Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, Pray for Us!

Today is the feast day of the first married couple to be canonized at the same time by the Catholic Church: Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin.

St. Zelie is one of my favorite saints. She was a mother to nine children, four of whom tragically died either in infancy or early childhod. Her words about the loss children echo in my own heart when I think of my own lost little ones:

In a letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zelie remembered: “When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through…People said to me, ‘It would have been better never to have had them.’ I couldn’t stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above.”

She was also a working professional. Before her marriage, she learned the craft of lace-making, and she was so talented in her field that she started her own business. Her business grew to the point that her husband, who had been a watchmaker, elected to leave his own profession in order to join his wife’s! St. Zelie was an amazing example of a working mother:

That same year [1870] Louis sold his business to his nephew so that he could help Zélie with hers. He had already taken over the book-keeping and was now free to travel to obtain orders. Zélie had fifteen women working for her in their own homes and every Thursday they brought her the work they had done and received the cotton and their instructions for the next week. Zélie assembled the pieces that they brought to her. She often worked late into the night as she always gave time to her children when they needed it and she wrote many letters especially to her two eldest daughters when they were in boarding school.

Note that St. Zelie placed her elder daughters in boarding school, and she also gave over care of her youngest daughter to a nurse for the first 18 months of her life:

Due to Therese’s weak and frail condition at birth, she was taken care of by a nurse for her first year and a half. Because of this care, she became a lively, mischievous and self-confident child.

Given that all five of her surviving daughters eventually entered religious life, it doesn’t seem like they were much harmed by having a working mother or going to “daycare”!

Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, pray for us!

Image by Fraychero [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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  • I first heard of these saints only a couple years ago, and I’m really glad I did. Back when I was growing up I had stories of the lives of the saints shoved down my throat … but curiously it was only those saints for whom their virginity was integral to their stories as saints. For most saints I read about that were married, they were those folks that “lived as brother and sister” as they became more holy and saint-like during their lives. For any other saints I read about that were married (St. Thomas More, for example), the mention of their families (i.e. the fact that they had sex at some point) was at most a brief 3 – 5 words among a story of several pages. Even though, presumably, their families were integral to their lives.

    Anyway, the result of all of this was that as a pre-teen, I was left with the impression that saints Do Not Have Sex. So the lives that a great many of us lead of being married and being parents and having regular sex as part of a healthy relationship … there were no models for us. And it took me a bit to wrap my head around how what I was taught influenced my thinking and unpack that into a healthy relationship with sex.

    So yes, I was glad to hear about these two saints.

    But.

    These seem to be the only two married saints with any sort of level of fame whose marriage and family life was integral to their sainthood story. We need many many more.