 I became acquainted with Father Ryan through his Web site, which contained more information about St. Therese and the Martin family than I found elsewhere in English.  I wrote to him for permission to link to it, and he was generosity itself in sharing all his materials with me.  I knew how hard he worked to promote the cause of Louis and Zelie in Ireland, and I knew that it was largely because of him that, as Mgr. Lagoutte, rector of the shrine at Lisieux, said, "Ireland has led the world" in promoting the cause of Lous and Zelie.  So, in January 2008, when I found online the first news story stating that the Martin spouses were to be beatified in 2008, I wrote at once to congratulate him.  Of course, I thought he knew this news before I did, but he answered asking for documentation and saying that he'd known nothing of it.  I sent the link to the news article, and at about seven p.m. my time (two o'clock in the morning in Dublin), he called me, grateful and jubilant.  After we talked for a while, I said "Father Ryan, it's the middle of the night where you are.  What are you doing up?"  "Oh, it's a big night here," he answered.  "We are letting everyone know."  After that he kindly called me every month or so, always thoughtful and supportive.  He rejoiced in our work to make Therese and Louis and Zelie known in the English-speaking world, and he sent to the United States posters and post cards to help us make the Martin spouses better known.  Sometimes I became discouraged by having only nights and weekends to devote to Therese and Louis and Zelie, but Father Ryan's spirit of faith never failed him.  He encouraged me constantly in the months before the beatification, when we worked long hours to make Louis and Zelie known.  Illness prevented him from attending the beatification he did so much to promote.  When I regretted it, he accepted it with truly Theresian surrender.  His devoted confere, Mr. Pat Sweeney, told me that Father Ryan regained consciousness on the night before his death, and that they had a good talk.  Mr. Sweeney pointed out laughingly that, although Fr. Ryan clung to life till the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was over in Ireland, at the time of his death it was before midnight on Thursday, July 16 in the United States.  So all the Americans who benefited from his commitment to making the spirituality of the Martin family known in English had the joy of offering him to God on the feast of the Lady of his Order. 

     Please visit here for more about Father Ryan.

     Be sure that he says to us what Therese said to her spiritual brother:  "Dear little Brother, there are many things I should like to make you understand now that I am at the door of eternity, but I am not dying; I am entering into life, and all that I cannot say to you here below, I shall make you understand from the heights of heaven."  Join with me, if you please, in thanking God for the apostolic life and happy death of the man who was such a good friend to St. Therese, to me, and to "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway."  Now that St. Therese and Blessed Louis and Zelie have received their faithful son into their family in heaven, let's invoke his intercession confidently, knowing he will help us to share in their mission "to love Jesus and to make Him loved." 

With Sister Monique-Marie's kind permission, I post below her letter announcing his death and giving the information about his funeral ceremonies. 

Dear friends,

A word to inform you of the entry into life on July 17 of a great Theresian figure in Ireland, Father Linus Ryan. He worked ardently to spread the message of Therese, for the reception of her relics, and for the beatification of the Martin parents. He, among others, was the intermediary through whom the beautiful reliquary—that we now call the “Irish reliquary”—of Louis and Zélie was offered. A debilitating disease which made him suffer terribly prevented him from coming to Lisieux for years, but he remained in constant contact with us by telephone, and he continued to work with his faithful collaborators, who came every year to Lisieux on the Irish National Pilgrimage. Three or four months ago, Msgr. Lagoutte, the rector of the shrine at Lisieux, went to visit Father Ryan and to give him a beautiful reliquary of the Martin parents. It appears in the photograph. It was time for Father Ryan to be set free, for he had lost the sight in one eye and had started to lose it in the other. But never a complaint . . . He retained an exquisite kindness for all his visitors. Thank you for keeping him in your prayers, together with his family, his Carmelite brothers, his friends, and his collaborators, for they will no doubt feel a great emptiness even though, for Father Ryan himself, it is a real delivery. Ria and I will represent the Pilgrimage Office at Lisieux at Fr. Ryan’s burial, which will take place on Monday, July 20. The Mass will be at 11:00 a.m. in Terenure College, Dublin, where he lived with his community of friars of the Ancient Observance of the Carmelite Order. He will be buried in the cemetery of White Abbey, in Kildare, the city from which he came, and of which he was so proud.


Sister Monique-Marie

For those who knew him or had bonds with him, you can always send an e-mail to sttheres@indigo.ie  His collaborators, especially Mr. Pat Sweeney, will open it.