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Lindsey Mitzel recommends Anne Faye's historical novel about St. Zélie Martin, The Lacemaker.

Am I to live my life alone? Is this what God has planned for me? I have had two dreams for my life. One was to be a sister and to tend to the poor and the sick. The other is to raise a family to serve God. So far, both doors have been shut. I know I should trust that God will reveal his path for me in his time, but I do wish he would at least give me some sort of sign that I am moving in the right direction. I feel trapped and am eager for my real life to begin. (8)


In October of 2015, Pope Franics canonized married couple Zélie and Louis Martin. They are the first married couple to share a feast day, which unlike other Saints is not the day Zélie and Louis died, but rather their wedding anniversary, July 12. Zélie and Louis Martin are well known for being parents of the great (little) Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Thérèse is their youngest child. However, within thirteen years, the couple would birth nine children altogether. Of these children, only five would survive infancy and childhood. All of those who survived would go on to become religious sisters. St. Thérèse would later be canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church, one of only four women honored with this title. Another daughter, Leonie, who struggled perhaps the most of all the children, has been declared a Servant of God, and is currently being considered for canonization as well.


The Lacemaker Front Cover low res


In her historical fiction book, The Lacemaker: A Novel of St. Zélie Martin, by Anne Faye, St. Zélie’s story is told in first person through her diary entries. I was pleasantly surprised by how this novel brings to life Zélie in her day-to-day trials, frustrations, pain, and heroic faith. I was struck most by the intense suffering Zélie endured, as well as how relatable her motherhood is. Zélie is most concerned about her children’s salvation. In our world today, where success seems paramount and self-invention is lauded, it is counter-cultural to hold in highest esteem the Kingdom of Heaven. However, in his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us,

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong. (1 Cor. 1:27)


There is a beautiful prayer that Zélie prays after each of her children were born, “Lord, grant me the grace [that this child] may be consecrated to you, and that nothing my tarnish the purity of [their] soul. If [they] would ever be lost, I prefer you to take[them] without delay.” It is a pious prayer, though after the death of several of her children, Zélie clearly struggles with the reality of what she is asking of the Lord.

Perhaps I should stop offering that prayer when my children are born. After the loss of three children, the words get stuck in my throat. I don’t want to bear the pain of losing any more children, yet I must always remember that their eternal salvation is what matters most. (106)


Just weeks after praying this prayer for the eighth time, Zélie would bury another child.

While the novel is written chronologically of course, the diary entries are not written daily and sometimes skip several months. This draws many tragedies that Zélie suffered into seemingly closer succession. Though we know that Zélie suffered greatly both physically and emotionally, due in part to the deaths of both her children and close loved ones, that suffering is more keenly felt through the quick series of sad events. I am in awe of Zélie’s great faith and her continued abandonment to God’s will, despite reoccurring sacrifice, pain and loss. She remains vulnerable instead of closing herself off, though her struggle with this is apparent. She clearly had an incredible grace to keep saying “Yes” to the Lord and not only remain open to life, but to desire more children even despite the risk of loss that came with the acceptance of each pregnancy.

Another aspect of Zélie’s life that shines so beautifully within Ms. Faye’s narrative is her virtuous heart. The novel displays her interior life; routinely examining her conscience, constantly praying in faith, offering sacrifices and sufferings for others’ spiritual benefit and salvation, and many, many works of mercy. Moreover, Zélie experienced and struggled with so much anxiety and physical pain. While the spiritual fruit that she produced is so great, she is also so relatable! She worries about her lace-making business, finances, the health of her children, and her brother and sister-in-law. She is exhausted often from pregnancy and raising little children. Louis often travels for work and her brother and sister, great supports to her, do not live close by. She only hears from them in letters.

Additionally, Zélie suffers regularly from migraines, painful nursing, and an inadequate milk supply, which prior to the invention of formula, required that her children be sent away after birth to be cared for by wet nurses, some of whom cared for the infants questionably and caused them to suffer. Zélie experienced so much of what mothers experience, often in extreme form. She even endured a war and was made to house several soldiers at one time while four of her children were quite small (112).

This beautifully told novel is a book for all mothers who strive to abandon themselves to God and to raise their children to love heaven. Zélie was quite young when she passed away; her youngest child was just four years old. Yet in faith she prayed,

If God thinks that I am still useful on this earth, he will keep me here. I’ve prayed with every fiber of my being that he not take me from this world if my children still need me. I suffer from no illusions, however. God is God and sees and knows what I cannot. I cannot fight what he wills. Although, as much as I try to trust in God and pray to trust, I still struggle with it, even now when I know my time on the earth is most likely drawing to a close. (2)


The Lacemaker was difficult for me to put down — each page was a consolation and encouragement to stay the course and grow in accepting all that Jesus mercifully wills for us. St. Zélie, pray for us!

Copyright 2021 Lindsey Mitzel
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