Born in Alençon, France in 1873, Thérèse Martin was seven years old when her mother died and her family moved to Lisieux. At age 15, after making a trip to Rome to make a personal request of Pope Leo XIII for special permission, Thérèse entered the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux.
There she lived humbly and simply, placing her confidence in God. By her words and example she taught the novices those same virtues. Discovering that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church, St. Thérèse offered her life for the salvation of souls and the spread of the Church. She passed away from tuberculosis on Sept. 30, 1897.
In 1895, at the instruction of her superiors Thérèse had begun writing the story of her life from childhood. Her poems, prayers, letters, religious plays, and her last conversations, noted by her sisters, were collected with her autobiographical manuscripts and published the year after her death, becoming one of the most popular spiritual autobiographies ever written. The book now known as The Story of a Soul has inspired millions of faithful around the world.
St. Thérèse was beatified in 1923, and canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925, just 52 years after her birth. Thérèse rapidly became one of the most popular saints of the twentieth century. In 1927, Thérèse was declared co-patron of missions with Francis Xavier and in 1944 named co-patron of France with Joan of Arc.
Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse the 33rd Doctor of the Church on Oct. 19, 1997, in the centenary year of her death. She is the youngest and was, at the time, only the third woman to be so honored. She was declared by Pope Pius XI to be the “star of his pontificate.”
St. Thérèse’s perspective on spirituality, which she articulated with warmth and conviction, has drawn people of all faiths. Her “little way” is “all confidence and love.” In the face of her littleness, she trusted in God. “I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus,” she wrote, the arms of Jesus themselves lifting her where she could not raise herself.
Her doctrine urges us to cherish and build a relationship with God, who is loving, merciful, and truly present and active in our daily lives. It teaches us not to ask what else might be obtained in life, but to be thankful for all the graces one has received.
“St. Thérèse’s teaching, a veritable science of love, is the luminous expression of her understanding of the mystery of Christ, and her personal response to that grace,” wrote Pope John Paul II. “She inspires men and women of today and those of tomorrow to better perceive God’s gifts and spread the Good News of His infinite Love.”
Parents of St. Thérèse
Declared venerable by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994 and beatified in 2008, the Martins are believed to be the first parents of a saint to be canonized. The canonization ceremony for the Martins took place during the world Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome on World Missions Oct. 18, 2015, by Pope Francis. St. Thérèse is the patron saint of missions in the Catholic Church.
Married in 1858, Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin had nine children, four dying in infancy. Their five surviving daughters, including Thérèse, all became nuns in the Discalced Carmelite order.
First class relics of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known as “The Little Flower,” were exposed Oct. 18, 2015 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower for public veneration for the first time on the day of the couple’s canonization in Rome by the Catholic Church.
The relics of the Martins are a treasured gift to the Basilica and the Discalced Carmelite Friars of San Antonio from the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Lafayette, La.
The back of the reliquary depicts the biblical couple Sara and Tobias, recalling the essential role of marriage as a vocation in human history and in the history of salvation. The theme of Sara and Tobias is taken from the medal that Louis Martin chose as a souvenir of his wedding with Zelie Guerin on July 13, 1858 in Notre Dame d’Alenḉon. The original medal was blessed during the exchange of the rings and is at the Archdiocese of Séez, France. The reliquary containing particles of the Martins’ hair is decorated with a wreath representing the decorative motif of the watch that Louis Martin gave his daughter Thérèse.