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.

February 12: the anniversary of St. Louis Martin's entrance into the Bon Sauveur mental hospital at Caen in 1889

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."

A happy birthday to Leonie Martin, sister of St. Therese of Lisieux

Today is the birthday of Leonie Martin, the sister of St. Therese, who was born at Alencon on June 3, 1863.  Leonie was a special-needs child.  When she was a child, Louise Marais, the Martins' maid at Alencon, abused her.  Leonie had a hard time  finding her place in the world, and entered religious life four times before she finally persevered.  She was an early disciple of the "way of confidence and love" of her little sister. 

In October 2008 I visited the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen and saw the door through which Leonie entered definitively on January 28, 1899, declaring "The next time I leave here, it will be in my coffin!"  Sister Francoise-Therese, the present-day archivist of the community, laughingly pointed out the irony that the body of Leonie, whose religious name was also Sister Francoise-Therese, has never left the Visitation because she was buried in the crypt, where I visited her tomb. 

Praying at Leonie's tomb, I received a unique grace.  Unexpectedly, I remembered the times in my life that I'd been deeply hurt, and I felt Leonie, who was treated so badly and yet grew into a loving, generative person, assuring me that the wounds these experiences had left were no obstacle to sanctity.  I understood why so many parents of special children commend them to her, and why so many people who struggle to find a place in life invoke her prayers. 

To learn more about Leonie's life, please see the "Letter from Clairval Abbey."  Or purchase her excellent biography in English, "Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life" by Marie Baudoin-Croix.

When Therese lay dying, Leonie, then 34, had failed three attempts at religious life and was living as a laywoman with her uncle and aunt. On July 17, 1897, in her last letter to Leonie, Therese wrote:

The only happiness on earth is to apply oneself in always finding delightful the lot Jesus is giving us. Your lot is so beautiful, dear little sister; if you want to be a saint, this will be easy for you since at the bottom of your heart the world is nothing to you. You can, then, like us [like her four Carmelite sisters] occupy yourself with "the one thing necessary"; that is to say, while you give yourself up devotedly to exterior works, your purpose is simple: to please Jesus, to unite yourself more intimately with Him. 

You want me to pray in heaven to the Sacred Heart for you.  Be sure that I shall not forget to give Him your messages and to ask all that will be necessary for you to become a great saint.

Leonie was born in the month of the Sacred Heart and died in the same month, on June 16, 1941.  In this month of the Sacred Heart, may she help us understand "the abysses of love and mercy of the Heart of Jesus."