Marie Céline Martin came into this world with beautiful light
brown hair and hazel eyes. She was born in Alençon, France
at the family home on Rue du Pont-Neuf on April 28, 1869.
She was baptized in a private ceremony at home on the same
day. At the birth of each of their children, their mother would
pray: “Lord, grant the grace that this child may be consecrated
to you, and that nothing may tarnish the purity of its soul. If
ever it would be lost, I prefer that you should take it without
delay.” (ML) Céline became the seventh-born child of nine
children of Louis and Azélie Martin. Her parents named each
of their children after Marie in honor of Our Lady. Céline’s
official baptismal was at Saint Pierre at Montsort on September
5, 1869. Her godparents, M. Vital Romet and Mme. Céline
Guérin, accompanied Céline and her family to the Church.
Prior to giving birth to Céline, Azélie was already worried
about Céline’s fate. She wrote to her brother Isidore and said:
“If God wills once more to take this one from me, I pray that
it may not die unbaptised, so that at least I may have the
comfort of three little angels in Heaven. You cannot imagine
how I fear for the future as regards to the little one I am
expecting (Céline). I feel as though the fate of the last two will
be its fate also.”(SF)
Each morning, Azélie would make it a habit to rise early to
attend morning Mass. Before participating in Mass she would
light a candle and pray reverently before the statue of Our Lady.
Humble at heart, Azélie petitioned Our Lady for the children that
she and her husband were given by God, that one day they would
become saints. She would also ask Our Lady for her children to
be more reverence toward God then she was.
Sadly, four of the Martin children would never make it to
adulthood. Azélie gave birth to her fourth child on October 13,
1864, Marie Hélène who passed away on February 22, 1870, at
the age of five. Louis and Azélie were given the blessing of
receiving another child, on September 20, 1866, with the birth
of their first son, Joseph Louis Martin. It was with great sadness
that he too past away a year later on February 14, 1867. On
December 19, 1867 the birth of their second son, Joseph Jean
Baptiste was born. However, he too was taken away from them
on August 25, 1868. The life of Louis and Azélie’s sixth daughter,
Marie Mélanie Thérèse was very short from August 16, 1870
to October 8, 1870. Later, Azélie would remark: “Four of my
children are already in their eternal home, and the others—yes,
the others, will also go to that heavenly kingdom, laden with
more merits, for they will have been longer in the fight.”(DBT)
Days after her arrival into this world, Céline showed the same
symptoms that her other siblings showed prior to their deaths.
Azélie was immediately alarmed by these symptoms and sought
out a wet nurse in Semallé. Azélie sent Céline to stay with her
for several months and after several doctor visits it was deemed
safe to bring Céline back home, in 1870. Having Céline at
home was a great consolation to her mother especially at this
particular time. Just months prior, Hélène’s soul ascended to
Céline’s godmother bought her a beautiful white dress with a
feathered hat. Céline admired this dress even at the tender age
of sixteen months as her mother Azélie saw it, “She never looked
more delightful in it.” Anytime there was an outing, Céline would
put on a white dress because she looked very beautiful in them.
On July 19, 1870, The Franco-Prussian War began. France
declared war on Prussia and the lower German states then
aligned themselves with the North German Federation. The
French military would soon realize that the German
army was far more superior in combat than their French
adversaries. “As each battle ensued, French towns in the
northern part of France started to fall, leaving behind massive
amounts of wounded and dead. Once the Germans had advanced
onto Le Mans in the latter part of December of 1870, parents
from all over the area rushed to retrieve their children from the
Visitation boarding school; Louis and Azélie were no exception.”
Pauline's mother sought out several options to retrieve their
children but the only option was for them to travel the lengthy
road to Le Mans. It was impossible to go by train because the
French army was using it for the war effort. “Louis set off
along the dangerous roads to Le Mans to retrieve his daughters.
Louis safely brought his daughters, Marie and Pauline, back
home amongst seeing for themselves the spoils of war. Sadly,
Le Mans fell on January 11, 1871. The Germans in turn used
the boarding school to house the wounded, which in some
cases; the wounded soldiers transmitted deadly communicable
diseases to the local townspeople.
After the fall of Le Mans, the city of Alençon would be no
exception. It too fell. Over 25,000 German army soldiers
advanced into Alençon. Azélie led all of the children into the
root cellar as the bombs started to land nearby. To preoccupy their
time, she had them bring their school books down with them.
Once the smoke cleared and the town officially surrendered, the
Germans then forced each French family to house a number of German soldiers. The Martin family
housed nine German soldiers on the bottom and second floor of their house during their occupation,
which then lasted until May 10, 1871.
It was of great concern for Azélie of Céline’s well being. The soldiers had confiscated much of the
food that the town had. Milk became a rarity and she was fearful that Céline would either get sick
or die as a result.
Once the soldiers left Alençon, it was time to get things back to normal. It became a very difficult
time, financially, for the Martin family because they were not able to collect the payments for
previous work they had done as well as there was no new work to be had.
Things slowly started to get back to normal for the Martin family. They inherited the home once
owned by Azélie’s father, Isidore Sr. and the home was much larger than what they had before.
They made the decision to leave their home on rue du Pont-Neuf and move into their new home
on rue Saint-Blaise.
Céline was also a great comfort to her mother yet again after the loss of her younger sister Mélanie
on October 8, 1870. When Azélie was feeling the guilt, over Mélanie’s death, she would repeat to
herself out loud, “My poor little girl.” Céline would come to her thinking she was referring to her
and tell her, “Here I am” and give her a hug. Céline would also ask her mother where Mélanie was
and looked all over the house for her demanding to know where her little sister was.
As relived through her mother’s eyes in a letter dated April 1874, Azélie accounts to the strength of
Céline: “She has a lively disposition, and a very fast learner, and most importantly, she triumphs over
certain symptoms which would cause us great distress over.” (DBT) But Azélie thought Céline might
have been spoiled which could have been a result of all her many illnesses where she had to be
constantly monitored. Céline naturally gravitated to her father and her father looked upon her as a
‘pretty strapping girl’ with a sweet disposition. Azélie observed how much Céline had a great affection
for her father: “When Louis is there no one else may hold her. She cries to go to him with all her might,
and when I want to take her again, I have to remove her forcibly from his arms.” (SF) Her drive for a
fulfilled life full of happiness from early on was what she so desired to seek.
At the age of four, Céline became a fast learner, she would listen attentively to her family members as
she sat near them and listened to what they were singing or speaking. She would then repeat and
memorize what they either sang or spoke. But when her family heard her repeat what they either sang
or spoke, she immediately becomes quiet. It was time for Azélie to sit Céline on her knee and teach
her, her first lessons. Every lesson she was given, she learned it with ease such as learning the entire
alphabet in a matter of weeks and also learning to read. Azélie also taught her to make little acts of
sacrifices to strengthen her character. Céline took delicate care of all her toys and personal possessions
for fear of them becoming either destroyed or damaged.
One of the lessons Céline was forced to learn at an early age was forgiveness. One evening, Céline
walked up to her mother and told her that she hated the poor. Even though, Azélie tried to convince
her that hating the poor was wrong, Céline would not back down from her position. Days prior, when
Céline was with a friend of hers on the front door step, a poor child walked by and gave her a sarcastic
look which in turn caused Céline to tell the child to leave at once. In response to Céline’s reprimand,
the poor child slapped her across her face. Later that night, Céline was in a better frame of mind to
be convinced by her mother to forgive the poor child. The next morning, Céline relented and forgave
the poor child and in turn offered a bouquet of flowers to Our Lady and the Good Jesus and said to
her mother “I love the poor very much now!” (SF)
Céline’s valiant efforts to overcoming obstacles were also centered in her demeanor. When she saw a
row of wildflowers and found the one she desired to pick, she also saw a snake at the stem. Without
any hesitation, she tried to figure out a way of getting this flower. As she was proceeding to pluck this
flower she was whisked away from danger.
Louis catering to the needs of his little ones, decided to erect a swing for them in the backyard. Céline
and Thérèse could then find some amusement while they were at home.
Prayer was especially important to the Martin family; it was of course a daily devotion to God. It was
that love for God above all other things that held the family together. As Céline and Thérèse were
inseparable, they would also join in union with their mother in prayer both in the morning as well as
before they went to bed. Both Céline and Thérèse would kneel at their mother’s feet and would recite
after her the prayers she spoke aloud. Céline remarks about her mother: “My mother had a great spirit
of detachment from earthly things and contempt for the world. Her longings were concerned only with
those things that are eternal… she felt exiled here on earth.” (SF) Early on, it was Céline’s declaration
out loud that her future would behold her to be a nun.
Following the teachings of the Catholic Church was the family’s top priority. It was that service of
themselves to God and the church which made their lives fulfilling. The family maintained strict
observance of times of fasting and abstinence. They venerated priests and participated in church
functions. But most importantly, it was their giving spirit to others that permeated their souls. Céline
alludes to this: “I consider the greatest grace of my life was to have the Christian parents and to have
received from them a vigorous education that left no place for petty vanities. Nothing in our house
was sacrificed to the material world. The only altar erected was that to God alone, and if sometimes
the sacrifices seemed austere, the time always came when I enjoyed their delightful perfume.” (C)
On August 2, 1875, Marie completed her studies at the Visitation boarding school. She immediately
started instructing Céline in her lessons. Thérèse was not old enough yet to receive the same lessons
as Céline. When it was time for Céline to have her lessons, Thérèse would cry over the separation.
As a result of Thérèse’s dismay, Marie compromised and had her also sit at the table to either sew
some material or thread some beads while she was instructing Céline. Marie also gave both of them
a small chaplet of beads that she received from the Visitation boarding school. She gave chaplets to
each of them for counting their “acts of virtue or practices as they called it”. Celine, as valiant as
she was in her lessons, conquered this as well and on a good day would have twenty-seven “acts
of virtue” accounted for.
Azélie admired Céline’s great disposition as a child, much better than what she initially expected
from any of her children. It was Céline’s eagerness to learn new things as well as at the speed to
which she learned them. Knowing that Céline was far ahead of the course, to which she wanted all
of her children to succeed, greatly comforted her ambition. What impressed Azélie most about
Céline was her early interest of preparing for her First Holy Communion, at the age of seven well
before it was time for her to learn about Catechism. As her mother looked in reflection upon her
she stated: “She is inclined to virtue; it is in every fiber of her being. She is the soul of candor and
has an instinctive horror for evil.” (DBT)
Azélie saw in Céline great consolation to her many worries of rearing her children without them
exhibiting great virtues and piety. Céline was an answer to her prayers. Céline was very attentive to
her mother’s requests and immediately accepted them without any resistance or hesitation, she
obeyed her through love. Sometimes, Azélie would tease Céline about leaving her when she went
out with the maid and ask her if she was leaving her. Céline would turn around and run to her
and tell her she would not leave her. Céline would wait with great affection until her mother says
that it’s okay for her to leave and then she would go.
Both Céline and Thérèse were virtually inseparable. Sometimes, when Thérèse was unable to sleep,
she would crawl into bed with Céline. One morning when the maid went to dress them she found
Thérèse sleeping in Céline’s bed. Thérèse then looked up at her and replied: “Do leave me here,
Louise; you see that we two are like town chicks that cannot be separated.” (DBT)
When Céline would finish her meal first, during their family meals, she would leave the table and
Thérèse would immediately follow suit without finishing her food. One of the ways Céline and
Thérèse amused themselves after their meal, would be to go outside and play with the chickens.
Valiantly, Céline would grab the rooster after only one swipe and then grab a hen. She took them
both into the house near the fireplace and play with them.
Through their conversations together, while they were playing, Céline and Thérèse would always
incorporate their own religious thoughts. In an effort to further advance their religious devotion,
they would challenge each other during their playtime. By using a special chaplet, that their sister
Marie gave them, they would compete with each other on how many sacrifices each one of them
would make. At times, Céline would concede to Thérèse’s demands, earning for her another
‘pearl in her crown’. It was their “Acts of virtue or practices”, as they called it, a means of enriching
their faith. Both girls were very close competitors in their acts of generosity towards others.
When Céline was old enough to attend Church, she would go with her family and be forced to leave
behind her faithful companion, Thérèse. As Thérèse waited, faithfully for her return, she would always
receive from Céline a small piece of the “blessed bread” from Church. Sometimes, Céline would
return without any bread to give to her, so Thérèse asked Céline one day if she would use some of the
bread they had in the house and use that instead. Céline recited an Ave Maria over it and Thérèse
made a sign of the cross and would then eat it.
The Pavilion, located at the Rue des Lavoirs, was a place of recreation for the Martin family. Louis
would take his two youngest daughters there on several occasions to relax while their mother was
taking care of the lace making business. Céline and Thérèse would walk around the lake and pick
flowers, entertain themselves by playing games and later eat a picnic that was prepared by their
mother or their maid. Céline especially loved to go there; it was a great place for inspiration for her
creative drawings of landscapes and people. She would use every opportunity to ask her father to
take her there. Sometimes, Abbé Lepelletier would join them and give Céline instruction on
perspective in her drawings. This is also where Céline’s father taught her how to fish.
Céline never held the same influence over her sister Thérèse as with Pauline or Marie. It was more
over a companionship that both of them forged together. Though, Céline did influence Thérèse in
other ways by teaching her the great joys of divine love. Through the games they played together,
the many discussions of their devotion to God and their eagerness to make small sacrifices all
encompassed as Thérèse would later say of her childhood, “These sunny years of her childhood.”
It was for Céline a devastating blow and fear of losing her mother when she found out that her
mother had developed breast cancer. Azélie’s final appeal to be healed at Lourdes was taken into
effect. Azélie along with daughters Marie, Pauline, and Léonie went to Lourdes. However, Céline
and Thérèse were too young to go with their mother and older sisters to Lourdes. Both Céline and
Thérèse had to wait for their return. It was not until the train arrived in Alençon that she could see
that her mother’s last plea for a miracle was not fulfilled.
When visiting the Visitation boarding school, Azélie would sometimes take Céline and Thérèse to
visit their aunt. But there came a time when those visits would soon end. Sister Marie Dosithée
was diagnosed with tuberculosis and it became apparent that she was going to die. On February
24, 1877, Céline’s holy aunt, Sister Marie Dosithée, took her last breath. The Martin family
arrived by train to Le Mans to pay their last loving respects. All of the children wore black dresses
out of respect for their aunt’s death. Her funeral was conducted in the Visitation Chapel and her
body was then laid to rest in a nearby cemetery.
While Azélie was in the last months of her life, it was decided that Céline and Thérèse would be
brought to a neighbor’s house during the day. Early in the morning, they would gather their
playthings and follow their neighbor to their house. The family did not want the two younger girls
to witness their mother’s suffering from this dreaded disease. In an attempt to explain her agony
to Céline, Azélie allowed her to see the deep swelling and bruising of this disease which was
located from her shoulder up to her neck. This experience left an indelible imprint on her for the
rest of her life. The fear of losing their mother still preoccupied both of their minds even though
they were not present to witness it. They looked into every opportunity they could find to
comfort their mother’s suffering. They would take home with them some fruit they had saved
and try to give it to their mother. But it was well past the time where their mother was able to
digest any solid food anymore. Their part to try and relieve their mother’s suffering was a valiant
effort but only to be symbolic in nature.
Even though Azélie was in intense pain, her main concern was on her daughters’ education.
Marie and Pauline knowing full well that their mother would not survive to see Céline and Thérèse
finish school. Marie and Pauline lined the room with periwinkle and roses. They placed a rug
beneath the two arm chairs where Louis and Azélie would sit. They devised a ceremony similar
to the one Marie and Pauline had gone through when they finished school. Louis and Azélie both
sat in arm chairs while the procession was commenced for the distribution of prizes. Both Louis
and Azélie handed out the prizes and the wreaths to Céline and Thérèse, both dawned in their
beautiful white dresses. This was the last celebration the family had together before Azélie’s death.
The joy in all of their eyes of this precious day would live on even after Azélie’s death.
On August 28, 1877, after suffering from several episodes of intense pain from her illness, Azélie
ended her fight and her soul ascended to heaven. It was thought best not to wake the girls up
immediately, but to allow them to sleep because of the grueling days that were to follow. In some
respects, it was a relief because of witnessing her ongoing suffering but it was also an unbearable
loss for the entire family. The family had lost its matriarch. That morning, Céline and Thérèse
were escorted in their mother’s room, by one of their sisters, where they were able to say their
goodbyes and kiss their mother on her forehead for the last time.
Immediately after Azélie’s death, there was only a twenty-four hour viewing period. Ceremonies
commence to honor the mother that they so loved were at the Notre Dame d’Alençon (Cathedral
of Our Lady) at 9:00 in the morning on August 29th. There, for the last time, the entire family
were assembled together to hear Mass. They escorted Azélie’s body to the Notre Dame cemetery
and witnessed her burial. After the procession to the cemetery ended, their maid approached
them and expressed her grief for the children’s loss of their mother. Céline responded by throwing
herself into the arms of Marie and said: “It is you who will be my mama for us now.” The family
remained in seclusion for days after their mother’s funeral. They only ventured out when they
went to visit their mother’s grave. Years later, Céline would reflect on the memory of her mother:
“I have myself often regretted that I had not been able to appreciate my mother for a longer time,
but she was spoken of so often among us that she continued to live, as it were, in our midst. We
felt that she was watching over us, and had not left us.” (ML)
In the weeks after Azélie’s death, it was suggested that Marie and Pauline would enter into society
and have Léonie, Céline and Thérèse placed in a boarding school. But that was not going to be the
case. Prior to her death, it was Azélie’s desire have her family move to Lisieux and be closer to
Isidore and Céline Guérin so that they could keep an eye on them. Louis hesitated on this venture
for fear of leaving their friends and the familiar surroundings they were accustomed to. With much
debate between Louis, Marie and Pauline, it was decided that they would move to Lisieux.
On the eve of their departure, the family went for one last time to the cemetery where they buried
their mother. It was bittersweet in part due to leaving their mother’s remains behind and starting a
new life without her. They left Alençon on November 14, 1877.
On the 15th of November, they had their first glance at the house they were going to call home.
The girls inspected the property and planned out where everything was going to be placed. The
house would soon be called “Les Buissonnets” which was located on a hillside on the outer edge of
the city’s center. The property had a large backyard with plenty of room for trees and for Céline
and Thérèse to play in. But unfortunately, the home lacked basic modern amenities such as indoor
plumbing and electricity. The entrance from the street left something to be desired.
It was decided that Céline and Thérèse would share a room together on the first floor at the back
of the house overlooking the garden. Years later, Céline and Thérèse would occupy Marie’s
old room after she left for the Carmelite monastery.
The roles between Céline and Thérèse had reversed itself after their mother’s death. Thérèse
became the timid one and Céline became the mischievous one. Thérèse took the lead role in
becoming Céline’s moral compass, keeping her on par with doing the right thing. Thérèse became
Once again, it was time for Céline to go to school. She entered the Benedictine Abbey of Notre
Dame du Pré boarding school with her sister Léonie in 1878. Léonie stayed at the boarding school
entirely where Céline only became a day-boarder. Céline would meet the Guérin’s maid, Marcelline,
at the pharmacy at eight o’clock every morning and would be escorted to school along with her
cousins. They would wait at the school to be retrieved by the maid around six o’clock in the
evening. Sometimes, Céline’s father would escort them. Céline was placed in classes with students
who were much older than she was. Despite the age difference, she became an excellent student in
comparison to her older peers. For every obstacle she faced in her studies, she would thoroughly
exam all aspects of the problem to completely understand it. She secluded herself in her room
when she studied her lessons, missing out on a lot of family adventures. One of Céline’s subjects
that she soared in was arithmetic, to which she was beheld honors of several prizes.
During this time, there was no such thing as a free education from a public school system. If a
child was to go to school, the family would have to pay for their education. With this thought in
mind, it was frowned upon any of the children to miss a day of school. Céline, who was
susceptible to enduring headaches and toothaches, had to endure these discomforts and still
attend. It was a trial for herself but she endured such displeasures triumphantly.
When Céline was not working on her studies and going to school, she would play games with her
sisters such as draughts. It was especially entertaining for each of them to have that family
interaction together. Both Céline and Thérèse loved to challenge each other when they played their
games together. It was a way for them to perfect their skills. After all the challenging games were
played and the night grew near, Marie and Pauline would take out the book “Liturgical Year” by
Dom Guéranger and read it to Léonie, Céline and Thérèse. Once in a while, Céline and Thérèse
would sit on their father’s lap and he would entertain them with a lullaby. As Céline retired to her
room, she would say her nighttime prayers.
On Sundays, the family would attend High Mass. First, gracing themselves in one of the side
chapels dedicated to Our Lady for prayer and then returning to the main sanctuary to hear the
word of God from the presiding priest. The priests were looked upon almost like Gods, they
respected them reverently. On weekdays, they would attend the six o’clock morning Mass
commonly known as the Mass for the poor but later changed it to the seven o’clock Mass due
to the high demands of school and work. No matter what the weather was, the family was
dedicated to attending Mass. On certain Sundays, late in the afternoon, the family would retreat
to the Guérin’s home to visit their cousins and eat dinner together. It was a time of light hearted
conversations as well as serious discussions on events happening around them.
Written by: R. Hann
Piat, Stéphanie Fr. The Story Of A Family: The Home of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. (SF)
Trans: Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey. Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1948.
Martin, Celine. The Mother of the Little Flower Trans: Fr. Michael Collins, S.M.A. (ML)
Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. 1957
Martin, Celine. The Father of the Little Flower Trans: Fr. Michael Collins, S.M.A. (FL)
Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. 1955
Scallan, Dorthy. The Whole World Will Love Me, The Life of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (WW)
Edited by Fr. Emeric B. Scallan, S.T.B. Rockford, Ill. Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. 1954
---. CÉLINE: Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face. Trans: The Carmelite Sisters of the Eucharist of Colchester, Conn. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997. (C)
|Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face
Marie Celine Martin
"Beloved Holy Face "
|Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face
|"Beloved Holy Face"
|© Carmel of Lisieux and Office Central de Lisieux
|"Only spiritual childhood...can give us true peace of heart" - Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face
|Eric Gaba (Wikimedia Commons user: Sting)
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