Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, were canonized on October 18, 2015, but they were not canonized because they had a saintly daughter. They were canonized because of their own holiness and the way they sought God in all things, including their marriage and the way they raised their children.
In The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Helene Mongin offers an intimate portrait of a man and woman who deeply loved each other, but who were most focused on loving and serving God in their daily lives. "Their ordinary lives [were] an adventure of love in which they raised up their family, their neighbors, their friends, their employees, and even the whole Church."
Zélie Martin can serve as a saintly role model for modern mothers. After surviving a childhood she described as "sad as a shroud," she hoped to enter religious life. When she attempted to enter the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul, the Superior didn't feel she had a vocation. Instead she became a lacemaker, establishing her own business at the age of twenty, a business she would continue until her death.
She met and married Louis Martin in 1858. The two created a home based on "three principles: the sovereignty of God, confidence in his Providence, and abandonment to his will." Together, they had nine children, four of whom died young. The five daughters who lived all entered religious life. St. Thérèse was the youngest. Zélie viewed each pregnancy [as] a joy, each new child a gift from heaven."
This does not mean parenting was always easy. Zélie especially worried about her middle daughter, Leonie. Zélie wrote of Leonie, "She only does what she wants the way she wants." In the midst of her difficulties, Zélie put her trust in God. "The more I see how difficult she is, the more I persuade myself that God will not let her stay that way. I will pray so much that God will allow herself to be touched." For the record, Leonie is now considered a "Servant of God," a fact that should give hope to all of us parenting challenging children.
Zélie also experienced great emotional and physical suffering. Her great grief at the deaths of her children caused her depression, headaches, toothaches, insomnia, and a loss of appetite. Even though she believed her young children to be in heaven and she resolved to carry her cross as bravely as possible, she still experienced great heartache. She also suffered from breast cancer in the last year of her life. The pain at this time was so extreme that she felt abandoned by heaven. She died on August 28, 1877, trusting "that God could take better care of her family than she could."
Zélie Martin wasn't born a saint; she became one. Over the course of her life, she learned to surrender to God and put her faith in His will for her life, rather than her own. In canonizing St. Zélie, the Church has made a strong statement that the life of an ordinary mother can be extraordinary and a path to great holiness.
The Extraordinary Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux is recommended to anyone interested in learning more about Saints Louis and Zélie Martin.