We shall find our little ones again up above.”St. Zelie Martin
Zelie Martin was born in 1831 in France. She was raised with a strong faith and educated by sisters. She excelled in her studies and cultivated a deep faith of her own. Early on, Zelie had a desire for religious life, but she was prevented from entering a religious community due to severe headaches and respiratory problems.
Zélie struggled with accepting this and never lost her attraction to the religious life. She knew that God had a different plan for her life, and through Our Lady’s guidance, she decided to become a lacemaker.
One day while walking, she crossed the Bridge of St Leonard and saw a man. God whispered in the silence of her heart, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.” She was smitten, a match literally made in Heaven.
The man was the watchmaker Louis Martin, who, like Zélie, believed his life would be spent serving God in a cloistered monastery. Their connection was instant.
The Martin’s were civilly married on the evening of July 12th and after walked over to their home parish at midnight to have their union blessed.
On the evening of their wedding, Louis gave Zelie a medallion representing Tobit and Sarah, the biblical couple. Tobit, during the night of his wedding, had prayed: “O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her.” (TB 8:7)
In their first ten months of marriage, they lived a life of abstinence, not consummating their union. Under the guidance of a spiritual director, they were encouraged to have children of their own, and soon they began.
Five of her daughters grew up to become religious sisters, but Zelie and her husband Louis also grieved the loss of four children. Three of their children passed away within their first year on earth, and they lost another at age five. Although losing children to miscarriage or an early death was a common experience in the 1800s, the honor and dignity that the Martins gave their children are inspiring.
The Martins often mentioned their children in Heaven during a conversation with their living daughters. Even though they passed away before she was born, Therese wrote that her older siblings’ intercession was part of her vocation story and her own journey to Heaven. Shortly after Louis and Zelie’s canonization, an icon was commissioned of the first married couple to be named saints together in modern times. The icon depicts all nine of the Martin children, emphasizing the dignity that Louis and Zelie strove to give every one of their children that God had blessed them with.
After Zelie’s sister-in-law also experienced a miscarriage, Zelie reached out to her through a letter. “When I had to close the eyes of my dear children and bury them, I felt deep sorrow, but I was always resigned to it,” she wrote. “I did not regret the pains and the sorrows which I had endured for them. Many persons said to me: ‘It would have been better for you if you had never had them.’ I could not bear that kind of talk. I do not think that the sorrows and the troubles endured could possibly be compared with the eternal happiness of my children with God. Besides, they are not lost to me forever; life is short and filled with crosses, and we shall find them again in Heaven. Above all, it was on the death of my first child that I felt more deeply the happiness of having a child in Heaven, for God showed me in a noticeable way that He accepted my sacrifice. Through the intercession of my little angel, I received a very extraordinary grace.”
In 1877, Zélie died of breast cancer, leaving behind her husband and five daughters.
As a mother of loss, some days are simply hard to see beauty when the pain is overwhelming, but St. Zelie has helped me to see the beauty in having children in heaven. She taught her living children how to pray for the intercession of her siblings, and St. Terese often wrote about how the intercession of her siblings helped her to become a great saint. One day I will be reunited with my sweet little saints Talon, Emma Grace, and Christian Ryan. “I want to become a saint; it will not be easy at all. I have a lot of wood to chop, and it is as hard as stone. I should have started sooner, while it was not so difficult; but in any case ‘better late than never.’”
Feast Day: July 12