Marriage isn't an easy path to holiness, and without a shared faith, it's even harder.
Marriage is a beautiful sacrament and a powerful path to holiness. But while there are many amazing saintly couples who found holiness together, not every married saint was blessed with a holy partner. Many lived for years with the cross of an unbelieving or lukewarm spouse. And while some of those spouses did ultimately come to know the Lord, others died unconverted. For those who struggle to follow the Lord while married to a non-Christian or non-practicing spouse, there is hope in the witness of the saints who found holiness in these marriages.
St. Monica (331-387) is, of course, most famous for her years of interceding for her son St. Augustine. She prayed and wept and sought advice from one priest after another until, finally, her son was converted and became one of the greatest theologians of all time. But before Augustine’s conversion, Monica had prayed for the conversion of his father. A bad-tempered man, Patricius made life difficult for Monica, ridiculing her for her faith and even forbidding the baptism of their children. Through the mercy of God (and the unceasing intercession of his wife), Patricius was converted on his deathbed. Baptized just before he died, from heaven he joined his wife in interceding for their son.
St. Catherine of Genoa (1413-1463) had hoped to enter religious life, but her brother convinced her instead to make what seemed to be a good match. When her husband turned out to be an unfaithful man with a violent temper, Catherine’s devotion was no match for such suffering and she fell away from the fervent practice of her faith. For five years, she moped. For the next five years she sought to forget her unhappy marriage in the things of the world. But finally she was converted (after a mystical experience) and her witness combined with a financial crisis led her husband to conversion only six months later. The couple made a vow of abstinence and began a life of prayer and service.
St. Augustine Yu Chin-gil (1791-1839) was a Korean convert to Catholicism, converted by a chance discovery of scraps of a book written by Servant of God Matteo Ricci. Though he traveled throughout the country evangelizing, he was never able to convert his wife or daughters; by all accounts, they died without ever accepting the faith. When Chin-gil’s son, on the other hand, heard that his father had been arrested, he presented himself at the prison to be martyred as well. St. Peter Yu Tae-chol was only 13 years old when he and his father were killed for the faith.
5 Saints who died as children
Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) married a man raised in a devout family, but her husband’s atheism was no youthful phase. The intellectual Felix was deeply in love with his wife and generally kind, but he had a habit of ridiculing her faith. The pressure overcame Elisabeth and she stopped attending Mass for a time. Eventually, though, she returned to the practice of the faith, offering up all Felix’s slights and barbs (along with her chronic illness and infertility) as prayers for his conversion. After her death, Felix read her diaries and learned of all she had suffered and all she had offered for him. Determined not to be moved, he traveled to Lourdes to debunk the faith once and for all but was converted and became a Dominican priest. He devoted the rest of his life to telling the story of his beloved wife.
Bl. Lucien Botovasoa (1908-1947) was married to a Catholic woman, but his wife was not pleased with what struck her as an excess of piety in her husband. Lucien was a good husband and a loving father, but Suzanne thought he could make more money if he quit his job as a teacher and he could have more time for her if he would only abandon his vigils and daily holy hours. At the root of it was a fear that her husband would leave her to become a priest; when Lucien discovered this, he reassured his wife that he would not leave her. He kept his word until civil unrest in Madagascar led to his martyrdom. He left behind his wife and five children.
Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba (1935-1994, 1944-1994) ended up in a holy and loving relationship, but their marriage wasn’t always idyllic. They were married after Cyprien, a former seminarian, had lost his faith completely. Though Daphrose was a faithful Catholic, Cyprien was a philanderer who had multiple affairs and one illegitimate child during their marriage. For nearly 20 years, Daphrose prayed for her husband’s conversion. Finally, as he lay dying, Cyprien had a sudden conversion and looked up to see his wife beside him. Cyprien was healed and begged Daphrose’s forgiveness, which she gladly gave. The next 12 years of their marriage were beautiful and joyful, until the couple was killed (with six of their children) in the opening days of the Rwandan genocide.
Saints who teach us we can disagree and still be respectful