St. Therese of Lisieux is one of the most popular, best-loved saints of today. When her parents were canonized in 2015, I wasn’t surprised that such an amazing saint would have equally holy and amazing parents. I’ve been wanting to learn more about St. Zelie Martin and St. Louis Martin ever since. Over the last week, I’ve been devouring The Lacemaker, a novel about St. Zelie’s life. I’m more in love with this incredible saint than before and encourage you to also read this novel and learn about her!
I received this book for review courtesy of the author; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Lacemaker plot summary
The Lacemaker is written as a diary—St. Zelie taking a few moments at the end of the day to record her actions and thoughts. Most entries are short, making the novel a quick, easy read. The story opens in 1850, when Zelie is turned away from joining the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Becoming a religious sister has been her dream for years, so letting go of this is difficult for her and she wonders where to turn next.
Mother Superior rejected me without even a second look. What was there about me that convinced her that I had no place as a sister? Why am I not enough? What do I do if God doesn’t want me? Mother Superior wasn’t unkind. She said, “God has plans for you, but not as a religious.” What plan? I do want to follow God’s plans for me, but how can I do that when I have no inkling of what he wants from me. I feel lost. Religious life was all I dreamed of. Who am I without that dream? ~ The Lacemaker
Eventually, Zelie enrolls in a lace-making school and then sets up her own business. She later meets Louis Martin, a local watchmaker. They are married and she moves her lace business into his shop. Over the next decades, Zelie writes about the births of her children and her difficulties as a mother. She is unable to nurse her babies and so is forced to send them away to a wet nurse for their first year. Three of her children die of infants and another daughter dies as a young girl. Zelie struggles in prayer to understand why she suffers these losses, why she cannot raise her children.
Throughout her marriage, Zelie continues to work as a lacemaker. She employs other women to make lace for her. Louis becomes her business partner, often traveling to Paris and other places to arrange orders for her. Eventually, he sells his watchmaking business to be able to help her full-time with her lacemaking. Zelie talks about being frugal with her money, but also about making investments that will support them later in their lives.
The last year of Zelie’s life, and the last pages of her journal, are marked with pain as she fights breast cancer. She’s had poor health for much of her life, suffering from severe headaches at times. She struggled through sleep deprivation as a young mom. When she finally goes to see her doctor about the pain in her breast, it’s too late for him to do anything. Her family prays for her, and she makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for healing, yet her cancer progresses.
If God thinks that I am still useful on this earth, he will keep me here. I’ve prayed with every fiber of my being that he not take me from this world if my children still need me. I suffer from no illusions, however. God is God and sees and knows what I cannot. I cannot fight what he wills. Although, as much as I try to trust in God and pray to trust, I still struggle with it, even now when I know my time on the earth is most likely drawing to a close. ~ The Lacemaker
My thoughts on St. Zelie Martin
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Lacemaker. Anne Faye brings St. Zelie alive through the pages of this fictional diary. She seemed real and alive, a mom like me who struggles with sleep deprivation, children who don’t listen, financial problems, balancing work and family life, and more. As the main income-earner for her family, she is truly a modern woman. She talks honestly about her desire for holiness and what a struggle that is—how she doesn’t like making sacrifices.
Family is a constant theme through The Lacemaker. St. Zelie has a close relationship with her older sister, Elise, who becomes a religious sister at the Vistation convent. Zelie’s daughter Marie and Pauline attend school there, excelling as students despite various illnesses. Zelie prays fervently for her younger brother, Isidore, as he studies in Paris, and is delighted when he marries and settles into business as a pharmacist. Visits between their families are frequent, and he sends piles of presents to her daughters. For the first part of their marriage, Zelie and Louis live with his parents, who are able to help with their older daughters.
If you want to learn more about the lives of three amazing saints—Saint Zelie Martin, Saint Louis Martin, and St. Therese of Lisieux—I highly recommend picking up The Lacemaker. It gives an intimate, beautiful portraite of an ordinary yet holy woman. The author includes a brief note in the end of the novel about what parts are historical and what are not (most of it is based on St. Zelie’s letters).
More about Anne Faye
Anne Faye wrote most of The Lacemaker by hand in notebooks. She then typed it, found beta readers, and released it into the world to be read and enjoyed by Catholic women everywhere. She is a homeschooling Catholic mom who writes from her home in Western Massachusetts. In her free time, she loves painting, quilting, and going for long walks with her dog. You can find out more about her by visiting her blog.