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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 Spirit.

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 father:

"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 environment.

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 Apostolic Process:

"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 & Publishers, Inc.

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