“Oh well, that’s the day so far, and it’s still only noon. If this continues I will be dead by this evening! You see, at the moment, life seems so heavy for me to bear, and I don’t have the courage because everything looks black to me.”
That’s a quote from a mom in the trenches. She was fed up with the grind of trying to keep her kids healthy, her business running and her faith alive. But if it makes you feel any better, that mother is St. Zélie Martin. She gives hope to overburdened moms everywhere.
Moms, we at the Denver Catholic want to say that we love and appreciate you. Even more importantly, the saints and angels love you more than you can possibly imagine. They are rooting for you every day. Here’s four that I think you might want to befriend:
Died: 5th century, Ireland
Feast day: March 22
St. Darerca (pronounced dahr-erka) was St. Patrick’s sister, but that’s not what she’s famous for. She’s known for being the mother of all saints, and I mean that almost literally. She had between 17 and 22 kids, and almost all of them are saints.
Whether you have two under two, five under five, or 16 under 16, St. Darerca has been there. She also suffered the loss of her first spouse, Restitus the Lombard, and remarried a man named Chonas the Briton, because she could not handle weak-named men. That means she was, at one point, a single mom with about a dozen children. Remember her next time you have bedtime duty alone.
Her kids are part of the reason Ireland became a Catholic country. Most, if not all, of her sons became bishops, and both of her daughters became saints. They all helped their uncle Patrick bring the news of Jesus to their island. Their faith must have started with St. Darerca, the prototype for hardcore Irish mothers everywhere.
Bonus: She’s really fun to pray to, because saying her name has all the catharsis of swearing. But you’re praying, so it’s okay!
Sorry, there’s no picture of her. Presumably raising 20+ kids makes it difficult to sit for a portrait.
Died: 921, Czech Republic
Feast day: Sept. 18
Saint Ludmila was a convert to Christianity. She used to offer sacrifices to a pagan weather goddess, Baba, but stopped when she saw a Christian hermit destroy Baba’s statue. When he wasn’t struck by lightning, Ludmila realize he must be the real deal and became his disciple. One day a Bohemian duke was hunting in the forest where she was being discipled and fell in love with her at first sight, just like Prince Philip and Sleeping Beauty (but with less witchcraft and humanoid crows). She made him convert to Christianity before St. Methodius married them, and they both lived lives of constant conversion (sometimes forcing their peasants to do the same, but let’s not dwell on that).
They had six children together, and took care to raise them with Christian values. Their son Ratislav, however, married a woman named Drahomira. You can probably tell from her name that Drahomira is the villain in this story. Ratislav and the duke died, and Drahomira’s son, St. Ludmila’s grandson, became the heir to the throne. His name was Wenceslaus. His grandmother, St. Ludmila, raised him as a Christian. He eventually became St. Wenceslaus, and is the subject of the song “Good King Wenceslaus”. All of this happened, however, despite his mother.
Drahomira reverted to worshiping Baba and the other idols before her Christian husband was cold in his grave. She loathed her mother-in-law in a way that is normally reserved for sitcoms. She was particularly angry that Ludmila continued to spread Christianity throughout the land. Drahomira convinced many of the Bohemian nobility to support her. She eventually realized that St. Ludmila was as virtuous a grandmother as she was a mother, and that Wenceslaus would never let her spread paganism. So, Drahomira hired two nobles to strangle St. Ludmila with her own veil. Later, she convinced her other son to murder Wenceslaus.
So, while the ending is grim, I think it’s important to remember that virtually no one remembers the names “Drahomira” or “Baba” anymore. We do, however, remember the good king who was raised by his holy grandmother, as well as the God they served.
Blessed Anna Maria Taigi
Died: 1837, Italy
Feast day: June 9
Blessed Anna had a rough childhood. Her father lost his job when she was six, so the family had to move to Rome, into the same area as St. Benedict Labre. Anna Maria was one of the children who, upon hearing of St. Benedict Labre’s death, ran through the street shouting, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!” Her mother prepared his body for burial.
Anna Maria contracted smallpox as a child and bore the scars for years (so feel free to pray to her about any acne scars–she gets it).
In 1787 Anna Maria joined her parents as a servant in the Maccarani palace, where she matured into a beautiful young woman. She rushed headfirst into vanity for a few years, then realized she would need a chaste marriage if she wanted to be holy.
She fell in love with a servant from another palace. Domenico was not really a Prince Charming, as he had an explosive temper. However, he really loved his wife. If he heard that another woman had spoken ill of Anna Maria, he would have that woman’s husband beat her or have her arrested. This wasn’t a great time to be female, but his heart was in the right place (ish).
Meanwhile, Anna Maria learned that marriage was exactly what she had needed to grow in holiness and virtue. Shortly after the birth of her first baby, God gave her a beautiful grace: For the rest of her life, she saw a miniature sun somewhat above and before her. Anna Maria had visions within this sun, including the ability to see the state of grace of recently departed and scenes from the life of Christ. She was also blessed with ecstasies, the gift of healing, and the ability to predict the future and read hearts. Sometimes she would levitate. Again, all this began while she was still a new bride and mother.
She didn’t abandon her family to experience these gifts, though. She was a dedicated housewife. raised her three surviving children to be virtuous, insisting on a life of regular prayer. As any mother knows, children will do what they want, though, and one of her sons spent time in jail. Another married an awful woman and moved back to Anna Maria’s crowded apartment, spending years making financially imprudent decisions.
During this time, she was still living with her husband’s explosive anger. Her parents were bitter people, and would often provoke Domenico.
Not everyone disrespected her, though. Anna Maria was frequently consulted by Popes, Napoleon’s mother, and St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Gaspar del Bufalo and St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, because there weren’t enough saints in her life already. Despite his temper, Domenico and her children remembered her gentle attitude and joy.
Anna Maria and Domenico were married for 48 years. When she was 69 years old, Anna Maria took to bed and began seven months of intense physical suffering. Finally, she had a vision of Our Lord, delivered a message to each of her children, thanked her husband for taking care of her and died. She was later designated as a special protectress of mothers.
Died: 1877, France
Feast day: July 12
I can’t write about saintly moms and not include Zélie. I mean, I should probably include Our Lady and St. Monica, too, but I really can’t leave out Zélie. She’s the first saint to be canonized with her husband. One of her daughters, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is a doctor of the church. Another of her daughters, Léonie, is in the preliminary stages of having her cause for canonization opened.
Most of these other saints have had their lives whittled down to a handful of facts over time. Zélie, however, has only been canonized for a year. To use the theological term, we, as a church, have gone straight up bonkers learning and spreading everything we can about her.
If you are a mother, there is an aspect of her life that applies to you. She and her husband both worked. She lost several of her children at a young age. She tried to run a professional and profitable business, find good childcare, take care of her ailing parents, educate her special needs child and find time to pray and be active in her parish. She worried over her children’s souls.
She also suffered things that I sincerely hope no one reading this can relate to, like having her house invaded by German soldiers during the Franco-Prussian war.
You have to read her story. You have to take the time to get to know her. As one of her writers pointed out, Zélie did not become a saint because she raised Thérèse. Thérèse became a saint because she was raised by Zélie.