What’s sainthood got to do with National Marriage Week this Feb. 7-14 and World Marriage Day on Feb. 9?
Married couples should become saints.
The parents of St. Thérèse exemplify this holy calling.
On Oct. 18, 2015, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin were the first married couple canonized together.
In their earthly lives, he was a watchmaker, she a lace-maker. They had nine children.
Another married couple, Blessed Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, became the first married couple to be beatified together on Oct. 21, 2001. At the ceremony St. John Paul II said, “Dear families, today we have distinctive confirmation that the path of holiness lived together as a couple is possible, beautiful, extraordinarily fruitful and fundamental for the good of the family, the Church and society.”
At the time, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said the Quattrocchis “made their family an authentic domestic church.” As did the Martins.
Five of Mr. and Mrs. Martin’s daughters entered religious life, having lived in a domestic church built on the sturdiest foundation of the love for God and each other. Their faith permeated everything in conjugal and family life.
While both first wanted to enter religious life, God had other plans. Three months after they met, they married. They commended their love and lives to God’s protection and determined to serve him first in their middle-class life in 19th-century France. The Martins went to daily Mass and confession regularly, and they practiced the works of mercy and charity, continuously and discreetly, helping needy families and the sick.
When Zélie died from cancer, Louis cared for their five daughters (their other four children died very early in life). After suffering serious illness for five years, he died in 1894.
Father Antonio Sangalli, vice postulator for their cause, said, “Louis and Zelie demonstrated through their lives that conjugal love is an instrument of holiness, a way to holiness consummated by the two persons together.”
Mr. and Mrs. Quattrocchi were married for 50 years and had four children, three of whom entered religious life. He was a lawyer and eventually became attorney general of Italy. She eventually became a professor and tireless volunteer in several organizations. “This couple lived married love and service to life in the light of the Gospel and with great human intensity,” St. John Paul II said. “[T]hey assumed the task of collaborating with God in procreation, dedicating themselves generously to their children, to teach them, guide them and direct them to discovering his plan of love.”
He added, “Drawing on the word of God and the witness of the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life.” The went to daily Mass, were devoted to the Blessed Mother, and prayed the Rosary together every evening.
Their two priest sons concelebrated their parents’ beatification Mass with John Paul II.
Doctor of Faith
Another saint who lived out her calling in married life also provides a model for today’s Catholic couples. Canonized in 2004, St. Gianna Beretta Molla married her husband, Pietro, in 1955. At the time, he wrote, “Her holy virtue, the gentle goodness and affection of Gianna, all her cares, give me the full joy and serenity which I asked of Jesus on my wedding day. With Gianna I am sure of forming a truly Christian family on which she will know how to draw the most beautiful heavenly graces. … We have begun and will continue with perseverance the daily recitation of the Rosary. May our heavenly Mother always watch over us and give us the grace to be cheered by little angels [future children].”
When Pietro had to go on business trips and she wasn’t able to go along, they kept in continuous contact through letters, fanning their ever-growing love for each other. They had four children. A pediatrician, St. Gianna refused an abortion during her fourth pregnancy, which was a difficult one, dying at age 39 in 1962 of septic peritonitis a week after giving birth to healthy daughter Gianna Emanuela. Pietro and their children were present at her canonization.
Enthroned With Holiness
Married royalty, too, have become saints or blesseds. St. Louis IX was one, and, more recently, Emperor Karl of the House of Austria was proclaimed “Blessed” by John Paul II in 2004. He married wife Zita in 1911, took office during World War I, worked incessantly for peace, was exiled to a life of poverty in 1919, suffered serious illness and died in 1922. He and Zita were constantly devoted to each other and had eight children.
He led “a true domestic church” with his wife and family, “shaped by his intimate love for the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” one biography noted.
Hundreds of years earlier, in the 13th century, St. Elizabeth of Hungary was a monarch, a humble and charitable one, who built a hospital and tended to the poor. Although hers was a politically arranged marriage, she and husband Ludwig became devoted to each other. He endorsed her charity and often held her hand as she knelt praying, and he himself became pious and known informally among the people as “St. Ludwig.” She became a widow at age 20, by the time their third child was born.
Old World and New
Throughout the centuries, saints in Europe and America who had been married continue to be great inspirations for today.
Well-known saints like St. Thomas More and St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, were married, but few realize that the man who in 1531 witnessed Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparitions in Mexico, St. Juan Diego, had a wife. Her name was Maria Lucia. These were the Christian names given them when they asked Franciscans to baptize them. They were one of the first Catholic married couples in the New World. Unfortunately, Maria Lucia died before the Guadalupe apparitions.
Married in 1794 and a Protestant at the time, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton became the first canonized native-born American. She and her husband, William, had five children. Elizabeth nursed him during an illness, which required a trip abroad, where he died in 1803. Elizabeth converted to Catholicism in 1805, raised their children, and went on to found schools and the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first community for religious women in the United States.
Strife and Sanctity
Several women saints had very difficult husbands, which made for disruptive marriages, but the wives ended up seeing their husbands brought to the faith. Monica was given in marriage to a violent-tempered pagan named Patritius. Her prayers and almsgiving annoyed him, but he had reverence toward her. In this unhappy marriage Monica was lovingly patient with him and never ceased praying for his conversion — which happened. He was baptized a year before he died. Similarly, St. Elizabeth of Portugal’s extraordinary patience and gentle approach with her morally dissolute husband Denis eventually converted him, and he became a devoted husband and a Christian king.
All in the Family
And, of course, we mustn’t forget Sts. Anne and Joachim, parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, and Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of St. John the Baptist. And the epitome of, and model for, married couples is, above all, Mary and St. Joseph. “The Holy Family is the beginning of countless other holy families,” St. John Paul II made clear in his 1994 “Letter to Families.”
Beatifying the Quattrocchis, John Paul II again reminding married couples they all can become saints amid family life. “[T]oday we have distinctive confirmation that the path of holiness lived together as a couple is possible, beautiful, extraordinarily fruitful and fundamental for the good of the family, the Church and society.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.