Lessons from Zelie


“Fall maple” by openopin (2014) via Morguefile.

October’s going to be a big month for the Martin family. St. Therese’s feast day on October 1st will kick off the month in which her parents will be the first married couple to be canonized together on October 18th. Blesseds Louis and Zelie will also be the patrons of the Synod on the Family, also occurring in October. Now that’s something for the Martin Christmas newsletter!

Holy Mother Church is drawing our attention to this extraordinary family because they embody the virtues that are so dearly needed in our own families today. Happily, the Martins left behind a treasure trove of correspondence with each other and biographies written by family members so that we have a clear idea of what family life was like for them and so many stories to learn from. Blessed Zelie in particular has left us over 200 letters to family and friends that are full of examples of her faith and virtue.

In The Mother of the Little Flower written by Celine Martin, St. Therese’s sister, we’re given several excerpts from these letters that give us a look into this beautiful soul who was the heart of a family of saints. No stranger to suffering, struggle, and loss, this mother of nine who lost four children in infancy is now our dear friend in heaven who understands the heartache and joys of motherhood and is intensely eager to help us in our own journey in helping our families to heaven.

If we were to sit down with her over a cup of coffee (maybe a café au lait for her), and pour our hearts out to her, perhaps she’d offer some of the following advice:

Be strong! Zelie was known often to say, “The good God who is a Father never sends His children more than they can bear.” When irritations and bumps in the road come, we should do our best to persevere with calm. On February 14th, 1868 she wrote to her brother:

You must be courageous and not worry so much. I used to be like you when I started my lace enterprise, to the point of being actually ill about it. Now, I am more sensible. I am much less apprehensive, and am resigned to whatever annoying things happen, or may happen. I repeat that the good Lord permits it all that way, and I don’t worry any further (p. 29)

Trust in God: What I love about the Martins is that some of their girls were really difficult (ahem, Therese…) and yet they persevered in working to raise them to become saints. When we feel particularly upset about one of our children, we should remember Zelie’s letter to her mother-in-law about her dauther Leonie, who struggled emotionally and intellectually at home and at school (whose own cause for canonization, it should be noted, is beginning!):

I no longer depend on anything but a miracle to change her nature. It is true that I do not deserve a miracle, and yet I hope against all hope. The more complicated she seems to me, the more I am persuaded that the goodness of God will not permit her to remain that way (15).

Don’t Be Discouraged: Zelie was humble, often talking of her imperfections. One time she wrote, “I often say during the day: ‘My God, how I wish I were a saint!’ But then I do not accomplish the works of a saint.” But she never gave up. One All Saint’s Day she wrote to her daughters:

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.’ (37).

God’s given us a treasure in Zelie. This October is the perfect time to get to know her better, a mom who struggled to love God and her family and who can help us do the same.


Copyright 2015 Meg Matenaer.
“Fall maple” by openopin (2014) via Morguefile.


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    • Oh, thank you, Lisa! That made my morning! I really like Blessed Zelie for that reason–she was a mom and so easy to connect with. She had to live her faith in the nitty gritty of family life; her faith had to be very practical. I get the feeling she won’t shy away from our messy prayers and will know just what to do, like any good mom 🙂 Thank you, Lisa!

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