Yay! Modern Catholicism’s most famous parents of saints will soon themselves be put onto the official list of saints! Here’s the story of the miracle accepted for their canonization, including an English translation.
The Vatican has announced that they will be the first saints canonized together as husband and wife. Um… sorta.
Look, there are tons of husband and wife martyrs and saints. The difference is that post-conciliar saints who received formal modern canonizations were pretty much all canonized as part of large groups of martyrs (“N and companions” is how it usually reads). But we know of a lot of husband and wife saints, starting with the ones mentioned in St. Paul’s letters, like Ss. Aquila and Priscilla and Ss. Philemon and Appia (which tells us the traditional happy ending of Onesimus’ story). There were tons of pre-conciliar husband and wife pairs of martyrs who shared a feastday (for example, Ss. Orentius and Patientia; Ss. Marius and Martha), as well as pairs of non-martyr saints who have their own feastdays all by themselves because they died on different days. (Like St. Paulinus of Nola [Jun. 22] and his wife, St. Therasia [Mar. 5].) If one spouse was martyred and the other just lived a holy life, however, they can also share a feastday if local custom had it that way. (For example, St. Julian the martyr and his wife St. Basilissa; and St. Adrian the martyr and his wife St. Natalia.) Whole families of saints, like St. Basil’s, are also reasonably common.
For those of you playing the home game, the Martins have an unusual story!
Marie-Azelie (“Zelie”) Guerin and Louis Martin were devout single Catholics who weren’t able to pursue religious life, as they each had planned. So they both had their own lucrative businesses (Zelie was a lacemaker, Louis a watchmaker) and did a lot of good works. It used to be thought that they had met through friends’ matchmaking and got together through sheer practicality of it being cheaper to live together. But it turns out that that they actually saw each other first while passing on a bridge, at which time Zelie heard a inner voice (“locution”) from the Virgin Mary* tell her, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.”
They fell in love and decided they could each keep pursuing their religious lives by living together in a marriage without sex. They had a quiet marriage at midnight on July 13th, 1858. (It was at midnight so that they could receive Communion without a long fast. It was on a Tuesday because people used to get married on all sorts of days of the week. There’s a romance anthology called “Married at Midnight,” but it’s not for any cool reason like Communion.) Here’s Louis’ wedding present to Zelie. It’s a picture of Tobias meeting Sarah (and Tobias’ dog).
When they got married, Zelie was considered middle aged at the time (Zelie was already 27), so nobody would be surprised that they didn’t have kids. A friend with financial problems and too many kids asked them to foster his youngest son, a five year old, and they were happy to do it.
But then, they both got strong messages from God (after strong advice from a priest friend) that, while their previous practice had been okay, God now wanted them to consummate the marriage and had kids. Obviously this was ridiculous as Zelie was getting on, but they decided to try. At which point they had seven daughters and two sons, including the future St. Therese of Lisieux. (Two of the little girls and both of the boys died young from enteritis.) They delighted in their kids, and also continued to do good works along with their kids. Zelie’s business was going so good that she brought Louis into her business to work for her as a manager, and he sold his watchmaking business to a nephew.
They had a lot of fun and love as a family. I can’t emphasize this enough. The Martins were very serious and religious, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play games, tell stories, paint and draw, and do all sorts of fun things. People remembered them all as lively and loving (even the bratty ones, like St. Therese and the Servant of God Leonie).
Then Zelie’s eyes started to give out, which she knew would soon be the end of her lacemaking career. Then she got sick with breast cancer and ended up dying while many of the kids were still young. Louis was heartbroken, but he worked hard to both support the kids and be an extremely loving father to his girls, trying to be both father and mother to them. St. Therese’s writings are full of her loving relationship with her dad, and the thoughtful things he did to help her grow and to learn discipline of her strong feelings and strong will. Louis was also fully supportive of all his girls’ intellectual development, just as he had been proud of his smart and enterprising wife.
As Louis grew older, all his daughters ended up moving away from home and joining convents. He felt that God was calling him to start suffering more seriously, and so he started offering up everything to the Lord for his girls’ success in the convent. As you would expect from someone called to this, his health began to go, and finally he started to suffer from Alzheimers’ of some kind. He continued to be an example of faith until his death, and his wisdom continued to guide his daughters’ lives.
People were tough back in the day. We need to learn to be as resolute as the Martins.
Lots of biographical info links here, including some videos!
UPDATE: I corrected some factual errors in the original post, which I did a little too much from (faulty) memory.
* Zelie had previously received another locution from the Virgin Mary. After being refused entrance to the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul because of her health, she had prayed a novena for direction on what to do with her life to Our Lady. The nine days of the novena ended on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8, 1851. That day, as she knelt in church, she clearly heard, “Have point d’Alencon [lace] made.” She had previously considered becoming a lacemaker, but took this as a sign that she should become an assembler for other women’s lace; and that’s why she started her own lace business.
It’s also interesting to note that Zelie’s first sight of Louis Martin, and her second message received from Mary, happened during that same spring of 1858 when Our Lady started appearing to St. Bernadette Soubirous down south in Lourdes. Our Lady was working overtime for the Lord!