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 theblessing of
receiving another child, on September 20, 1866, with the birth of
their first son, Joseph Louis Martin. It was with great sadness the Carmel de Lisieux
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 Heaven.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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 her strength.
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)
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|Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face
Marie Celine Martin
"Beloved Holy Face "
|"Only spiritual childhood...can give us true peace of heart" - Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face
|April 28, 1869 -February 25, 1959
|Céline: Sister Genevieve of the
Holy Face, sister and witness
of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
By: Stephane-Joseph Piat
Paperback: 201 pages
Publisher: Ignatius Press