Sunday, March 15, 2009

Father Martin's Homegoing

On Friday, a standing-room crowd at the nation's first cathedral -- Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption -- mourned Sulpician Fr Joe Martin, the "wounded healer" who overcame alcoholism and, through his "chalk talk" and the home he co-founded, helped some 40,000 others to do the same:
In a homily, the Rev. David M. Carey recalled Father Martin's powerful preaching that was always infused with humor. He recalled that as a newly ordained priest, Father Martin often spoke at Masses at St. William of York Church on Edmondson Avenue. "The people loved him because of his short homilies. And there was always a joke."

Looking out over the filled church, Father Carey quoted Father Martin as telling him, "All I wanted to do was fix a few drunks." As his work grew, and he had co-founded Father Martin's Ashley, a successful treatment center in Harford County, "He might say, 'Not bad for a little guy from Hampden,'" a reference to Father Martin's birthplace....

As pallbearers brought the casket down the main aisle, mourners reached out from pews to touch its wood. Many wept.

Tom Neff took a train from New York City to pay his respects to the man who helped him conquer alcoholism nearly 25 years ago.

"He could be stern to make a point, but two seconds later he would give you that smile of his," Mr. Neff said. "He could disarm a whole room of con-artist alcoholics."

The Rev. Thomas O. Ulshafer, provincial superior of the Society of Saint Sulpice, described Father Martin's initial role as being a teacher of young seminarians.

"He had the heart of a priest and was a caring and loving shepherd," Father Ulshafer said. "He could entertain and teach at the same time, a rare gift."

Speaking of Father Martin's addiction to alcohol, he said, "He turned a cross into a new life."

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien ended the funeral by saying, "If Joseph Martin is not in heaven, I don't think any of us has a chance."
Video from the Sun, and from Charm City's Catholic Review, even more:
Whether rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, recovering substance abusers spent the last few weeks crowding the dining room of Father Martin’s Ashley treatment center in Havre de Grace.

They knew Sulpician Father Joseph C. Martin, co-founder of the addiction treatment center, was in ill health and they hoped to see him one last time.

“They wanted to say, ‘Thank you for saving my life,’ ” recalled Father David M. Carey, speaking in a March 13 homily at Father Martin’s funeral Mass held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.

Father Martin died March 9 at age 84.

“He reminded them that the life of every human being was no mistake,” Father Carey said. “God had wonderful plans for each of them.”

Hundreds of people from across the country, including recovering addicts, filled the basilica to near capacity in tribute to a man Father Carey called a “wounded healer.”

Father Martin began his recovery from alcoholism in the late 1950s after a stay at the Guest House, a clergy alcoholism treatment center in Lake Orion, Mich. The Baltimore native went on to devote much of his priestly ministry to helping others who faced the same challenge.

Working with Mae Abraham, a woman he met in Alcoholics Anonymous, Father Martin opened his treatment center in 1983....

Over the course of his ministry, Father Martin made more than 40 motivational films and wrote several publications.

More than anything, Father Martin loved being a Sulpician priest, Father Carey said.

“He was a priest to the very end,” said Father Carey, noting that Father Martin shared kind words with a group of dialysis patients not too long before his death.

“He was one of those unique individuals who had only friends,” Father Carey said.

Father Thomas O. Ulshafer, provincial superior of the Sulpicians, remembered that Father Martin asked him to speak about his priesthood at his funeral Mass – a liturgy that was celebrated in the same basilica where Father Martin was ordained in 1948.

“It was a very Sulpician request,” said Father Ulshafer, pointing out that the Sulpicians are dedicated to preparing men for the priesthood....

As mourners exited the basilica to the solemn tolling of a bell, many recalled that Father Martin was a man who genuinely cared for others.

Jim Murray, retired general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, told The Catholic Review that Father Martin was “the ultimate miracle worker.” The life of one of Mr. Murray’s closest friends was “saved” through the Father Martin’s Ashley treatment center, he said.

“He was a man with a totally sincere heart,” Mr. Murray said.
PHOTO: Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun