“I well know why God is permitting this trial. It is in order that we may win Heaven. He knows that our father is all that we love most on earth, but He well knows also that we must suffer in order to merit eternal life; and that is why He is trying us in that which we hold dearest.” —St. Thérèse of Lisieux to her father, November 25, 1888
Louis Martin, the father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, developed a serious mental illness shortly after Thérèse entered the convent. He suffered from a nervous disorder that began with partial paralysis in the body and eventually affected his brain, causing mental lapses and, later, hallucination.
At first he lived quietly at home, but when his mental state grew worse and relatives were afraid he would cause himself some harm, they moved him to a mental institution to be cared for.
As Louis gradually lost his mental and physical capacities, his nobility in suffering earned him great respect.
This illness was painfully humiliating for him, causing his daughters to suffer, as well. St. Thérèse wrote that “even as the agony of Jesus pierced the heart of His holy Mother, so our hearts were deeply wounded by the humiliations and sufferings of him whom we loved best on earth.”
Louis’ daughters had an extra heartache: many people in their town unjustly blamed them, and especially Thérèse (her father’s “little queen”) for causing his mental breakdown; they said it was brought about by his sorrow at the departure of his beloved daughters to Carmel.
Louis Martin remained at the hospital three years, with Céline and Léonie taking rooms nearby and visiting as often as possible. His Carmelite daughters wrote him frequent letters, a great consolation to him. After leaving the hospital, he lived under Céline’s care for two more years. He died peacefully on Sunday, July 29, 1894.
Many of us have born mental illness in our families and can relate to the Martins. We can look to them for an example of strength, but even more we can turn to them for comfort, knowing that our prayers will be heard by understanding hearts.