By Zach Smith
Have you ever seen a miracle? Many have heard of them, whether in the Bible or in the lives of the saints. But to witness one for yourself — that is an experience that can change lives and the world for the better.
Alumnus Matthew Marcolini ’15 and his wife, Elizabeth Santorum Marcolini, have been living with a miracle for six months now: their first child, Zelie Mariana Grace Marcolini. Her story defies belief, except through the light of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. Zelie is truly a miracle and her story is already inspiring countless people.
To tell Zelie’s story properly, and to understand its full magnitude, it is best to start at the beginning. Since getting married in 2017 after meeting during Christendom’s St. Columcille Institute, Matthew and Elizabeth Marcolini prayed for the gift of children. During those four long years, God did not send them a child and they undertook a journey that was difficult, but one that also deepened the Marcolini’s faith as they continued to pray and hope.
This story comes from the latest issue of Instaurare Magazine, the official magazine of Christendom College. Read more from Instaurare here!
In September of 2021, they decided to take a pilgrimage to Italy with the intention of praying for a child everywhere they went. They visited many holy sites, including St. Michael’s Cave, the Shrine of St. Padre Pio, and more. While in Rome, a priest offered to pray over the Marcolinis. What seemed a simple offer at first became so much more as the prayer lasted for 45 minutes. During that time, Elizabeth was moved to tears and broke down but, by the end, she experienced an intense feeling of clarity about her situation and her desire for children.
“By the end of it,” Elizabeth recalled, “I had this moment of clarity that you often hear talked about in the spiritual life—this deeper seeing of something that should have been known before, but was revealed. That revelation was that God alone is enough. Even if tomorrow we had a child, it would never be more than Him. As soon as I had that moment, there was this incredible peace I felt. I didn’t say any of this out loud to the priest, but when he lifted his hands he simply said ‘it is enough’ at the same time as I came to the same realization.”
Upon returning to the United States after the trip, the Marcolinis spent the next three weeks in joyful prayer and spiritual peace—a joy and peace which were palpable to their friends and family. Carrying with them the understanding that Christ alone was enough, they decided to pray a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux for a child. By day seven, suddenly, things began to change for Matthew and Elizabeth.
“On the seventh day of the Novena,” Matthew said, “a friend of Elizabeth’s is at daily mass in Maryland and the priest tells the congregation, ‘There’s a mom in Maryland who is due in two weeks and doesn’t have an adoptive family.’ Elizabeth had never told this friend that we were wanting to adopt—ever. But she calls me and says, ‘Hey, I have no idea if this is something you’d be interested in, but here’s the situation.’ I called upstairs to Elizabeth and said, ‘Liz, Danielle says she found our baby.’”
At first, Matthew and Elizabeth did not think much about it. Following their time in Italy, they were content with just trusting God, but were happy to talk with the mother’s Gabriel Project worker, whose name just happened to be Cecilia—Elizabeth’s patron saint for 2021, whose intercession she had been praying for all year. They set up a Zoom call soon afterward with the birth mother, and halfway through, the birth mother stopped and said she and the Marcolinis had a mutual friend in the Sisters of Life, Sr. Mary Doolittle. Immediately, something clicked for Elizabeth, and she asked the mother for her due date.
“She said, ‘October 13.’ I then responded, ‘Sister Mary told us three months ago about you anonymously and asked us to pray for you.’ We had been praying for her and for her baby for months already.”
And yet, that was not the reason the birth mother brought up Sr. Mary Doolittle to the Marcolinis. Rather, it was because Sr. Mary had given her a book written by Elizabeth and her parents, Rick and Karen Santorum, titled Bella’s Gift, which described their journey with their daughter, Bella. The birth mother kept the book on her dresser and prayed specifically each day that God would give her baby a family that would love her as much as Bella’s family loved her.
“At that point, we were all crying,” Elizabeth said. “Cecilia, the Gabriel Project worker, then told us, ‘She’s been telling me this for six months. So, when I found out that you were Bella’s family, I realized this was a miracle and that her prayer was literally answered.’”
The Marcolinis met with the birth mother a few days later in person and asked her more about her story, specifically if she had any favorite saints. Her response: St. Michael—whose cave the Marcolinis had visited and prayed at in Italy just a few weeks earlier.
When they further asked Cecilia how she had connected with the priest who had told their friend Danielle about the baby, she told them that she had met him at a Planned Parenthood clinic on the Feast Day of St. Padre Pio—just a few days before the Marcolinis met the mother. He was saying Mass in the parking lot, and he told her that Padre Pio would help this mother find a family for her baby—the same Padre Pio whose shrine the Marcolinis had also visited in Italy.
Within just weeks of their life-changing trip to Italy, the Marcolini’s lives changed even more. Less than a week after finding out about the baby who needed a home, the mother called them and said she would love for them to adopt her daughter. After four years of praying, hoping, and ultimately trusting in God, a miracle happened.
The Marcolinis worked hard over the following days to finalize everything necessary to adopt their new daughter, who they decided to name Zelie, after the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux. Shortly after her birth, the Marcolinis and the Santorums went to meet her for the first time.
“It was surreal,” Matthew said. “The moment that we’d been waiting for almost five years to happen, happened in just a few weeks. When you have children biologically, you have nine months to prepare for that child to be there. It’s the reality of your whole, entire existence changing. In this situation, we had a week of thinking it wasn’t going to happen and a week of thinking it may happen, and then another week of hoping it’ll really happen, and then it’s there.”
Family was incredibly important to Matthew and Elizabeth during this time, with the Santorums and Matthew’s mother both helping in numerous ways while Zelie spent time in the NICU before coming home. For the Santorums, Zelie—their first grandchild—is a gift, and one that is inspiring them to grow even deeper in their faith.
“The fact that our book had a role in Zelie coming into our lives shows the power of true stories in touching people’s hearts to choose life,” Rick and Karen Santorum said. “We see Zelie as a gift from God like any child, but even more so. We have spent the past 32 years on the front line of the pro-life cause. Part of that effort was encouraging parents to choose life through our own personal witness with Bella and working with many organizations to support mothers in that choice from pregnancy centers to adoption services. All of our children have continued working in the pro-life vineyards, including Elizabeth and Matt. Zelie’s story shows God’s hand on this in ways that are undeniable and miraculous.”
In September of 2021, the Marcolinis heard God tell them that He was enough and to trust in Him and His plan. Just a few weeks later, they finally became parents.
“We both process things very differently as a couple and have different struggles and different joys,” Elizabeth said. “But this whole process, this whole journey, helped us truly understand that our relationship with God is, in essence, an adoptive one as well. Life truly is amazing.”
Zelie is now preparing for her six-month checkup and has been Matthew and Elizabeth’s daughter for that many months. They prayed for a miracle, and now that miracle is with them every single day.
“Adoption makes you so aware of the love that God has for us,” Matthew said.
The miracle of life is so precious and must be defended and upheld at every turn. The Marcolinis, who had already spent so much of their lives at the forefront of the pro-life movement, heard God’s call and answered, providing a joyful witness to so many others of the power of faith and love.
Zelie’s story is already changing minds and hearts. Even better, it is only just beginning.