Childhood in Alençon (1837-1877)

Of farming and army stock, the Martin family had solid roots in Normandy and Mayenne. Brought up in a series of military camps, Louis Martin (1823-1894) thought seriously of entering a monastery. But this was not to be, and he turned to clock and watchmaking instead. Zélie Guérin (1831-1877) was also unsuccessful in her attempt to enter the religious order of the sisters of the Hôtel-Dieu. She learned the Alençon lace-making technique and soon mastered this painstaking craft. They married in 1858 but determined they would be celibate until a priest told them that was not how God wanted a marriage to work! They must have followed his advice very well because they had nine children. Four, including two boys, died in infancy. The five children who lived were all daughters who were close to each other all their lives.

Thérèse, the youngest, was born on 2 January 1873. She was put out to nurse for a year and became a lively, mischievous, and self-confident child; she thrived on the love that surrounded her in this Christian household, where prayer, the liturgy, and practical good works formed the basis of her own ardent love of Jesus—her desire to please him and the Virgin Mary. But disaster struck early in her life when her mother died of breast cancer in the summer of 1877. Thérèse was four and a half years old. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Pauline, became her second mother.

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