Married Saints Model Hope for Today’s Families
July 26’s feast-day couple and others attest to God’s plan for love.
Nearly three decades ago, one new parish priest, Father Michael Van Sloun of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was celebrating up to 40 weddings a year. Over the last decade, that has dwindled to 10.
But there’s good news, Father Van Sloun told the Register, since most couples marrying in the Church these days — rather than opting for an outdoor venue ceremony or acquiescing from other pressures — are intentionally choosing to do so.
“For most, the wedding liturgy and God sealing their vows was the highlight of the day, and for a priest, you couldn’t have more joy than watching that faith and commitment. They’re witnessing to their families, and it’s terrific,” he said, calling the quality of these unions “outstanding.”
It’s more important than ever, he said, to have models of holiness of the Christian life for marriage and family.
We can find them in Scripture and Tradition, and in the lives of canonized married saints, including the following four holy couples, who witness brilliantly to the importance and sacredness of the marital bond.
Sts. Anne and Joachim: The Value of Grandparents
For 12 years, Father Paul Duchschere celebrated Mass on an altar containing relics of Jesus’ grandparents, Sts. Anne and Joachim — whose feast day is July 26 — at Sts. Anne and Joachim Church in Fargo, North Dakota.
The parish’s patron saints have prompted much reflection on what they can teach us. “We know the bare minimum,” Father Duchschere said, noting that our knowledge of the holy couple comes from Tradition, “but what I took from them was more from their example, and that can apply to everyone.”
The couple shows us God has a plan for each of us, even in advanced years, Father Duchschere said. They were likely older when Mary came along. “Some of the best things you can do [for God] are in old age.”
We can also deduce that they trusted deeply in Providence. “We know theologically if Mary hadn’t said ‘Yes,’ the Savior wouldn’t have come into being,” he said, “but the only reason Mary is there is because Anne and Joachim had relations and were her parents. Their role is crucial,” Father Duchschere added. “You could even say that St. Anne was the bearer of the Immaculate Conception.”
Though Anne gets most of the attention, he said, Joachim “is a neat example of a real father to the greatest creature God ever created.”
Finally, the couple reminds us how vital grandparents are in their grandchildren’s lives. “It’s funny how grandkids love their grandma and grandpa. They see the faith [lived out] in them,” he said, calling it “a nice, easy relationship” that can add a richness to family life.
“They also carry a cross,” when their grandkids are not taught or leave the faith, he said. But Sts. Anne and Joachim can encourage them. “There’s a humanity there,” reminding the faithful that it was “all through family” that Jesus came to us.
Sts. Mary and Joseph: A Holy Fruitfulness Like No Other
For married couples looking for a fitting model in Scripture, Father Van Sloun said, “I think Mary and Joseph are the first place you look,” calling them “the Holy Couple.”
In his article “Mary and Joseph: The Model Married Couple,” Father Van Sloun noted that before they lived together (Matthew 1:18), Mary and Joseph were betrothed — a Jewish custom that required living apart and abstaining from sexual relations for about a year, but with the couple still dedicated, in a binding way, to one another.
This moral standard should apply to couples wanting to marry today, he said, noting that decisions about living arrangements before marriage shouldn’t be dictated by apartment leases, home purchases or insurance coverage, but “by the conscious decision to reserve oneself totally for one’s spouse and to share the intimacy of marriage only after their commitment to love each other for life has been sealed” in a sacramental bond.
The witness of Mary and Joseph can apply also to parents preparing children for baptism, he said. “You’re going to raise this child. Who will you look to for an example — a couple who just goes to church occasionally? No!” he said, noting that Mary and Joseph frequented the synagogue but also taught the young Jesus at home.
“The home is the fundamental unit of the Church, so I want them to make sure they’re the leaders of the house church and take that very seriously,” he said. “The Church is very strong about the parents being the primary educators, and it’s there to support moms and dads in that task.”
Mary and Jesus also were fortified in their relationship with each other and God through prayer. “Many couples don’t pray together. They just don’t know how. They’re embarrassed,” he said. “I can’t imagine Joseph and Mary didn’t pray together.”
Father Van Sloun said couples are eager for good instruction and models. “They are looking for meaning in their life,” he said, and highlighting holy couples, along with catechesis, is vital and “at the heart of being Catholic.”
Sts. Louis and Zélie: Raising a Family Amid the Busy
Adam Dupré, faith formation director at Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin parish in Somerville, Massachusetts, gladly marked the July 12 feast day of his parish’s patron saints.
“We merged in 2019 from three parishes to one, and at that time, took on the new patrons of Louis and Zélie Martin,” he told the Register, noting that, like Louis, he once considered religious life before marrying and starting a family.
“Given everything going on in the world today, the family has to be refocused as the center of society and how we interact with the world,” Dupré said, noting the Martins’ worthy example.
Throughout many hardships, “They had their eyes focused on the hopeful, eternal reward of being in heaven,” he said, adding that he finds their “perseverance and fidelity despite those struggles” inspiring.
Ashley Njaa, a catechesis and youth discipleship coordinator at Holy Spirit Church in Fargo, was given a copy of their daughter St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul years ago by her grandparents. Initially unimpressed, she later began reading Thérèse’s letters and was newly moved. “I felt like I was a part of their family.”
Eventually, she went on pilgrimage to France and was delighted to pray, though only momentarily, at the holy couple’s tomb.
Njaa finds the complementary nature of their marriage striking. “He gave up his watchmaking business because her [lacemaking] was thriving,” she said, explaining how Louis went about managing the operation “so she could focus on her art.”
Like many families today, she said, the Martins led a very busy life, but “structured their days around the pillars of things important, whether daily Mass, prayers at church or time as a family.”
As cancer began overtaking Zélie’s body, Louis became an even more devoted husband and father to his five living daughters.
“Louis was an exceptional example of masculine strength in caring for his wife in her suffering,” Njaa said. On restless nights when she was in much pain and couldn’t sleep, “he would hold her like a small child. She would weep, and he would weep. I just love them a lot.”
St. Thérèse once said of her holy parents: “God gave me a father and mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”
St. Gianna and Pietro Molla: Joy-Filled Sacrifice
In the introduction of The Journey of Our Love, the book containing love letters between St. Gianna Beretta Molla and her holy husband, Pietro, editor Elio Guerriero said their written exchange “introduces a new and significant chapter in Christian spirituality.”
As Christian matrimony continues being “misunderstood and mocked on all sides,” he said, it’s essential to “propose to the world the beauty of common life between husband and wife” and show that Christian marriage is “eminently livable,” a “rational and humanly gratifying way to spend one’s life.”
Pietro told the editor at their first meeting, the day after his wife’s beatification in 1994, that his letters from Gianna are “one of the most touching relics I keep of my wife.”
In the very first note, from Feb. 21, 1955, she wrote, “I really want to make you happy and be what you desire: good, understanding, and ready for the sacrifices that life will require of us …”
She could not have known, then, that this would ultimately include the sacrifice of her very life, after a benign tumor during her final pregnancy prompted a complication that proved fatal following the birth of their youngest, Gianna Emanuela.
The two met after both had begun carving out their professional lives: Gianna, as a medical doctor, and Pietro, as a hardworking engineer of a successful, growing company. Married life brought new demands, but through their strong faith, they managed each challenge with grace.
Both were devoted to the Blessed Virgin and consecrated each new baby to her at birth. Though not uncommon for the time, Guerriero said, their piety was “earnest and enthusiastic, especially since they believed that the faith strengthened their love and commitment.”
In a preface written before his death in 2010, Pietro described Gianna’s letters as “beautiful waves bearing enthusiasm and joy, of tenderness and love, a stirring and providential invitation to enjoy the beauty of life and the wonders of creation, to live my faith with joy and trust in Providence.”
- sts. anne and joachim
- roxane salonen
- jesus, mary and joseph
- st. gianna molla
- sts. louis and zelie martin