St. Therese of Lisieux was born on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, France. Her parents Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin are to be canonized by Pope Francis later this month. They had nine children, but only five survived to adulthood. The survivors were all girls and eventually every single one would enter into religious life. Therese did struggle early on with her health, but she became stronger as time went on. Therese and her sisters were greatly blessed in the pious home their parents kept. They lived simply, but in great devotion to Our Lord and Our Lady. Zelie died of breast cancer when Therese was four years old and it began the saddest years of her life. She became overly sensitive and cried easily. This would be her battle for ten years, when at fourteen, she found the grace and strength to overcome this oversensitivity and truly began to live her journey of spiritual freedom.
Louis Martin sacrificed and served his daughters in order to provide what they needed after their mother’s death, including spiritual and emotional support. Therese often went on picnics, fishing, walking, to visit the Blessed Sacrament, and on vacations with her father. He called her his “little queen” and while he doted on her, he did so without spoiling her. In turn, she greatly admired and loved her father. This relationship between Therese and Louis played a foundational role for her future in religious life.
Therese had desired to be a nun starting at the age of three. It became a certainty at the age of fourteen and she was convinced that it was time to enter the convent. It was difficult for Louis to give up all of his daughters to the convent, but he knew Therese’s vocation and while sad, he supported her decision. Her age was not an issue for the nuns, but she had to convince her uncle and the bishop that she was mature enough to enter into religious life. She had no answer by the time Louis took Celine, her sister, and her on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there on November 20, 1887 they had a papal audience. They were forbidden from speaking to the Holy Father, but Therese could not resist. She knelt before the holy father with tears streaming down her face and said: “Holy Father, I have a favor to ask you….In honor of your jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen.” The people in attendance were stunned and irritated by her outburst, but the Holy Father responded: “Well, my child, do what the superiors tell you!” St. Therese was not deterred. “Oh! Holy Father. If you say yes, everybody will agree!” He said, “Go, go, you will enter if God wills it.” She would have persisted, but a priest and guards had her removed. Such was the determination of Therese to enter the convent. She left Rome dejected, sure that she had failed in her mission. She did not know that her zeal had impressed many. While she experienced opposition, her dream became a reality, and at the age of fifteen she entered the Lisieux Carmel.