By Maria Wiering
People constantly mispronounce the name of Annie Reddy’s 4-year-old daughter. Yes, it’s an uncommon name outside of France, but, after all the anticipated press, it’s likely to climb the Nameberry charts this year.
It’s Zelie – and it doesn’t rhyme with “jelly.”
It’s pronounced ZAY-lee, and it’s the nickname of Thérèse of Lisieux’s mother, who is slated for canonization in October with her husband and Thérèse’s father, Louis.
The Martins, Blessed Azélie-Marie (1831-1877) and Louis (1823-1894), married in 1858 and reportedly will be the first couple to be canonized together.
Zélie was a lace-maker, and Louis made watches. Both of them had aspired to the religious life – Zélie to the convent, and Louis to a monastery. Both were rejected, Zélie for poor health, and Louis because of his lack of Latin. The couple had nine children – seven daughters and two sons – but only five daughters would survive infancy. All five became religious sisters; four of them, including Therese (the youngest) became Carmelites at Lisieux.
Known as “The Little Flower” and popular for her autobiography where she described her “little way” to Jesus, St. Therese was canonized in 1925 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1997, one of only four women doctors.
Light in the darkness
St. Therese has always been one of Annie’s patrons; her middle name is Therese. She was the saint Annie turned to during what she called “a pretty dark time” in her life.
Five years ago, Annie discovered she was pregnant. She wasn’t married, had never intended to be, and hadn’t imagined herself as a mother. She vacillated between adoption and raising her daughter, finally deciding on the latter.
“She was going to be my adventure in life,” said Annie, now 29 and a parishioner of St. Paul in Ham Lake. “I thought forever it was going to be just me and this baby girl.”
As part of that bond, Annie named her daughter Zelie Luella for Zélie and Louis Martin, names familiar to her from reading St. Therese’s writings.
“St. Therese kind of walked me throughout life, including that dark time,” Annie said. “I wanted her (Zelie) to have a name that was part of me.”
At the time, Annie didn’t realize the Martins were on their own path to sainthood. Pope John Paul II declared them venerable in 1994, and they were beatified in 2008. On Feb. 27, the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes announced the couple would be canonized together in October, during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Both miracles attributed to the couple involved the healing of children.
Annie believes the saints’ prayers helped her parents guide her during her pregnancy and early motherhood. “They never judged me,” she said. “I think somehow Zelie Martin was interceding for me and my parents, and for this little girl to be in our lives.”
Vocation to marriage
Those prayers may also have had a role in her falling in love with her now husband, Ryan. The two had known each other since eighth grade, but Annie admits that before Zelie, she wasn’t the kind of woman Ryan would have wanted to marry.
“It’s one of those things were God breaks down your walls with children,” she said.
“She prepared me for intimacy with another human being. She taught me to be selfless and break down those dark areas in my life. Ryan wouldn’t have married me if it wasn’t for Zelie … . I just didn’t have it in my character to be married at that time, and Zelie really pulled that out of me.”
Annie had tried to name her daughter in a meaningful way, but hadn’t realized at the time how significant her name would truly be, she said. “I think that’s the work of Zelie Martin in bringing me to the vocation of marriage and family life,” she said.
The Reddys’ family has grown since their 2013 wedding; a year later, they had a son, Ezekiel.
Annie was thrilled when she heard the news of the Martins’ upcoming canonization, and she would love to witness the event in person, with her daughter. “Nobody really understands the name, so we try to tell her about it,” Annie said. “We would love for her to see that production (the canonization) go down.”
A few days before Annie heard the news about the Martins’ canonization, Zelie asked her mother if she could be St. Zelie. Annie thinks the idea came from The Way of the Shepherd Catholic Montessori in Blaine, where Zelie goes to school, but it was music to her ears. She’s convinced her daughter has transformed her life. “Now I’m working on sainthood,” she said.