Celebrating Zélie

St. Zélie Martin. By unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hello! Many of you may be wondering why things have been so quiet on the Sacred Art Scene front. While I fully intended to keep up with content, life happened. And by that, I mean the birth of my beautiful daughter, Zélie (pronounced the French way: Zaylee). Between shopping for baby gear (how can someone so small need so much?!), organizing a nursery, dealing with pregnancy woes, and now caring for our newborn (hello sleep deprivation!), the hours just weren’t adding up.

I can now happily say the postpartum fog is waning and I have mustered up enough energy to write this while Zélie sleeps on my chest (does it get any better than this?!). Fittingly, this post will be about her namesake, St. Zélie Martin, and associated sacred art.

Let’s begin with what’s in a name. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2156 The sacrament of Baptism is conferred “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”85 In Baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The “baptismal name” can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue. “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment.”86   85 Mt 28:19 / 86 CIC, Can. 855

When choosing our daughter’s name, my husband and I felt it important to name her after a saint. A saint is anyone who is in heaven. Just like we ask our family and friends to pray for us, we can also ask those in heaven to pray for us. In choosing a saint, her name would forever have deep meaning and a connection to her faith.

In a 2011 article on CatholicCulture.org (originally from The Anchor, Diocese of Fall River), Father Roger J. Landry describes the importance of choosing a Christian name:

“The name is a holy icon of the person. In our age of titular iconoclasm, Pope Benedict is calling Christian parents back to connect the names of their children with the name of God and the names of those who have lived – and continue to live forever – in that holy name, entrusting their children to their namesakes’ holy patronage so that one day the Good Shepherd will call their children by name to his eternal right side.”

When we pick a saint’s name, we also have an image associated with it. Just as children named after relatives will grow up hearing stories and seeing pictures of them, we can do the same with saints. In a sense, they become a part of our families—we can celebrate their birthdays and feast days, frame pictures of them on our walls and tell stories about their virtuous lives. Children named after saints will share in these special moments and have a role model throughout life.

I set out to find some artwork to adorn Zélie’s nursery and our family altar (more on that in a future post). I was able to find two great pieces. The first is a plaque of St. Zélie along with a prayer card from Portraits of Saints. Their shop is full of artwork of Jesus, Mary and the saints, with quite an extensive selection. The second piece I found was a print by Paolo Orlando of St. Zélie and her family from Trinity Stores. Both of these look so nice in her nursery and also work well for other occasions. One such occasion was on July 12, the feast day of St. Zélie and her husband, St. Louis. To celebrate, we brought out this artwork, lit a candle, enjoyed French pastries (courtesy of my husband!), read about the lives of Saints Zélie and Louis and said some prayers. It was a wonderful tradition to start with our daughter and having the artwork on the table really enhanced the experience.

A little bit about St. Zélie Martin

She was a devout Catholic, French laywoman from the 19th century. Many will know her as the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux who wrote the popular autobiography—Story of a Soul. Here are just a few of the reasons we felt so drawn to her:

  • Zélie is the mother of five nuns! Talk about raising a holy family. When all of your children join a convent, you must be doing something right!
  • Zélie and her husband, Louis, were the first married couple to be canonized together as saints. This is certainly an inspiration for married couples.
  • Her daughter, St. Thérèse was my confirmation saint when I converted to Catholicism in 2016. Keeping it in the family!
  • She loved her children deeply. She was always praying to God to protect them and keep them healthy. I trust she will fervently pray for my sweet Zélie as well.
  • She started her own Alençon lace business and worked hard to juggle her role as mother, wife and entrepreneur. Definitely a role model for working mommas!

If you are interested in learning more about her life, I highly recommend reading a collection of her letters.

Saints Zélie and Louis, pray for us!

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