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Jerry Costello

A Married Couple Makes Saintly History
July 5, 2015

Improbable as it may seem, the Church will finally get around—for the very first time—to declaring that a married couple are saints (with a capital S, that is). True, they are hardly an ordinary couple; their daughter, St. Therese of Liseux, is one of the Church’s best known saints. But in October of this year, in conjunction with the Synod of Bishops on the family, Louis Martin and his wife, Marie-Azelie (Zelie), are scheduled to be added to the ranks of those named saints—the first husband and wife to be canonized together in Church history. 

                What was it that made the Martins such special people, that set them apart from the rest of us? After all, they seemed to have lived such routine lives. J.J. Ziegler, writing in Our Sunday Visitor, paints a portrait of a fairly successful couple who plied their trades from their home. Louis, who was a skilled watchmaker, and Zelie, a talented maker of fine lace (she lived all her life in the Alencon area of France, known for its lace), lived above a storefront they worked at together.

                But there were a few special events in their lives that, in retrospect, make them stand out—such as the first time they saw each other. One day in 1858 they were walking across a bridge in Alencon, passing by each other. Louis was 34; Zelie was 26. And at that moment, Zelie heard a voice inside her. “This is the man,” it said, “that I have prepared for you.”

                Both of them, growing up in France at a time of spiritual rebirth, had tried to enroll in religious communities, and both, somewhat mysteriously, were rejected. At 22, Louis sought admission to the Augustinians, but was turned down because he didn’t know Latin. For the better part of a year he took lessons in that language from a priest, but finally abandoned the effort and went off to learn the watchmaker’s trade. Zelie too was interested in religious life; at 19 she tried to enter the Daughters of Charity. But her attempt, like that of her future husband, would end in refusal, for reasons not entirely clear.

                They married (only three months after that incident on the bridge, when Zelie had heard that “voice” from inside her) and began life as husband and wife. Their home was a center of prayer, devotion and affection. Each morning they attended Mass, and generally lived in an atmosphere of love and generosity. In time Zelie would give birth to nine children—including, of course, the future St. Therese. Some 244 letters, published in a book titled “A Call to a Deeper Love,” reflect their devotion to each other.

                And then there were the miracles on their road to sainthood—the healing of an Italian infant for their beatification, the healing of a Spanish girl (who had been expected to die) that paved the way to their canonization. “The doctors were totally amazed,” said the priest who was postulator of their cause. Some years later, he continued, “she is completely healthy, like all girls of her age.”

                Now, as one headline writer had it, “history awaits” the canonization of the Martins. It will be good to have a married couple added to the ranks of saints, to be admired, to be cherished—and, yes, to pray to as well.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, SECRETS OF A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org