Mothers of History – Saint Zelie Guerin, Mother of the Little Flower

Saint Marie-Azélie Guérin MartinZelie Guerin and Louis Martin were united in the Sacrament of Matrimony, July 13, 1858.

Had they but known it then, a saint was to be fashioned in the home circle of the young people. Sixty-nine years later, to the very day, Pope Pius XI extended to the Universal Church the Office and Mass of their daughter – Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower.

Years later, an unknown pilgrim, with more enthusiasm than reverence, scribbled on the tomb of Zelie and Louis these words: ‘Thank you, dear Christian parents, for giving us a saint to look after us.’ This sentiment expresses the attitude of the Christian world towards these parents.

It was primarily a family lesson that Cardinal Mercier would have us learn from the history of the Little Flower. ‘How glad I am,’ he exclaimed, ‘to know that she is the recompense of an exemplary family. We must never weary of repeating that everywhere.’

The home, which produced Saint Therese, enters into her way of glory. So, our emphasis is not so much on the product of the home, as on the home of the product.

Zelie received at birth the heritage of religious tradition and military bravery. Her father, Isidore Guerin, a soldier, witnessed the sacrilegious activities of the French Republican troops. He frequently took his life in his hands to assist the clergy, proscribed by law.

Whilst still in the army, he married, September 5, 1828. Zelie was born in 1831. Zelie’s mother seems to have been very rigorous. ‘My childhood and youth were shrouded in sadness. Good as she was mother did not know how to treat me, so that I suffered deeply.’ Thus wrote Zelie in after life.

A convent school gave Zelie the spirit of faith and the thorough religious instruction she was to use to such effect in presiding over her own home. Although she was attracted to the Religious Life, God guided her to Louis Martin. He, likewise, had aspired after complete detachment from the world. After an engagement of three months, they were married, July 13, 1858.

Then was evidenced their somewhat unusual concept of married life. A year of continence followed, due on Zelie’s part to a modest terror of the things of sense, and on the part of Louis, to the retention of an attraction to the ideal of a dedicated celibacy. However, by further study of the Church’s teaching on marriage and by wise spiritual direction, their concept of marriage widened. Their pious experiment terminated with a longing to give sons and daughters to the Lord.

Two sons were born to them, but died in infancy: Marie Joseph Louis, at five months, and Marie Jean Baptiste, at nine months. Two daughters also died very young. Marie Helene, at four-and-a-half years, and Marie Melanie, at three months. Their five other children, daughters, all entered Religion: the youngest, Marie Therese, becoming the world-famous saint, known as the Little Flower.

Their source of perfection now clear to them, Zelie and Louis began the ascent of the mountain of married holiness, the more eagerly that they were mutual support to each other in their noble ideal – the conviction that God wills parents to co-operate with Himself in bringing new souls into the world.

They were to experience the joyful stage, marked by four cradles, the sorrowful stage, five more cradles, but four little coffins; the Gethsemane of sacrifice of five children to the service of God; and, as part of their reward in heaven, the glorious stage when Therese would carry their names to the very altars of God’s Church.

Three principles governed Zelie’s home: God’s supreme rights; faith in His Providence; a trustful, happy acquiescence to His Will. Zelie’s was a life of generosity with God, and God was generous with His Grace at her death, August 28, 1877.

Therese, whose glory was to constitute Zelie’s most authentic title to nobility, left us this little pen picture of her mother:

I loved my mother’s
gentle smile,
Her pensive gaze would say the while:
Eternity has drawn me from exile,
I go unto the God of Love, above.

– text taken from Mothers of History, by J T Moran, C.SS.R., Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1954>