A Girl from the 19th 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 heartache."
This education was to mark her character,
her very (too) scrupulous manner of living her spirituality.
Active Woman, an Entrepreneur, Committed to Justice
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 handworkers. 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.
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 watchmaker. Three
months later, on July 12, 1858 at ten o'clock their civil wedding
took place and two hours later at midnight on July 13th, 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.
A Fulfilled and Distressed Mother
Between 1860 and 1873, nine children
were born into the Martin home, four 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 hearts energy. For her children she wanted
the best, to become saints! This did not stop her organizing parties,
they had fun in this family!
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 August 28, 1877 at half past twelve,
midnight, Zélie died in the company of her husband and her
brother. Lets leave the last words to Thérèse.
"I loved mothers smile and her deep look seemed to say,
"Eternity delights me and attracts me, I am going to the blue
sky to see God!"