By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

The beatification of Zelie and Louis Martin has special significance to Philadelphia, because the Archdiocese has a long tradition of devotion to their distinguished daughter, St. Therese of Lisieux.

The late Cardinal Dennis Dougherty (1865-1951) prayed often to her and was a prime supporter for her cause for canonization. While he was Archbishop of Philadelphia, St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish opened, as did Little Flower High School.

Maureen O’Riordan, a member of Old St. Joseph’s Parish and a 1974 Little Flower graduate, developed a lasting devotion to her school’s patron saint during her student years. For the last two decades she has been lecturing about the saint at seminars and retreats and maintains a web site

She was one of two official lay delegates chosen from the U.S. to attend the Oct. 19 beatification ceremony for Zelie and Louis Martin in Lisieux, France.

“When I was a student at Little Flower, our principal spoke of St. Therese. I got her biography, and she seemed to have such faith. I really got interested and I always wanted to learn more,” she said.

O’Riordan believes Zelie and Louis Martin are of special interest because they are the first married couple to have their causes blended into one. “They had nine children and lost four,but they always fixed on God first. Their genius was accepting everything that happened, and accepted God’s providence,” she said.

O’Riordan is especially taken by the sanctity of Zelie Martin as testified to by a family servant, Louise Marais. “The fact that her maid accepted her sanctity is great testimony,” she said.

In an-e-mail from Lisieux, O’Riordan told how moving it was to see Pietro Schiliro, the 6-year-old who was cured of a serious lung disease through the Martins’ intercession, standing by the reliquary containing their remains at the beatification ceremony.

“My heart throbbed,” she wrote, “to see the living child standing beside their bodies and to think that they, who accepted the loss of four of their own children, had obtained from God the inexplicable cure of Pietro, of whom the doctors said there was no hope.”

At the Carmelite monastery on Old York Road, where there is great devotion to St. Therese, the nuns could not watch the ceremony on EWTN because they do not have television. Nevertheless, a nun-spokesperson said, “We thank God for this and bend our knee in thanksgiving. It’s God’s creative originality to make a whole family unit live such a Christian life.” The Martin household, she said, “was a nest of holiness.”

At Little Flower High, named for St. Therese, there will be a tree-planting ceremony in honor of the Martins, because trees are symbolic of families, according to Immaculate Heart Sister Donna Shallo, the school’s president.

Also, she said, “our religion classes will talk about the family. The teachers will speak of their parents as role models of married life.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.