Zélie, a daughter of the 19C, a product of her age
Second child of Isidore Guérin and Louise-Jeanne Macé, Azélie-Marie Guérin (she was only ever called Zélie) was born on 23 December 1831 in a house in
Gandelain, subsequently part of the commune of Saint Denis-sur-Sarthon in the Orne, where her father, formerly a soldier under the Empire, was employed as a policeman.
She was baptised the day after her birth in the church of Saint Denis-sur-Sarthon. Her sister, Marie Louise, who was two years older, became Sister Marie-Dosithée at the Visitation convent in Le Mans. Her brother, Isidore, was born ten years later, the darling of the family.
In a letter to her brother she described her early years as: ”sad as a shroud, for if my mother spoilt you, you know that she was too strict with me; she was a good woman, but did not know how to handle me and I was very unhappy”.
This upbringing marked her character, her very (overly?) scrupulous way of life and her spirituality.
Zélie, an active woman, a business woman, committed to justice for all
After her education at the convent of the Perpetual Adoration in the rue de Lancrel in Alençon, she felt called to the religious life, but was rejected by the mother superior of the sisters of charity of the Hotel-Dieu. She trained professionally to become a successful lace-maker producing the famous Point d’Alençon. Towards the end of 1853 she set up as a ‘maker of Point d’Alençon lace’ at 36 rue Saint Blaise, employing outworkers.
Her workshop became renowned for the quality of her work. She won a silver medal at the 1858 exhibition in Alençon. Her relationship with her workers, whom she said one should love as if members of one’s own family, as well as with her neighbours and friends, shows her always ready to fight injustice and help those in need. The Gospel was at the heart of all she did.
Zélie, the loving wife
In April 1858 when Zélie Guérin was crossing the Saint Léonard bridge she met a young man whose appearance made an impact on her…. It was Louis Martin, a watch-maker. Three months later their civil marriage took place on July 12th 1858 at 10pm, and two hours later, at midnight, they exchanged their vows in a private ceremony in the church of Notre-Dame before Abbé Hurel, dean of the church of Saint Léonard.
Her love for her husband is expressed in her letters:”Your wife who loves you more than her life”, “I kiss you as I love you”… These are not just words: their joy was to be together and to share their daily life in the sight of God.
Zélie, the mother - fulfilled and suffering
Between 1860 and 1873 nine children were born to the Martin household, of whom four died early.
Zélie experienced both joy and heartache with these births and deaths. Her correspondence tells us:” I love the children so much, I was born to have children…”
Then, after the birth of her last daughter, Thérèse:”I have suffered much in my life”. She put her heart into raising her daughters. Trust was the backbone of this upbringing. She wanted the best for her children…. to become saints! That did not stop her organising parties, games….the family knew how to have fun!
Zélie, ill, always trusting
From 1865 a swelling in her right breast which degenerated into cancer caused Zélie much suffering. “If the Good Lord cures me, I shall be happy, for I do want to live; leaving my husband and children would cost me dearly. But on the other hand I tell myself: if I don’t recover, perhaps it would be better for them if I went.”
On August 28th 1877 at half-past midnight, Zélie died with her husband and brother beside her.
Let Thérèse have the last word:
“I loved Maman’s smile; her steady look seemed to say:” The idea of eternity delights and draws me, I will be going up to the blue sky to see God!”
Holiness means giving ourselves in sacrifice every day. And so married life is a tremendous path to sanctity!— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) 9 Mai 2014