Fr. John Fain is getting the 19th-century family of St. Therese back together.
Well, sort of.
First-class relics of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the recently canonized parents of St. Therese, have found a new home in a parish named for their daughter in Lansing, Michigan.
Fr. John Fain of St. Therese parish told CNA that the relics will be encased in a display case along with a relic of St. Therese, and a print of the whole family. All five of the children who survived childhood became religious sisters.
Fain said he hopes the relics inspire greater devotion to St. Therese herself, along with devotion to her family.
“What St. Therese is known for is The Little Way, and it's doing small things with great love,” Fain said. “Her parents, I think, taught her that.”
“They were people who went to daily Mass, they practiced fasting, they regularly checked out for the neighbors, people in the neighborhood that were struggling. They would take them food and other things. They comforted the sick of their neighborhood and just lived a very joyful family life,” he added.
Fain said he was inspired to ask for relics of Louis and Zelie after ordering a print of an icon of the Martin family.
“I happened to buy a picture of the family of St. Therese of Lisieux and her parents and the entire family, including the children who had died. It just sort of occurred to me, 'Wow, this would be really neat to have the relics here too.'”
But obtaining relics is no easy process. Fain petitioned Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing to see if he could get relics of Louis and Zelie for the parish, thinking it would take several years.
Boyea put the chancellor of the diocese, Michael Andrews, on the task of obtaining the relics, Fain said. Andrews, who speaks several languages, contacted the head of Carmelite order in Rome to ask about obtaining relics of Louis and Zelie.
“That's the only place you could get the relics from. It's actually very hard to get relics anymore. It used to be somewhat easy, but there's been so many abuses and trafficking in relics that basically you can only get one,” Fain said.
Fain said he believes his parish is one of the only places in the world to have first-class relics of Louis and Zelie, as they are recently canonized saints, and relics are a rarity.
First-class relics are fragments of the body of the saint, such as bone, flesh, or hair. Fain said he thinks the relics of Zelie and Louis are pieces of bone.
Anything touched to a first-class relic of a saint, like a rosary or a holy card, becomes a third-class relic. Fain added, “I think that's pretty exciting in itself.”
Before they were married, both Louis and Zelie desired religious vocations. But both were turned away - Louis was rejected from seminary because he didn’t know Latin, and Zelie from a religious community because she had poor health. Louis then became a watchmaker, and Zelie a lacemaker. They had nine children, only five of whom survived childhood.
Zelie died from cancer at the age of 46, leaving Louis to care for the children alone, including Therese, who was four at the time. Louis died in 1894, after suffering two strokes in 1889.
The couple’s desire for holiness despite being turned down from religious vocations can be observed in the way they lived their family life, Fain said, and in a way, their home became “like a small convent in a lot of ways.”
“It's just obvious that that's what God's intention was for their vocation was to be a married couple who shared their family life with their children,” Fain said.
Sts. Louis and Zelie were canonized Oct. 18, 2015 by Pope Francis - the first-ever married couple to be canonized together. Another married couple, Bl. Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, were beatified together in October 2001.
Fain said he hopes the relics and life of the Martin family can show his parishioners that “spirituality doesn't have to be a complicated thing. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the great saints and sometimes have a hard time relating to them, but St. Therese is one that I think everyone can relate to.”
He said he also hoped that couples were inspired to see their marriages as holy vocations as well.
“I think a lot of times married couples don't see themselves as living a vocation. When they think of vocations, they think of priests or deacons or religious men and women, but they don't really consider being married a religious vocation,” Fain said.
“The state of marriage is definitely in crisis. It's in crisis in our country, but it's also in crisis in the Church itself. I think by looking at a couple such as Louis and Zélie and by learning from their merits and example...again that it doesn't have to be an extraordinary thing. It can just be living a good saintly life in a simple way. That's ultimately how they made it to heaven. I think that can be a great hope for married couples,” he said.
Fain added that Bishop Boyea plans to visit the parish on Corpus Christi to bless people individually with the relic. The relics can also be removed from their display case by request for those hoping to touch rosaries, holy cards, or other objects to the relics.