Zélie is a significant name in my life. Primarily because Zélie is the name we gave to our daughter.
Today is the feast of Blessed Zélie Martin, and her husband Blessed Louis Martin. Together, these holy people were the parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the “little flower”.
Some great facts and stories about Blessed Zélie that struck me:
- Blessed Zélie really wanted to join the Sisters of Charity of Sr Vincent de Paul, but she wasn’t accepted, probably because she had suffered from poor health in her childhood. Zélie had decided that if God did not want her as a religious she would marry and have many children who would all be consecrated to Him. When reading the life of Mme Acarie she remarked, ‘All her daughters Carmelites … How could one have such an honour!’ All of their surviving daughters became nuns – 4 in the Carmelite convent, and 1 a joined the order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
- Zélie met her husband Louis one day crossing a Bridge. Zélie noticed a man passing by and heard an interior voice. It said, ‘This is he whom I have prepared for you.’ On July 13, 1858 Zélie and Louis were married; she was nearly 27. I’m sure many people say, if only it was that easy to meet a spouse!
- They lived a life of chastity for ten months, and then they agreed that they should have children of their own. Once convinced that this was God’s will for them they had nine children in thirteen years. In pregnancy Zélie strove to keep especially close to God, so that she might be a living sanctuary for the child within her. A point that I was struck by when I read it when pregnant our Zélie.
- In April 1865 Zélie noticed a lump in her breast, but dismissed an operation and her illness wasn’t mentioned again for eleven years. By then it was fatal.
- Zélie had four children who died as babies and children. Two sons – Marie Joseph Louis and Marie Joseph John Baptiste and two daughters – Marie Helene who died age five and Marie Melanie Therese. She prayed to her children in heaven, one such day of prayers to her first son led to the miraculous healing of her daughter’s ear infection. The little brothers and sisters who had died were considered very much a part of the family and following Zélie’s own conviction the children were taught to look upon Heaven as their true home.
- Each day Zélie went to the 5.30am Mass with her husband and they both received Holy Communion several times each week, which was unusually frequent at that time.
- Zélie was a working mother. She found her lace-making compatible with motherhood, as it did not take her out of her home. She had about fifteen women working for her and every Thursday they came to bring their work and collect the cotton and their instructions for the next week. Zélie assembled the pieces which they brought to her. She always had time for her children. She worked hard, and had amazing energy and enthusiasm for life.
- Saint Therese was Zélie’s ninth and last child. Perhaps Zélie knew from the beginning that there was something special about this child. She told her sister in law – ‘When I was carrying her I noticed something which never happened with my other children; when I sang she sang with me.’
- Zélie would never tolerate bad behaviour in her children; she won their confidence through love and encouraged generosity but she never hesitated to check careless speech, fussy eating or pride of any kind. She taught them to pray and encourage them to make sacrifices for others, to give way to one another’s wishes and to “win pearls for their crowns”.
- In October 1876 the swelling in Zélie’s breast increased and she consulted a doctor. ‘A fibrous tumour’ he said and advised an operation. ‘And what chance of success, 1%?’ asked Zélie. The doctor shrugged and began to write a prescription. Zélie smiled and said, ‘What would be the use of remedies?’ ‘None,’ replied the doctor, ‘it is in order to please the sick people, that is all’. Zélie left him without anything. She knew there was no hope from medicine.
- At night she was in a lot of pain, with numbness all over one side: she could not lie on it and sleep was difficult. Zélie wrote: ‘I have little reason to rejoice at time moving forward, but I am like the children who do not worry about the morrow; I always hope for happiness!’ Her faith remained unshaken – God could do with her whatever he willed.
- At the end of June the tumour got much worse, causing intestinal trouble and fever. She continued to go to the early Mass even though it took her all her time to restrain herself from crying out with pain. Zélie knew that death was inevitable and resigned herself to making the best of the time left to her.
- On Tuesday August 28 at 12.30 a.m. Zélie died, her husband and her brother beside her. The three older girls were there, but they did not wake up the two younger ones. The following day Zélie was buried with the four little ones.
- In 1957 the Cause for Zélie’s Beatification was introduced together with that of her husband. In them and especially in Thérèse her wishes were fulfilled, for she had once written to Pauline that she would ask Our Lady to make her daughters saints …
- On 26th March 1994 Zélie and Louis were declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II. They were beatified in Lisieux and declared Blessed on 19th October 2008.
Our daughter Zélie was named for Blessed Zélie for a few reasons. Initially, we just loved the name. But then we noticed a few coincidences with the pregnancy and Blessed Zélie, which cemented us wanting to call her such an unusual name (I think she is the only one in New Zealand). Our Zélie’s expected due date was at the same time as Blessed Zélie’s birthday – the 23rd of December, although our Zélie didn’t arrive until New Year’s Eve and a friend sent us a postcard from where Zélie and Louis are buried in Lisieux during the pregnancy. Many of the names in her family seem to coincide in many ways with our own little family.
I loved some of the stories about Zélie’s motherhood and find her a very relatable saint. She lived the life of a working mother, devoted to all of her children, and remaining strong through many hardships. I feel inspired by her, particularly in her idea of remaining a sanctuary for an unborn child, and in her vocation as a wife an mother.
For more information and some great stories about Blessed Zélie and Louis Martin check out this link.
So anyway, today we will be celebrating our Zélie’s name day by having an afternoon tea.