The Father of the Little Flower
From the Chapter called, "The Head of the Family and the Educator"
Not only my father when he was young, but my mother also, had desired to enter
the Religious Life. With the disappointment of their hopes, they both turned
towards the married state, but aimed at realizing in it the maximum of Christian
After having lived for many months as brother and sister, they then wished
to have many children in order to offer them to God, a decision in which their
Confessor and Spiritual Director encouraged them. One can understand how the
priest who baptized their first baby was edified to hear my father saying wtih
joy: "This is the first time that I have come here for a Baptismal Ceremony,
but it will not be the last!" He returned there indeed nine times. At each
one of these times he engraved on the inside of his watch-case the names and
dates of his well-beloved children.
Between our parents there was a perfect agreement of heart and mind. My father
often spoke to us of our "saintly mother," as he called her. On her
part she wrote to her brother: "What a holy man my husband is! I wish every
woman in the world could have his equal." In her correspondence, likewise
to Isidore, we read in reference to their aged father, M. Guerin:
"You know our father is a very fine man, but now he has developed the
little vagaries of an elderly person; his children must bear with them, and
my mind is quite made up about that. Suggest to him not to engage any other
housekeeper and to come and live with us. My husband is quite willing for that
arragement. You could not find one in a hundred who would be so kind to a father-in-law."
Naturally a constant admirer of his fine qualities, my mother was unhappy when
her husband was away, and she concluded a letter addressed to him in Paris where
he had gone on business:
"I am so happy today at the thought of welcoming you back again, that
I cannot work for the joy of it. Your wife who loves you more than her life!"
On another occasion, she writes to him from Lisieux. She was at her brother's
with the two elder girls. All were just about to leave for the seashore, and
having all kinds of parties.
"The children are enchanted, but I find it hard to relax. None of this
has any interest for me. I feel exactly like the fish that you pull out of the
water; they are no longer in their element, they must perish. I should be like
them if I had to stay much longer. I feel so much out of sorts - which affects
me physically. All day long I am with you in spirit. I say to myself: 'he is
doing such and such a thing now.' I long so much to be back with you again,
my dear Louis. I love you with all my heart, and I feel my affection redoubled
by the privation of the need I feel of your presence. It would be impossible
for me to live separated from you."
In July 1871 at the time of moving to the new dwelling-house on the Rue St.
Blaise, where Therese was to be born, she expresses her complete satisfaction:
"We are perfectly settled in our new home. My husband has arranged the
house just the way I should like to have it."
And later on after a medical examination, in which the doctor did not conceal
the gravity of the malady which was to prove fatal, she writes:
"My husband is inconsolable. He has entirely given up the pleasure of
fishing, and has put away his fishing-rods in the barn. He does not wish either
to go to the Vital Club (the Vital Romet Circle); he is quite crushed."
Their union, so perfect and complete, was spiritualized and directed altogether
to the thought of eternal life. That can be gathered from a remark made at the
time of the illness of our sister Leonie. During her two first years she was
almost always between life and death. At the recommendation of our Visitation
aunt, Sister Marie-Dosithee, the intercession of Blessed Margaret Mary was invoked.
"If little Leonie is to become a saint some day, we beg her cure,"
was the condition given by the parents. Almost immediately an improvement rewarded
their faith. It is not surprising then that on the occasion of the publication
of The Story of a Family our Holy Father Pius XII in a letter to Mother Agnes
of Jesus, praised this book, "which describes, and in a certain way resurrects
that admirable family life...and holds up for the homes of today such an appropriate
example to stimulate them in the entire practice of the Christian Virtues."
On re-reading my deposition at the Apostolic Process for the Beatification
of our saintly little Therese I find the following testimony in regard to my
"Hard as he was on himself, he was always affectionate towards us. His
heart was exceptionally tender towards us. He lived for us alone. No mother's
heart could surpass his. Still with all that there was no weakness. All was
just and well-regulated."
In her Autobiography Therese also points out that after the death of our mother
"Papa's affectionate heart seemed truly endowed with a mother's love."
This motherly care was noticed by persons outside. Canon Lepelletier, who was,
as I already said, my father's confessor, wrote to us in 1910:
"I love to recall the happy moments that I spent at Les Buissonnets with
your father who was so holy, and his very dear children."
The following is one of many examples of the watchfulness which he displayed
for us from the cradle. As I was born after the death of my two little brothers,
I was confided to a nurse at Alencon itself, in order to keep me as near as
possible to our home. My foster-mother was remarkable for her orderliness and
cleanliness. In spite of that Papa was very anxious, and purposely used to walk
up and down in front of her house. I was only a few weeks old when one day he
heard me crying convulsively. He entered and found me in the cradle all alone.
He searched around the house and inquired from the neighbors; the nurse had
gone -- for a drink! He learned then that she was often drunk, and did not nourish
me sufficiently. Already puny I was dying of neglect. I was therefore taken
away from there and was sent to the country, this time to be nursed by a good,
decent woman. It was only after a thousand mishaps that I gradually grew strong.
My mother wrote: "I have had so much anxiety on account of this child that
I feel worn out."
It is sufficient to read my mother's letters to realize how much my father
had at heart the desire to help her in all her anxieties, whether it was to
set out at four o'clock in the morning to find a wet-nurse for a sick baby,
or on another occasion to accompany her a distance of six miles form Alencon
on a freezing cold night to the cradle of their dying little Joseph. Again he
watched for days and weeks as a sick-nurse beside their eldest child, Marie,
who at the age of thirteen was suffering from typhoid fever.
That devoted tenderness of his became still more evident when we moved to Lisieux.
After the death of our mother a very important question arose for him with regard
to his five daughters, the eldest of whom was seventeen and the youngest only
four and a half. Many friends, even his Spiritual Director, advised him to place
us all as boarding pupils. Again he had influential relatives and friends among
the upper classes of Alencon, and all urged him not to leave the town. Besides,
was he not too advanced in years to change all his ways, to uproot himself,
so to speak, and begin a wholly new life? With his outspoken ways my uncle,
M. Guerin, rather frightened my father, who was by nature so simple and reserved.
It would be introducing the "Patriarch" into quite a wholly different
But the love of his children had first place in his heart. He sought their
welfare, their greatest welfare, without taking his own into consideration.
It was on that account, after having consulted his older girls, that he made
the decision to go to Lisieux in order to be nearer the influence of Madame
Guerin, an angel of peace and of sweetness. "I ask your advice, children,"
he said, "for it is solely on your account I am making this sacrifice,
and I do not wish to impose a sacrifice on you."
In after years I wanted to know why he decided to leave Alencon in spite of
the contrary views that were presented to him. He wished, he replied, "to
take us away from influences that he considered too worldly among some of his
friends, and from the liberal ideas of others." How grateful we should
be to him for a decision so wise and so disinterested!
In agreement with our mother he decided that all his children, even the two
little Josephs, should have "Marie" as their first Baptismal name.
He had suggested that, as in his own family, the children should address their
parents with the more formal "vous," instead of the more intimate
"tu", but Mamma objected that formal attitudes and phrases might give
the impression of distance, and that she "would feel herself less loved,"
and he agreed immediately.
In hte imtimacy of home life he often called us by affectionate or characteristic
nicknames. Marie was "the diamond," sometimes "the gypsy"
on account of her independent spirit. Pauline was "the fine pearl,"
then came "good-hearted Leonie." I was "the dauntless one."
As for Therese, she was in turn "The Little Queen of France and Navarre,"
"the Orphan of the Berezina," the "little blonde May-beetle,"
or the "Bouquet."
Certainly he was altogether charmed by his Benjamin; our mother herself says
so complacently. "He adores that child," she wrote, "he does
everything she wants." It was to please him, too, that the beautiful flaxen
hair of our little sister used to be curled. But a precious testimony given
in the Canonical Process by a former housemaid in my uncle's home, who afterwards
became a Benedictine Nun, refutes the objection of those who imagined that our
father spoiled her. The maid stated:
"M. Martin was an excellent father, and he educated his children, all
of whom he loved very much, with the greatest care. The Servant of God, Therese,
whom he called his 'little Queen,' being the youngest, was the object of his
special affection, but this did not lessen in any way the serious tone of his
education of her. He would not tolerate any fault in her. Without being severe,
he raised his children in fidelity to all their duties."
I believe I struck the right note on this point in my own deposition at the
"My father had a very special consideration for his youngest child, and
was as attentive to her as a mother. But if it is true that little Therese was,
as she says, always 'surrounded with love,' it is also true that she was never
spoiled. The proof that my father did not spoil her, and that she did not do
just what she liked at home, is shown by a fact which made a deep impression
on her, and which she relates in her Autobiography: how she was severely reprimanded
for not wishing to leave her games at the first call of her father.
A little later, at Lisieux - she might have been six years old - she took great
pleasure in carrying the newspaper to our father every morning. One day I wanted
to take it to him; but Therese, quicker than I, had already caught it up and
ran to him. This disappointed me and I showed it. Papa reproached little Therese
for not having yielded to me, and he scolded her very severely, so much so that
I was extremely upset myself."
In The Story of a Soul other examples are found which at the same time show
his tenderness and his firmness towards Therese. She has related in her manuscript
how after the death of our mother he surrounded her with the most tender care.
Every day at the end of the classes given her by Pauline she used to go up to
the Belvedere to show to her "dear King" the rosette and the notes
given her by her teacher. It was her joy to cry to him: "Papa, I have full
marks for everything. Pauline said so first!"
In the afternoon she used to go for a walk with him and a visit to the Blessed
Sacrament. It was one one of these occasions that he showed her the Carmelite
chapel and the sanctuary-grille, behind which the nuns were praying. In the
garden of Les Buissonnets she used to dance around him; make him close his eyes
while she was arranging her "marvellous altars," then she would cry
enthusiastically, "Papa, open your eyes - look!"
Taken from The Father of the Little Flower
by TAN Books &
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