About Fr Pat
 

 


Father Patrick Martin
Gifted With Blindness

By Carol Baass Sowa
Printed in Today’s Catholic
November 1, 2013

SAN ANTONIO Of the many gifts Father Patrick “Pat” Martin has been given, he puts blindness at the top of the list. Being blind a gift? For this unstoppable priest in his ministry of healing the broken, the answer is an emphatic: “Yes!”

Father Pat calls his life a "double gift." First was being born at all. He was the 17th of 22 children born to devout Catholic parents in Limestone, Maine. Then there was his unexpected recovery from Meningitis at the age of nine. Not expected to live, he came out of a near-fatal coma and five-month stay, but could neighter walk nor see.
 

  “My own brothers and sisters taught me to walk again,” he relates. “They’d just line up in the hallway at home and say, ‘Come on, Patrick, we won’t let you fall.’  Doctors had said nothing could be done to restore his sight, but eventually he regained pinpoint central vision, enabling him to read by piecing words together letter by letter.

   

            Called into the office, he was read the riot act. “You could have gotten killed out there!” they told him. “Why didn't you tell us you were blind?” His honest answer — that they would not have accepted him had they known and his strong desire to serve God as a teaching brother — so impressed them that Brother Louis Cote became his staunchest advocate on his vocation road, continuing to fight for him through his postulancy, novitiate and final vows.

           Brother Pat’s first assignment was teaching a boarding school class of what was supposed to be 12 sixth grade “angels." "Instead, it turned out to be 40 eighth grade “monsters,” he recalls with a laugh. Somehow he managed to keep them in line for three years without revealing that he could not see more than one of them at a time.

           Volunteering to set up the school’s first library led him to seek a master’s degree in library science, but getting financial aid for this required passing a timed test not geared for the blind. His only hope was finding a sponsor. Aiming high, he sent off a request to Howard Haycraft, Chairman of the Board of the world’s largest library company, H.W. Wilson.

           Haycraft proved to be another gift in Father Pat’s life. Having just undergone cataract surgery and unable to even see the letter, which was read to him by his secretary, he could totally empathize with the young brother’s plight. The company could not provide a scholarship, he told him, but Haycraft knew the chairman of the library school at the Catholic University of America. Strings were pulled and Father Pat was given a full federal grant to acquire his master’s.

           A fellow student there worked for the Library of Congress and introduced him to their talking books program, which he was elated to learn about for the first time, checking out two shopping bags full of talking books the next day and soon volunteering at the library. Here, Robert S. Bray, Chief of the Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, convinced him of the urgent need to let the handicapped know of library services available for them and, with his Order’s blessing, after receiving his master’s, he accepted just such a job with the New York Public Library as a roving librarian covering the five city boroughs plus two Long Island counties.

          This job would lead him back to his old dream — the priesthood. In his work, he went directly into the homes of the handicapped. Unexpectedly, on discovering he was a religious brother, many unburdened to him their long-held pain and anguish over their disabilities and who or what had caused them — anger even at God — in what amounted to confessions. "But of course I couldn't give them absolution," he said. To do that he needed to be a priest.

          Knowing his order was considering a priesthood for the brothers, he completed a master's in divinity at St. John's University in New York in 1975, while doing freelance speaking engagements, eventually going to work for the Diocese of Norwich, CT, to found a new ministry for the handicapped. It soon became a ministry of them instead. A challenge weekend called "People Are Gifts" was developed to challenge people to look at what they could do for the Church, rather than what the Church could do for them.

          "When we die, if the world isn't a better place because of our disabilities," Father Pat says, "then we've failed. We're not here for a free ride. Every one of us is here to make a difference — with God there are no exemptions." His Order opted not to accept a priesthood for the brothers, but released him to be ordained a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Norwich. There were a few canon law hurdles to be overcome, Father Pat still being legally blind, but Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly went all the way to Pope Paul VI, who granted a papal permission in December 1977. "What a Christmas present," recalls Father Pat. The following year he was ordained a deacon and then priest.

          "Patrick, I'm ordaining you for your work," Bishop Reilly told him. "Your parish is the whole world; your parishioners — those who are broken, just like yourself." Following this mandate, Father Pat has gone on to lead more than 1,200 missions around the country — in 40 U.S. states, all the Canadian provinces, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Panama. They are aimed at all people, not just the physically disabled. As he puts it, all of us are "broken" in some way.

          All this has been accomplished through word of mouth and dedicated volunteers, with no fees charged. "That way I know that the poorest in the parish can afford a mission," he says. Whatever mission offerings are made, he accepts to defray expenses.

          Previously based in New York City because of its access to airports and ease in getting around the city itself, Father Pat's move to San Antonio this year came about due to a medical episode which, it appeared, would derail his ministry, consigning him to a nursing home and permanently on a walker. Instead, his sister, Patricia Kozar, insisted he make his home here with her and husband Deacon Jerry Kozar. True to form, Father Pat was soon off the walker and flying off to conduct missions fulltime around the country.

          In between, he fills in at St. Anthony Mary Claret Parish, where on July 25th he celebrated his 35th Jubilee as a priest, his 50th Anniversdary as "Brother Pat," 60 years of blindness and his approaching 70th birthday next year.
          "People say 'How can you celebrate being blind?" says Father Pat. "It gave me the life I've got. Look at what God has done with it."

           This job would lead him back to his old dream — the priesthood. In his work, he went directly into the homes of handicapped. Unexpectedly, on discovering he was a religious brother, many unburdened to him their long-held pain and anguish over their disabilities and who or what had caused them — anger even at God — in what amounted to confessions. “But of course I couldn’t give them absolution,” he said. To do that he needed to be a priest.
          Knowing his order was considering a priesthood for the brothers, he completed a master’s in divinity at St. John’s University in New York in 1975, while doing freelance speaking engagements, eventually going to work for the Diocese of Norwich, Conn., to found a new ministry for the handicapped. It soon became a ministry of  them instead. A challenge weekend called “People Are Gifts” was developed to challenge people to look at what they could do for the church, rather than what the church could do for them.

              “When we die, if the world isn’t a better place because of our disabilities,” Father Pat says, “then we’ve failed. We’re not here for a free ride. Every one of us is here to make a difference — with God there are no exemptions." His Order opted not to accept a priesthood for the brothers, but released him to be ordained a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Norwich. There were a few canon law hurdles to be overcome, Father Pat still being legally blind, but Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly went all the way to Pope Paul VI, who granted a papal permission in December 1977. “What a Christmas present,” recalls Father Pat. The following year he was ordained a deacon and then priest.

            “Patrick, I’m ordaining you for your work,” Bishop Reilly told him. “Your parish is the whole world; your parishioners — those who are broken, just like yourself.” Following this mandate, Father Pat has gone on to lead more than 1,200 missions around the country — in 40 U.S. states, all the Canadian provinces, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Panama. They are aimed at all people, not just the physically disabled. As he puts it, all of us are "broken" in some way.
 

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