In the late 1980s, Pat Sweeney and his family travelled to France for their daughter, who wanted to improve her French. They spent three weeks going around the country, including a fateful visit to Lisieux, the home of St Thérèse Martin. From that moment on, Mr Sweeney’s life was to revolve more and more around the Little Flower – now, he is manager of St Thérèse’s National Office in Ireland.
In 2001, Mr Sweeney was the main driver for the visit of St Thérèse’s relics to Ireland, when 3.7 million people witnessed their travel across the country”
“When we got back from Lisieux then to Kildare town – Fr Ryan was the prior in White Abbey in Kildare,” Mr Sweeney tells The Irish Catholic. “He was a great man with great devotion to St Thérèse. It went from there, he knew everyone in Lisieux. Through that then we were visiting people – the Masses, the feast days. That was basically how I got involved.
“It got bigger then. We started to join the pilgrimages, which have been going to France for the last 60 years, with the exception of the last two of course. We had a pilgrimage to Lisieux every year, to where St Therese was born, to the Carmelite convent where she was a nun, entering at 15 and dying at 24. She was a saint, they all were. The father and mother were canonised in 2018.”
Mr Sweeney’s devotion to the Martin family grew quickly. Having been a regimental sergeant in the Irish army, the importance of St Thérèse to soldiers in WWI struck him deeply.
“I was serving as a regimental sergeant major in the army,” he begins. “One of the great things that struck me a couple of times when I went to Lisieux was that Thérèse was very, very popular during the first world war. She used to appear to the soldiers in the trenches. She became known as ‘the Angel of the trenches’.
“Thérèse was buried in the graveyard outside her convent before being exhumed and returned to the Carmelite’s for her beatification. St Pius X beatified her and called her the greatest saint of modern times. It’s unbelievable – I could go on and on. We’ve gone out there on a regular basis, an annual event that we love to take on. It’s a bit like Lourdes. The week prior to October 1, St Thérèse’s feast day, there’s lectures on her life and all that sort of thing – there’s so much stuff on her.”
Mr Sweeney now manages a set of first class relics from the Martin family, which were presented to him by a friend of the family”
In 2001, Mr Sweeney was the main driver for the visit of St Thérèse’s relics to Ireland, when 3.7 million people witnessed their travel across the country.
“I drove the relics around and was in every cathedral in Ireland,” Mr Sweeney explains. “I drove 13,500 miles in 2001 to every Carmelite order, all the diocesan cathedrals, I met all the bishops, the nunciatures, everything. In 2008, we did the same thing because that was the first time we brought the relics of Louis and Zélie (her parents). Their coffin was a replica of what was in Lisieux.
“There were radio stations from all over the place, French Television and what have you. It was an outstanding success. Then in 2008 we brought them back again and in 2018 I brought them back from France again for the Pope’s visit to Dublin.”
Mr Sweeney now manages a set of first class relics from the Martin family, which were presented to him by a friend of the family. As part of his role as manager of the national office, he brings them out to churches and families who request them.
“They are first class relics and I have travelled all up the country with them,” Mr Sweeney says. “I’ve been to the Aran Islands, to the North of Ireland, I’ve been in practically every cathedral in Ireland. There’s a massive, massive interest in them. Our mission is to visit the lonely, the sick and the dying, I’ve constantly phone calls for them. It’s all based around that.
“They’re normally brought in procession. We have a group of people called the Knights of St Thérèse. I look after them and when the relics go out – they’ve been all over Ireland – anywhere they go, they are accompanied by some of the knights in uniform. We have a special uniform.
“That’s basically what we do, we’ll go to schools, we’ll give talks, we’ll give lectures. It’s such an interesting family, they’re no different from anybody else, middle class people. But every evening when they finished their dinner, Louis and Thérèse went to the back gate where they’d have a big pot of food to give to the poor. She was a great character in her own way.”
Mr Sweeney has been blessed to witness the effects of the Martin family’s miraculous intercessions, one of which in particular sticks out in his memory.
“I’ve been at a lot of bedsides of little children who have died – it’s very, very hard. And then we’ve had some marvellous miracles. We had a fella cured by Léonie Martin, through her intercession with God,” he says. “The thing about it is that the doctors trying to write a report on it, they have no explanation. He had a bleed on the brain and he had coronavirus. He also had a thing with the immune system. He was in a very serious condition – he’s at home now and there’s no sign of anything.”
Mr Sweeney finishes by saying he’s looking forward to the end of lockdowns, being able to bring the relics of the Martin’s to people once more.