Saints & Blesseds Vocations That Give Hope VI

Louis Martin (d 1894) and Maria Azelia Guerin (d 1877)[1]

Zelie and Louis Martin were canonized in October 2015. There are three distinctive times in a saint’s life that the Church asks us to consider. The first is the age in which they lived. The second is the time when they are canonized. During the canonization proceedings explicit mention of the reason for the sanctification is highlighted. The third time is in those rare moments when a saint is declared a Doctor for the universal edification of all. Finally, that both Therese and her parents were canonized in modern times notes an urgency and applicability to our times.

            Zelie was born in 1831 to a family of peasant background in the township of Gaudelain near Alencon.  Her military father was overbearing, and her mother was aloof and indifferent to Zelie.[2] From her letters to her brother and sister, one sees Zelie’s temperament marked by both melancholy and liveliness. Like her daughter, she had suffered in childhood with headaches and a sensitive nature. Zelie was given a solid Catholic education, and from that atmosphere of piety, she sought to enter religious life like her older sister. Zelie was categorically refused entrance as a Visitation nun and she did not seek entrance into other orders. Later in her life, she would become a third order Franciscan.

            Accepting this refusal, she turned to the Lord in humble prayer, particularly through the intersession of Our Lady, in regards to two questions. What type of work should she pursue and whom should she marry? From an inner locution, Zelie heard distinctly to make Point d’Alencon lace. This lace is a costly material bought by the upper classes. Zelie was an exceptional businesswoman and managed several employees during a time when women did not excel in such matters easily or often.  This line of work had the distinct advantage of allowing Zelie to be near her anticipated children.

            Whom should she marry, again Zelie humbly waited on the Lord. She refused offers of socially advantageous arrangements preferring to wait on whom the Lord would indicate. The Lord again spoke clearly into her heart to marry Louis Martin. Louis was a successful businessman who made watches. One report is that at the time of their marriage, they each had assets of approximately $50,000 cash (in today’s dollars) and a paid for home.[3] It is worth noting that saints can come from all types of circumstances and means. Some are poor like Catherine of Siena, some are highly educated such as Thomas Aquinas and Francis de Sales, while other saints might be classified as upper middle class.[4] Louis and Zelie Martin fall into this latter category.

            After marrying, Louis and Zelie at first decided to live celibately. But after discussing the matter with their confessor, they humbly listened to his advice and commenced a conjugal marriage with nine children resulting. Only five daughters would live during this epoch of high infant mortality. With each pregnancy, birth, and at times death of a child, Zelie remained rooted in the sure knowledge that God brings good out of all situations for those who love Him. She rose early in the morning and worked late into the night as she had both the cares of a large home and a successful business to manage. She was sparse with herself, but generous with others.

            With the arrival of her children, Zelie’s vocation deepened and her anxiety from childhood waned. She understood her mission was to give her children life and to bring them up to be saints. The religious sense of the home was based on three pillars: love of God above all things, trust in Divine Providence, and resignation to God’s will.[5] The final end, the view to eternity, was always in sight and directed their home. Zelie’s joy formed by this telos was at complete odds to post-Revolutionary France.

            France of this time was greatly de-Christianized and becoming increasingly secularized. It was not uncommon for people with Christian names to discard those for secular or pagan ones. Victor Hugo’s’ father casting aside his Christian name of Joseph in exchange for Brutus is one example. Money and status is what France at this time used to measure success. Zelie finds these views “thrice unhappy”.[6] Zelie saw “happiness does not belong to this earth but to heaven. Heaven is our true home.” [7]

Proximate to Martin family, we can really know them. We have pictures and photographs, know their story St. Therese obedient in writing her history. Know her sisters. Poignant and real. Lost 4 sons in early infancy. Out Lord gives us intimacy to them. Raised to the altar intentionally as a couple. Lived a strong union on earth beautiful assurance puts in hope and confidence grace in this sacrament. Few brides & grooms go in different directions at the end of life. Our happiness does not end in heaven, perpetually amplified by others entering heaven.

[1] Holbock 401

[2] Celine Martin, The Mother of the Little Flower, (Rockford, IL; TAN Books & Publishers, 2005), 1

[3] Christopher Blum History 502 Spring Lecture 2016, Augustine Institute.

[4] Ferdinand Holbock, Married Saints & Blesseds Through the Centuries (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2002), 407

                  [5] Ibid, 407

                  [6] Sr. Joan Gormley, Professor Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, Private Communication 2000

                  [7] Celine Martin, 39

Share Your Thoughts