Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  Evangelization,  feast days

Calling on heaven – the feast of St. Zelie Martin

Because our littlest rooster woke at the ripe hour of 5:20 this morning (that’s what you get for uttering the phrase “sleeping through the night” on the internet) I’ve already been to the gym, showered, done dishes and laundry, and dropped more than half my kids at various locations across the city. Also LOLing at my former self who swore we’d never be an “activity” family. But I held out for as long as I could. 7 years ain’t bad.

The productive pace of a morning like that means that it was nigh 10 am before I realized that today was the feast of St. Zelie – and her husband, St. Louis – Martin, my youngest’s namesake.

I have loved the name Zelie since I first read “Story of a Family” a few years into this motherhood gig. (Highly recommend to any Little Flower fans out there. It’s the biographical account of the whole Martin family, including St. Therese, Servant of God Leonie, and of course the happy couple themselves, Louis and Zelie.)

This is a complete aside, but having St. Zelie canonized as such gives me a thrill that someday we could have a St. Joey or a St. Evie or maybe (longshot) a St. Jenny. Not Jennifer or Joseph (no offense to our given names); it just tickles me that she is forever remembered by her nickname and preferred identifier rather than the full Marie-Azelie, which was her formal name.

If you read the birth story I wrote for our little Z, you already know the tale I’m going to tell, but perhaps there are a few details I left out in my initial account.

We were still somewhat undecided on names. If baby was a boy, I’m fairly certain he would have been called … you know what? I honestly can’t remember what we decided on. I don’t think we ever did. Augustine, Anthony, Blaise, and Benedict were all in the running. We never agreed on one. I guess all that estrogen was blocking the creative process for potential male monikers. For a girl, we’d settled on Elizabeth Zelie, a nod to my sister and my dearest friend, both named Elizabeth.

When Zelie was born she was a little on the gray side. Not full-on blue, but not healthy and pink like our other kids had been. Her delivery went super quick at the end; we’re talking 5 pushes total. Turns out faster isn’t always better for baby though. She didn’t have the full benefit of the “squeeze” while she travelled gradually through the birth canal, so she had a lot of fluid in her nose and mouth that hadn’t cleared.

She wasn’t breathing well when she was born, and she didn’t make a single peep. At first the nurses placed her on my chest and began rubbing her vigorously, urging her to speak up. After about 30 seconds the vigorous rubbing and encouragement turned a little more urgent, and they whisked her to the bassinet across the room and began administering oxygen. They had already been suctioning her using the manual bulb aspirator, but someone called for the neonatal respiratory team to come in and administer deep suctioning.

As they worked on my girl and called out her oxygen saturation levels, I began to worry, but I didn’t freak out. (big for me)

I called to her from the bed where I was still being worked on: “Elizabeth, mommy loves you! Elizabeth, we’re right here. You can breathe. Use your lungs. You can do it, baby.” I remembered having read how beneficial it is for sick babies to hear their mother’s voice, so I continued my cheerleading while she continued to perform suboptimally in the respiration department.

I was becoming concerned that they were going to take her to the NICU, and that something was wrong either with her heart or her lungs. She was still very dusky in color and we had yet to hear a peep from her. The room was full of nurses and doctors now, and I couldn’t see her through the crowd around her bed.

I looked up at Dave and saw my own concern mirrored in his expression.

“She’s going to be fine, right?” I searched his face, looking for any sign that he was trying to protect me from reality.

He looked concerned but calm. “She is going to be fine.”

I felt that same strange confidence, even with a crowd of medical professionals around her bed and her frustrating silence. I had been praying Hail Mary’s aloud and I began also silently invoking the intercession of St. Zelie Martin. My inner dialogue with her went something like this:

“You’ve been in this place. You lost 4 babies. Please pray for my baby’s life to be spared. Please intercede for us. I’m not strong like you. I can’t lose a baby. I had so much anxiety throughout this pregnancy. I want to be proven wrong. Please God, let her breathe! St. Zelie, pray for her. Pray for us.”

I called to Dave from across the room where he’d moved to be nearer to her crib. “Babe, I think we got her name wrong.” He walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, “I think so, too.” We both smiled and said “Zelie. Her name is Zelie.”

And so it was.

You know how the story ends, since Zelie is very much alive and with us. She finally started crying at about the 20 minute mark. Not an eternity, but it sure felt like it in the moment.

Little by little her oxygen saturation came up in that first 60 minutes, until at last she was breathing normally and to the liking of the respiratory team. They ended up leaving our room without ever having to intubate her, which felt miraculous after such a bumpy beginning. She did stay in the hospital an extra day to be monitored for any desaturations, but she performed admirably and was with me the entire time. The best anyone could figure was she just had to work a little harder to clear the amniotic fluid from her airways, and once she did, she was out of the woods.

I know there’s more to the story than that, though. I felt certain of St. Zelie’s presence in that delivery room, and I continue to feel a deep kinship with her in my motherhood.

It was similar to the experiences I’ve had of John Paul II’s presence – I could feel her intercession as much as if I’d asked a friend standing next to me to pray. The veil separating the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant was a little thinner in that moment.

The Communion of Saints isn’t some bizarre pious tradition the Church fosters in order to justify the cost of statues and stained glass windows. Zelie Martin is alive in Christ; more alive than your or I, in fact. And she stands in the Presence of God and addresses Him directly with the needs of her brothers and sisters still on earth.

Talk about having connections.

Can I pray directly to God and ask Him for what I need? Of course I can. And I must. And I do.

And because God is generous and merciful and is not unfamiliar with the human condition, I can do this, and more. I can ask my friends who have already arrived to throw a lifeline back, to text me the directions and reassure me I’m going in the right direction. “I know you’ve already arrived. Will you pray I make it, too? Will you bring this particular situation before Our Lord? I believe He can hear me, God, help my unbelief…”

The saints are like a phone line between heaven and earth. We don’t have to use it, of course, but the coverage is excellent, and, just like with Google, the Big Guy is always listening in.

St. Zelie Martin, pray for us.


  • Karen

    Love your story of how Zelie was born. I was crying then laughing. I definitely believe the saints intercede for us and pray to them all the time. I love the little flower saint. I’ll have to read that book you mentioned.

  • jeanette

    “our littlest rooster woke at the ripe hour of 5:20 this morning (that’s what you get for uttering the phrase “sleeping through the night” on the internet)”

    She is a pretty smart cookie, knowing that 5:20 counts as morning, not night, so as not to contradict your claim to sleeping through the night! You can rest assured, she slept through the night, mommy. Don’t worry, when she is a teenager she will likely adjust her body clock to recognizing morning as something that starts at a much later time and then you can sleep longer. ; )

    Our kids were adjusted to Eastern time and living in the Pacific time zone, waking up around 5 am, so we routinely got up at 5:30 am (because 5 is just too close to night time)…and they were all smiles and sunshine just in case it wasn’t our favorite rise and shine time. Can’t complain much if you wake to a happy child. Much better than some loud buzzer on the alarm clock that you just can’t quite reach to silence.

  • Maria

    Thank you for putting intersession into contemporary metaphor. You had me rolling…and eager to tap into the miracle that is saintly friendship.

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