Blessed Zélie Martin

Text written by Laurence de Valbray, Alençon


Zélie, a girl from XIXth century, an heiress of her time

Second child of Isidore Guérin and of Louise-Jeanne Macé, Azélie-Marie Guérin (only ever called Zélie) was born on 23rd of December 1831 in Gandelain, a community in Saint Denis sur Sarthon in the Orne region, where her father, a former soldier from the empire period, was engaged as a gendarme.

She was baptized the day after her birth in the church at Saint Denis sur Sarthon. She had a sister, Marie Louise who was two years older. She was to become Sister Marie-Dosithée at the Visitation order in le Mans. A brother, Isidore was born ten years later and was to be the spoilt child of the family.

In a letter addressed to her brother, she herself defined her childhood and her youth as « sad as a shroud, because, if mother spoiled you, with me, you know, she was too severe ; she who was so good did not find a way with me, and so I suffered terrible heart ache. »

This education was to mark her character, her very (too ?) scrupulous manner of living her spirituality.

Zélie, active woman, an entrepreneur, committed to justice…

After her studies in the convent of the Adoration Perpétuelle, Lancrel road, Alençon, she felt a religious calling but, faced with the refusal of the Mother Superior, she took on a professional course and initiated with success the manufacture of the famous Alençon stitch. Toward the end of 1853, she began as a « manufacturer of the Alençon Stitch » at 36 rue Saint Balise and created work from home for many hand-workers. Her workshop was renowned for the quality of her work. The relationship that she had with her personnel whom she said she must love as members of her own family, just like her neighbors and the people she knew, showed us that she was always ready to fight injustice and to support those who were in need. The Bible guided her every move.

Zélie, a loving wife

On the bridge of Saint Léonard in the month of April 1858, Zélie Guérin met a man whose allure impressed her…It was Louis Martin, a clock-maker. Three months later, on 12th July 1858 at 22h00 their civil wedding took place and two hours later at midnight on 13th July, at a private ceremony, they exchanged vows in the church of Notre-Dame. They were married by Fr. Hurel, parish priest at Saint Léonard. The love she shared with her husband can be read in her letters : « Your wife who loves you more than her life », « I embrace you, I love you »…These were not only words : their joy was being together and sharing their daily lives with the Lord looking upon them.

Zélie, a fulfilled and a distressed mother

Between 1860 and 1873, 9 children were born into the Martin home, 4 of whom died at a young age. Zélie felt the joy and the sadness with the births and the deaths : As we read in her correspondence : « I love children so much, I was born to have children… » Then, after the birth of Thérèse, her youngest daughter ; « I have already suffered so much in my life. » Educating her daughters took up all of her heart’s energy. For her children she wanted the best…to become saints ! This did not stop her organizing parties, games…they had fun in this family !

Zélie, ill and still confident

From 1865 on Zélie suffered with a gland on her right breast that degenerated to become cancerous. « If the Lord wants to cure me, I would be very happy, because deep down, I want to live ; it would pain me to leave my husband and my children. But another of part of me says : if I am not cured, it is because I will perhaps be more useful if I go ».

On 28th August 1877 at half past twelve, midnight, Zélie died in the company of her husband and her brother. Let’s leave the last words to Thérèse : « I loved mother’s smile and her deep look seemed to say : »Eternity delights me and attracts me, I am going to the blue sky to see God !"