Blessed Louis Martin, the "incomparable father" of St. Therese of Lisieux: A Father's Day Meditation
At the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin, Cardinal Saraiva Martins, reading the Pope’s letter, described them as “laypersons, spouses, and parents.” Louis, spouse and parent, knew that the first duty of a good father is to be a good husband. Zelie wrote about him, “I am always very happy with him; he fills my life with tenderness and sweetness. My husband is a very holy man; I wish every woman had a husband like him . . . Our feelings were always in unison, and he was always my support and my consolation.” In the years of their marriage (1858-1877), Louis was a most generous husband and father. Seeing the success of Zélie’s lace business, he gave up the craft of watchmaking for which he had trained for many years, sold his business to his nephew for a modest price, and handled the traveling and business end of the lace-manufacturing business. After Zélie’s death, he left his friends in Alencon to give his daughters the advantage of the influence of their maternal uncle, aunt, and cousins at Lisieux. At a time when the father was usually “master of the house,” he gave his older daughters a free hand in running the household and teaching their little sisters. He spared nothing to develop their talents, procuring art lessons and supplies and giving them every advantage in his power.
Louis Martin was a brave man. As a boy, he belonged to a boys’ military club. Exercising regularly, he grew into a tall, vigorous man. He swam well enough to save a child from drowning, saved trapped persons from fires, and was so courageous on the streets that, if he was out later than usual, his daughters worried that he might be badly injured while trying to separate men who were fighting.
His feminine side was well developed. When he was left a single parent, he became both father and mother to his daughters, who said “our father’s affectionate heart was enriched with a truly maternal love.” Many days he escorted the girls to and from school, listening patiently to the accounts of their days. Every evening he joined them after supper in their little salon, making toys for them, singing to them, telling them stories, reciting poems, and playing games before family prayers.
He had a profound respect for the spiritual lives of his daughters; he not only gave them the greatest freedom to fulfill their vocations but actively supported them. When the vicar-general of the diocese failed to support Therese when she appealed to the Pope for permission to become a Carmelite at fifteen, Louis, meeting him several days later, said forthrightly: “You know very well that you had promised to help me.” When the family was visiting Alencon and Leonie abruptly and without asking permission entered the Poor Clares, he permitted her to remain there and supported her generously. He understood that his daughters belonged to God, Who entrusted him with their care, and joined generously with his wife in their joint task “to bring them up for heaven.” When he became paralyzed and had to accept being cared for in an institution and then by his family, he surrendered himself completely and was deeply touched by their devotion.
Blessed Louis Martin offers the fathers of today a new model of masculinity and fatherhood. Uniting his love for God with his love for his wife and his daughters, he understood the essence of fatherhood: that his role as co-creator of the souls of his children to glorify God did not end with their birth, but continued throughout his life. He was a father, as he often repeated, “all for God’s greater glory.”