Louis Martin, St. Thérèse's father, was regarded as a saint in his lifetime. The last seven years of his life were marked by a severe trial, for him and for his daughters who loved him dearly. In 1887 he suffered several strokes which led to mental paralysis. Confined at first to a mental hospital, he was then cared by his daughter Céline until his death on 29 July 1894.
On 26 March 1994 Pope John Paul II declared Louis Martin and Thérèse's mother, Zélie Martin, "Venerable", the first step toward canonization.
Childhood memories: St. Thérèse on her "King", her "Incomparable Father"
Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 37-38, 43-44, 45-48.
I loved cultivating my little flowers in the garden Papa gave me. I amused myself, too, by setting up little altars in a niche in the middle of the wall. When I completed my work, I ran to Papa and dragged him over, telling him to close his eyes and not open them till I told him. He did all I asked him to do and allowed himself to be led in front of my little garden, then I’d cry out: "Papa, open your eyes!" He would open them and then go into an ecstasy to please me, admiring what I believed was really a masterpiece! I would never come to an end if I really wanted to portray a thousand little actions like this which crowd into my memory. How could I possible express the tenderness which "Papa" showered upon his Queen? There are things the heart feels but which the tongue and even the mind cannot express.
There were beautiful days for me, those days when my "dear King" took me fishing with him. I was very fond of the countryside, flowers, birds, etc. Sometimes I would try to fish with my little line, but I preferred to go alone and sit down on the grass bedecked with flowers, and then thoughts became very profound indeed! Without knowing what it was to meditate, my soul was absorbed in real prayer. I listened to distant sounds, the murmuring of the wind, etc. At times, the indistinct notes of some military music reached me where I was, filling my heart with a sweet melancholy. Earth then seemed to be a place of exile and I could dream only of heaven.
The afternoon sped by quickly and soon we had to return to Les Buissonnets. Before leaving, I would take the lunch I had brought in my little basket. The beautiful bread and jam you had prepared had changed its appearance: instead of the lively colors it had earlier, I now saw only a light rosy tint and the bread had become old and crumbled. Earth again seemed a sad place and I understood that in heaven alone joy will be without any clouds.
Speaking of clouds, I remember one day when the beautiful blue sky became suddenly overcast and soon the thunder began to roll and the lightning to flash through the dark clouds. I saw it strike a short distance away, and, far from being frightened, I was thrilled with delight because God seemed to be so close! Papa, however, was not as delighted as his little Queen. It wasn’t because the storm frightened him but because the grass and the tall daisies (taller than I) were beginning to sparkle with precious stones. We had to cross several fields before coming to a road, and Papa, fearing the diamonds would soak his little girl, picked her up and carried her on his back in spite of his bundle of lines.
During the walks I took with Papa, he loved to have me bring alms to the poor we met on the way. On one occasion we met a poor man who was dragging himself along painfully on crutches. I went up to give him a coin. He looked at me with a sad smile and refused my offering since he felt he wasn’t poor enough to accept alms. I cannot express the feeling that went through my heart. I wanted to console this man and instead I had given him pain or so I thought. The poor invalid undoubtedly guessed at what was passing through my mind, for I saw him turn around and smile at me. Papa had just bought me a little cake, and I had an intense desire to give it to him, but I didn’t dare. However, I really wanted to give him something he couldn’t refuse so great was the sympathy I felt towards him. I remembered having heard that on our First Communion Day we can obtain whatever we ask for, and this thought greatly consoled me. Although I was only six years old at this time, I said: "I’ll pray for this poor man the day of my First Communion." I kept my promise five years later, and I hope God answered the prayer He inspired me to direct to Him in favor of one of His suffering members." ( pp. 37-38)
"What shall I say of the winter evenings at home, especially the Sunday evenings? Ah! How I loved, after the game of checkers was over, to sit with Céline on Papa’s knees. He used to sing, in his beautiful voice, airs that filled the soul with profound thoughts, or else, rocking us gently, he recited poems which taught the eternal truths. Then we all went upstairs to say our night prayers together and the little Queen was alone near her King, having only to look at him to see how the saints pray. When prayer was ended we came according to age to bid Papa good night and receive his kiss; the Queen naturally came last and the King took her by the two elbows to kiss her and she would cry out in a high-pitched tone: "Good night, Papa, good night and sleep well!" Every evening was a repetition of the same thing.
Then my little Mamma took me in her arms and brought me to Céline’s bed. I would say: "Was I very good today, Pauline? Will the little angels fly around me?" The answer was invariably "Yes," otherwise I would have cried the whole night. After she and Marie had kissed me, Pauline went downstairs and poor little Thérèse was left all alone in the dark; in vain did she picture the little angels flying around her; fright soon took over, the darkness filled her with fear, for she could no longer see the stars twinkling away serenely.
I consider the overcoming of my fears as a grace I received through you, dear Mother; you used to send me in the evening to a far-off room in search of an object. Had I not been so well guided, I would have been very nervous, whereas now it is difficult to frighten me. I wonder at times how you were able to raise me with so much love and tenderness without spoiling me, for it’s true you never allowed an imperfection to pass, you never scolded me without a reason, and you never went back on something once you made a decision. I knew this so well, I wouldn’t have been able nor would I have wanted to do anything you had forbidden. Papa himself was obliged to conform to your will, for without Pauline’s consent I didn’t even take a walk, and when Papa told me to come I’d answer: "Pauline doesn’t want it." Then he’d come and ask your permission and to please him, Pauline would say "Yes," but little Thérèse saw by her look that she wasn’t saying it with all her heart, and she’d begin to cry and would not be consoled until Pauline said "Yes" and kissed her with all her heart!" (Story of a Soul, pg. 43-44)
"Ah! How joyous were these family feasts! How far I was then from foreseeing the trials awaiting my dear King when seeing him so happy! One day, however, God showed me in a truly extraordinary vision the living image of the trial He was pleased to prepare for us in advance.
Papa was on a trip for several days and was not expected to return for two more days. It could have been about two or three o’clock in the afternoon; the sun was shining brightly and all nature seemed to be rejoicing. I was all alone at the window of an attic which faced the large garden; I was looking straight ahead, my mind occupied with joyful thoughts, when I saw a man dressed exactly like Papa standing in front of the laundry which was just opposite. The man had the same height and walk as Papa, only he was much more stooped. His head was covered with a sort of apron of indistinct color and it hid his face. He wore a hat similar to Papa’s. I saw him walking at a regular pace along my little garden. Immediately a feeling of supernatural fright invaded my soul, but in an instant I reflected that surely Papa had returned and was hiding to surprise me; then I called out very loudly; "Papa! Papa!", my voice trembling with emotion. But the mysterious personage, appearing not to hear, continued his steady pace without even turning around. Following him with my eyes, I saw him go towards the grove which divides the wide path in two, and I waited to see him reappear on the other side of the tall trees, but the prophetic vision had vanished! All this lasted but an instant but was engraved so deeply on my heart that today, after fifteen years, it is as present to me as though I were still seeing the vision before my eyes.
Marie was with you, Mother, in a room adjoining the one where I was; hearing me call Papa, she experienced fright also, feeling, as she told me later, that something extraordinary must have happened. Without allowing me to see her emotion, she ran to me and asked what possessed me to call Papa, who was still at Alencon, I told her what I had just seen. To calm me down, Marie said it was no doubt Victoire who hid her head in her apron to frighten me, but when asked about it, Victoire said she hadn’t left her kitchen. Besides, I was very sure I’d seen a man and this man had Papa’s appearance, Then all three of us went behind the screen of trees, but when we found no mark indication the passage of anyone, you told me to think no more about it.
It was not within my power to think no more about it. Very often my imagination presented again the mysterious scene I had witnessed. Very often, too, I tried to lift the veil which was hiding its meaning from me because I kept in the bottom of my heart the conviction that this vision had a meaning which was one day to be revealed to me. That day was a long time in coming; but after fourteen years God Himself tore away the mysterious veil.
I had permission to be with Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, and we were talking as always about the things of the other life and our childhood memories. I recalled to her the vision I had seen at the age of six or seven, and all of a sudden while I was describing the details of the strange scene, we understood simultaneously what it meant. It was indeed Papa whom I had seen advancing, bent over with age. It was indeed Papa, who was bearing on his venerable countenance and white hair the symbol of his glorious trial. Just as the adorable Face of Jesus was veiled during His Passion, so the face of His faithful servant had to be veiled in the days of his sufferings in order that it might shine in the heavenly Fatherland near its Lord, the Eternal Word!
It is from the midst of this ineffable glory where he reigns in heaven that our dear Father obtained for us the grace to understand the vision his little Queen had at an age when illusions are not to be feared. It is from the midst of glory he obtained this sweet consolation of understanding that God, ten years before our great trial, was already showing it to us. He was doing this as a Father who gives His children a glimpse of the glorious future He is preparing for them and is pleased to have them consider in advance the priceless riches which will be their heritage.
Ah! why was it to me that God gave this light? Why did He show such a small child a thing she couldn’t understand, a thing which, if she had understood, would have made her die of grief. Why? This is one of the mysteries we shall understand only in heaven and which we shall eternally admire!
How good God really is! How He parcels out trials only according to the strength He gives us. Never, as I’ve said already, would I have been able to bear even the thought of the bitter pains the future held in sore for me. I wasn’t even able to think of Papa dying without trembling. Once he had climbed to the top of a ladder and as I was standing directly below, he cried out: "Move away, little one, if I fall, I’ll crush you!" When I heard this, I experienced an interior revulsion and instead of moving away I clung to the ladder, thinking: "At least, if Papa falls, I’ll not have the grief of seeing him die; I’ll die with him!"
I cannot say how much I loved Papa; everything in him caused me to admire him. When he explained his ideas to me (as though I were a big girl), I told him very simply that surely if he said this to the great men of the government, they would take him to make him King, and then France would be happy as it had never been before. But in the bottom of my heart I was happy that it was only myself who knew, for if he became King of France and Navarre, I knew he wouldn’t be happy because this is the lot of monarchs; but above all he would no longer be my King alone!" (Story of a Soul, pg. 45-48)
Excerpt from the discourse given by Canon Ducellier, Dean of Trevieres [Calvados], at the Clothing of Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face [Céline], 5 February 1895.
Source: Piat, Fr. Stéphane-Joseph, O.F.M. The Story of a Family: the Home of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. ( © 1948). Reprint edition, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books & Publishers, Inc., 1994, n.p.
My dear Sister, it seems fitting that at this time, when you are on the threshold of the Cloister, I speak for a moment about your vocation. It seems to me that I owe this to the memory of that venerable Patriarch, your well-loved father, whom we remember on this solemn occasion; I owe it to the edification of the faithful here assembled; indeed, I owe it to all. Those unworldly persons who suffer resignedly the deprivation of even that which is most dear to their hearts because it is asked by God, are very rare; it is truly meet and just that, when we meet such a person, we speak of him.
First of all I should like to point out that the decision to take your place among these virgin Brides of Christ was agreed upon between you and God a long time ago. Seven years ago you spoke of it for the first time to him who rightfully merited all your filial devotion. There was some question, at that time, of whether or not to send you to Paris for further training at painting. More desirous of perfecting the art of painting, in your soul, the image and model of all perfection, our Saviour Jesus Christ, you seized the favorable moment for making known your wishes for the future. You knew, without doubt, that the venerable father in whom you were going to confide was, by his unusual sensibility, by the power and vigor of his faith, well worthy to receive it. As a matter of fact, scarcely had you spoken-in words that he could not possibly have anticipated-than he took you in his arms and pressed you to his heart. 'What am I that God should shower me with such honor!' he exclaimed. 'I am truly an exceedingly happy father.' And he asked you to come with him immediately to offer yourselves before the tabernacle. 'Come-let us go together to thank God for all the special graces he has given our family.' What cooperation with grace! The Sacred Heart of Jesus must have trembled with joy! The Sanctuary angels must have been filled with admiration at the sight of this father who, absolutely forgetful of himself came to offer of all that remained to him, his most cherished possession; this father whose fervent and valiant faith recalled to mind that of the Patriarchs of old.
It was thus that this truly enlightened soul fully understood the great question of vocations. 'God does me the honor of asking for all my children. I give them with joy. If I possessed anything better, I would be eager to offer them as well.'
Even though he had nothing better to offer-certainly nothing more dearly loved-he had at least one thing more intimate-himself. He had given everything; there remained only the offering of himself; he made that offer. 'God,' he said one day to one of your sisters with that charming simplicity characteristic of great souls, 'God grants me too many consolations. It is too much for this earth. I have asked the Lord to cease showering me with favors. One cannot get to Heaven that way. One cannot get there without suffering and I have offered myself…'
Who of us can not see in these words the language of the great victims of Divine Love. 'I offer myself.' When these sentiments are expressed by those worthy of Him, God sometimes takes them at their word and, for their eternal glory as well as for the good of the entire world, he grants them their wishes in a way which disconcerts some of us, with our frail human wisdom, but which will one day be the admiration and the joy of the elect. He leads them along the road of sorrows as His Divine Son was lead to Calvary, to be ground under the pressure of unimaginable torments.
My dear Sister, your saintly father offered himself as a sacrifice-God judged the victim worthy of Himself. Suffering, accepted with the heroism and tranquility of the Christian, which refers everything to God and accepts, in advance everything which comes from His paternal hand-Suffering came-pitiless-to crown with its diadem his noble brow. How well you understood then where your duty lay-by his side. You remained long years-night and day, until the last sigh, until the tomb. It is thus that the Lord, by allowing your father to grow in grace before Him and his angels-this father, whom you surrounded with every care and the most tender pity-brought about your preparation for the life of devotion and sacrifice that is the lot of the daughters of Saint Teresa [of Avila].