THE earthly remains of three ordinary family members, better known as St Therese of Lisieux and her parents Sts Zelie and Louis Martin, imparted lessons in holiness and faith during their “visit from Heaven” in Brisbane last week.
The saintly family drew thousands to their pilgrimage of Brisbane archdiocese between February 6 and February 15, part of a four-month tour of Australia.
It was the first time in 18 years that relics of the Little Flower had visited Brisbane and the first time her parents’ relics had been welcomed to Australia.
The pilgrimage schedule in Brisbane, organised with military precision over two weeks, saw the three saints’ relics travel more than 670km across south-east Queensland, the equivalent of nearly nine hours of driving.
No community was more excited to see the family’s relics than the Carmelite Sisters in Ormiston, who share the same brown habit as St Therese and three of her four sisters, all of whom entered the same Lisieux Carmel.
Ormiston’s prioress Sr Moira Kelly said the relics “arrived by stealth” in the afternoon of February 12.
In a rare opportunity, the entire Carmelite community, including its new postulant Sr Ariel Maria Christina, came out from behind their cloistered walls to greet their saintly arrival, and carry the relics of two of them into the chapel.
“We couldn’t carry Therese – she’s too heavy – but we carried Louis and Zelie ourselves,” Sr Kelly said. “It was lovely.
“It’s always kind of very personal when you’re doing that.
“We’ve been reading so much about them, preparing for this, just going over all their writings and their letters.
“They’re very real for us.”
After a private moment with the three saints for two hours, the sisters opened their chapel to a constant stream of venerators over two dreary, but blessed days.
Sr Kelly said St Therese’s visit to Brisbane was a fulfilment of a promise she made to God in her diary entries.
“Spread the Gospel in all five continents at once, until the end of time,” Sr Kelly cited from Story of a Soul, St Therese’s autobiography.
Sr Marie Tania, also a member of the Ormiston community, said St Therese and her parents were “just a family” who “had no idea” of their extraordinary holiness.
“I just can’t think of them as celebrities,” Sr Marie Tania said.
“For me what’s just been really striking, seeing those pictures and just knowing the story, I can relate with them just as a family – I was a little girl growing up with a family and Mum and Dad at one stage,” Sr Marie Tania said.
“But, for me, what that really highlights is that the ordinary family is what has bred these people’s holiness.
“And this is a family and they had no idea either – they didn’t think, ‘One day we’re going to be canonised saints’.
“They just were trying to do their best by God and by each other.”
A visit from Heaven
Carmelite Father Paul Maunder, based at the Mt Carmel Priory in Varroville, NSW, was in Brisbane to welcome the relics at Ormiston.
“We have received a visit from heaven today,” Fr Maunder said.
He said the visit of the saints was “something that God had in mind for us when he became the Incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus Our Lord, born of Mary”.
Fr Maunder recalled a moment he felt “a tiny little bite from this girl” after a recent weekend Mass at Hoxton Park in Sydney.
“She was so small, I couldn’t believe how small she was – she obviously thought I was God, something like that,” he said.
“In her eyes they were just swimming with clarity and love and admiration and it was so touching.
“So just a little lesson – God is so big to some people, so decked out in royal regalia, so untouchable to some people, but not so to these children. These saints are telling us how God wants to be regarded.
“There’s no consciousness of sin or anything that was unacceptable to God in these children, they just cling on to their Father.
“Don’t worry about the sins – we worry enough about them, we regret them, but throw your arms around the Lord no matter what condition you find yourself in.
“Just throw your arms around him in all confidence and trust.
“That is the lesson of these saints.”
Families take inspiration from Little Flower’s mother
Among the Catholics who stopped in to pray with the saints were scores of parents and their young children and babies, including Ipswich mum Miriam Makowiecki and her youngest son Irenaeus.
Mrs Makowiecki was 10 years old when St Therese’s relics first came to Australia 18 years ago.
“My parents were actually both in Carmelite monasteries before they got married so have been very much under the influence of Carmelite spirituality and Carmelite saints in particular,” Mrs Makowiecki said.
“So you’re always going to take up the opportunity to see saints when they come and visit and especially to bring our children to see them.”
Mrs Makowiecki took up two opportunities – one at Annerley and the second at Ormiston, where her mother had once discerned the Carmelites before getting married.
“Bringing my own children has been quite remarkable,” Mrs Makowiecki said.
“We pray for the intercession of St Therese every night in our prayers, so the kids have an idea of who she is.
“She’s special in our family.”
Mrs Makowiecki said many mothers were particularly drawn to St Zelie, a lacemaker who lost four children under the age of five and eventually died of breast cancer, as a role model for motherhood.
“I think a lot of mums have now kind of taken her on as a role model and an inspiration – just being able to embrace the motherly role and the sacrifice it entails,” she said.
“It’s wonderful to have a saint as inspiration.”
Relics offer blessings on the Gold Coast
After a blessed visit at Ormiston, the saints’ relics made their way to Burleigh Heads and Marian Valley.
Fr Jeremy Santoso, one of the Pauline Fathers at Marian Valley, said the saints arrival ended a five-day streak of rainfall.
The pilgrimage site in the Gold Coast hinterland received nearly 400mm of rain in the week, but it was clear skies for the visit of the saints’ relics.
Fr Santoso estimated about 1000 people including members from various ethnic communities venerated the relics of Sts Zelie and Louis and their daughter “the littlest of all saints”.