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A reliquary containing relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux and her parents, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, is touring Newark as part of the Year of Consecrated Life. The reliquary is the first of its kind to contain the relics of both a saint and her parents.
Commissioned by the Magnificat Foundation, the sculpture was designed to highlight the close connections of the family. The relics were entrusted to the Foundation by Msgr. Bernard Lagoutte, Rector of the Sanctuary of Lisieux, in recognition of Magnificat’s “work of evangelization through the good, the true, and the beautiful.”
The reliquary is the work of French sacred artist Fleur Nabert, and is comprised of three individual chambers bearing the relics. These sit on a bronze pedestal, with Therese’s placed at the center and higher than the other two, which are joined by wedding rings. Saint Therese is represented by a bronze gilded rose, while the chambers bearing the relics of her parents bear lilies inspired by a sketch by Therese.
The regular home of the reliquary is the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Philadelphia, which received it from the Magnificat Foundation on the Magnificat Day held in Philadelphia in November 2013.
The entire unit travels to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ on October 17th, where it will be part of a day of veneration, meditations, talks, and mass for consecrated mean and women religious. That evening it begins its tour of the Archdiocese of Newark at Saint James Parish, Springfield, before traveling to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary on the 18th, Summit; Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish, Linden, on the 19th; Saint Lawrence Church, Weehawken, on the 20th; Saint Joseph Parish, Bogota, on the 21st; Saint Gabriel the Archangel Parish, Saddle River; on the 22nd; Immaculate Conception Parish, Montclair; on the 23rd, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Orange, on the 24th. More information on the tour can be found at the website for the Year of Consecrated Life
“Saint Therese is a beautiful example of a life totally given to the Lord in Consecrated Life,” said Sr. Theresia Maria Holtschlag C.S.J., Delegate for Religious, Archdiocese of Newark. “We hope that the fruits will be many graces for our Archdiocese, a renewal for families who will desire to follow the beautiful example of Saint Therese’s parents.”
The tour of the Martin family relics coincides with the Pilgrimage of Mercy, through which the relics of another young European female, Saint Maria Goretti, are touring the United States from September to November. The remains of little Maria, preserved beneath a wax effigy housed in a glass coffin, are attracting thousands of the faithful everywhere she stops. Some wait hours to be able to kneel at her coffin for 15 seconds, providing ample proof that the cult and veneration of the saints is still a powerful force in Catholicism.
One visitor, Elizabeth M., says she was surprised at what she learned about Goretti’s great gift of mercy, “I knew a little going in, but sitting near her relics and hearing the story, gave me a sense of the power of her mercy. I came away feeling like she had a lot to teach me on that score.”
Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin will be canonized on October 18th to coincide with the synod on the family. This is the first joint canonization of a married couple, and their lives represent the fullness of a married life of faith in the world. They wed in 1858, and nine of their five children entered religious life. The letters of Zelie depict the struggles of a family through the loss of four babies, economic hardship, and the final illness of Zelie at the age of 46. Yet they also tell a story of family life full of laughter, love, and piety in a home where the poor could be fed, and the infirm cared for.
Saint Therese was only four when she lost her mother in 1877, but retained a memory of her as a saintly figure. Her father passed away in 1894 following a series of strokes that caused dementia and led to his confinement in a mental institution.
Therese died a few years later at the age of 24 and is one of the most beloved saints in the Church. Pope Saint Pope John Paul II declared a Doctor of the Church for her “little way,” which emphasized a life of simple piety over great deeds of faith. Last spring, Pope Francis approved the decree of canonization for Louis and Zelie for their “exemplary life of faith, dedication to ideal values united to a constant realism, and persistent attention to the poor.”
Thomas L. McDonald @ThomasLMcDonald is a writer and church historian.