Married Saints That Bear Witness to the Faith
It is interesting that while it is necessary for the propagation of the human species that vast majority of mankind is called to live in the married state, only a select few of the canonized saints were married and it is even rarer to find canonized spouses. This begs the question, why are there so few married couples who are saints?
There are probably several reasons. However, the most obvious is that much of what occurs in family life is quite hidden. Remember, canonization is a public recognition of sainthood, and lack of canonization does not preclude unknown holy men and women from joining their more famous brethren in heaven. The saintly acts of married people are often comprised of small acts performed with great love. These acts are invisible to the outside world. Often times, their effects are only visible in the lives of their children. In fact, saints such as Saint Anne and Joachim the parents of Mary, are honored directly for fostering deep holiness in their children. This deep holiness can only have been fostered by unseen heroic examples within the home. Here are some of those holy men and women.
1. Saints Louis and Marie-Azélie Guérin (Zelie) Martin
It is perhaps fitting that the first couple to make our list is Louis and Zelie Martin. The couple was canonized on October 18, 2015 by Pope Francis. Louis and Zelie were the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, the little Carmelite nun who made famous her “little way” of obtaining holiness by performing small acts with great love. How likely it is that St. Therese first recognized this “little way” in the loving actions of her parents. St. Therese states in her autobiography, A Story of a Soul, “God was pleased all through my life to surround me with love, and the first memories I have are stamped with smiles and tender caresses.”
Louis and Zelie experienced many worldly disappointments. Both attempted to enter religious life, but were not accepted. Their family life was marked by tragedy as four of their nine children died of illnesses. Even their youngest child (Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin) was born into illness with a bleak outlook. Still, Zelie did not let these tragedies force her to despair noting in a letter to her to her sister-in-law: "When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through...People said to me, 'It would have been better never to have had them.' I couldn't stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above." Zelie died when Therese was only 5, but Louis continued to raise Therese and her sisters with great tenderness and fostered the vocation of 5 daughters that became religious sisters.
During his homily, Pope Francis noted: “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practised Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.”
2. Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi (1880-1951) and Blessed Maria Corsini (1884-1965)
Although the cause for canonization is not yet complete, Luigi and Maria offer a great example for modern couples having lived through and faced the challenges of the 20th century. Luigi was a lawyer and a public servant working for the Italian Inland Revenue Department. He additionally served on the boards of several banks, aided national reconstruction authorities like IRI after World War II and was an honorary deputy attorney general of the Italian State. Maria was both a career woman and caregiver. The mother of 4 children, she was a professor, author, and involved in the Catholic association entitled “Women’s Catholic Action.”
Within their household, one would find all the normal activities of modern life including sports, vacations, and the accompaniment of good friends. However, one would also find an open door for the poor. The couple sheltered refugees in their home during World War II. Family life included a daily rosary and the couple also consecrated the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus whose image was prominently enthroned within the home. The family also kept a monthly holy hour on the eve of the first Friday of the month as part of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Their marriage also included a difficulty pregnancy, in which the doctors encouraged Maria to have an abortion due to medical risks. The couple, however, refused and carried the 4th child to term despite the statistical risk to Maria.
Luigi’s and Maria’s cause for canonization was commenced in 1994 and John Paul II beatified them in 2001. Their relics are now resting in Rome at the Shrine of Divino Amore (Divine Love). For a more complete biography from which the current summary was comprised please visit the link here.
3. Saint Basil the Elder and Saint Emmelia
Basil was the son of wealthy parents who had to flee the Christian persecution of the Roman emperor Maximus. From 304 to 311, he lived a hidden life in the mountains of Pontus. He married Saint Emmelia. The couple became renowned throughout all of Cappadocia and Pontus for their works of mercy toward the poor and pilgrims. Together, Basil the Elder and Emmelia had 10 children which included four canonized saints (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Macrina the Younger, and St. Peter of Sebaste).
After the death of St. Basil the Elder around 349, St. Emmelia dedicated herself life to prayer within a religious cloister until her death in approximately 372. The “Feast of the Relatives of Saint Basil the Great” is celebrated by the Italo-Greek monks of Calabria on May 30. A more complete description of the lives of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia along with a brief description of the lives of the children can be found in Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries from which the above summary was adapted.
4. Saints Anne and Joachim (Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
The Feast of Saint Anne and Joachim is celebrated on July 26th of each year. Not much is known of the life of Saints Anne and Joachim and that which is often taught is not known with absolute certainty. We do know that they were the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is held that they lived an exemplary life, but that their marriage was childless for decades until in answer to prayer they conceived Mary.
Their marriage is noteworthy because through it, God prepared the world for salvation. St. John Damascene has this to say of St. Anne and Joachim, “Joachim and Anne, how blessed a couple. All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts: a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him.” What greater statement can be made about the fruit of marriage?
5. Saints Priscilla and Aquila
Saints Priscilla and Aquila show the important role of married couples in the Church from its very beginning. Priscilla and Aquila were friends of St. Paul. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells his readers to “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3-4). The two saints met Paul in Corinth where they shared his trade as tent makers. Priscilla and Aquila were living in Corinth because the Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. They also spent three years with Paul in Ephesus.
Pope Benedict XVI reflected on Priscilla and Aquila in a 2007 General Audience. In his address, Pope Benedict noted, “Hence, we come to know the most important role that this couple played in the environment of the primitive Church: that of welcoming in their own house the group of local Christians when they gathered to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist…Thus, we can see the very birth of the reality of the Church in the homes of believers.”
Each of the families described above reflects the action of God in everyday life. Let us draw inspiration from their stories so that while recognized or unrecognized we might be inspired to join the Saints in heaven.