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.
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.
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.
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."
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.