If you had told the young Zélie Guérin Martin that she would someday become a famous lace maker, marry the man of her dreams, and raise five daughters who would become brides of Christ, one of whom would later become a canonized saint and Doctor of the Church, she might have collapsed with joy. And possibly shock. Yet this is the history of the saintly mother of the Martin family, who gave her life for her children even until the very end. She was born in 1831 in France, and was the second of three children. Her parents, while they were strict, raised her and her siblings with a strong faith. They sent Zélie and her sister to the school of The Perpetual Adoration Sisters, where Zélie excelled in her studies and cultivated a deeper religious devotion. Throughout her childhood, Zélie struggled with severe headaches and respiratory problems. She desired to give herself totally to God and enter religious life, but was forced to abandon that dream when she was prevented from entering the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul due to her health issues.
Although she never lost the attraction to religious life, she was inspired with a new maternal mission; to bear many children and nurture them to be saints. If she herself could not be consecrated to God, then she decided she would consecrate all her children to Him. Through Our Lady’s guidance, she decided to become a lace maker, and in perfecting her craft she became one of the best in the business. Her dreams of raising a family became very real when she noticed a man crossing the Bridge of St. Leonard and heard a voice say in the silence of her heart, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.” This was, quite literally, a match made in Heaven. The man was the watchmaker Louis Martin, who, like Zélie, believed his life would be spend serving God in a cloistered monastery. Their connection was immediate, and they were married shortly after their first meeting.
In their first ten months of marriage, they agreed to live a life of sexual abstinence. Little did they know that this experience would give them the capacity to understand the beauty and grandeur of the virginal life, since they would be entrusted with five daughters who would live out a virginal consecration. Under the guidance of a spiritual director, they were encouraged to have children of their own. Zélie and Louis had nine children over the course of thirteen years, though only five daughters would survive childhood. Their rich family environment created a firm foundation for their daughters, Pauline, Marie, Céline, Léonie, and Thérèse, who would all later enter religious life. The Martins were loving but firm in how they raised their children; after all, they were determined to make them into saints.
Zélie lived her maternity with every fiber of her being. “When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat” she once said. “Thenceforward we lived only for them; they made all our happiness and we would never have found it save in them. In fact, nothing any longer cost us anything; the world was no longer a burden to us. As for me, my children were my great compensation, so that I wished to have many in order to bring them up for Heaven.” In 1877, Zélie died of breast cancer, leaving behind her husband and five daughters; her youngest, Thérèse, was only four years old. After her death, Pauline, Marie, Thérèse, and Céline entered Carmel and Léonie became a Visitation Sister. Zélie and Louis were declared Venerable in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, and were later beatified in in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. Their canonization is set for October 15th, 2015. St. Thérèse, “The Little Flower” was canonized in 1925, and her sister Léonie’s cause for beatification was officially opened in July of 2015.