By a Correspondent
Mother Mary Martin, foundress of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, died aged 82 at the Order's mother house in Drogheda.
Her first experience of nursing was during the 1914-18 war, when she left her home in Dsblin to serve as a voluntary aid defence nurse in France and Malta. She went to Nigeria in 1921, and worked for some years looking after the sick.
Her ambition was to found a religious order of dedicated women who, when trained as doctors. nurses and midwives. would go out to Africa as medical missionaries. But at that time members of a religious congregation were not allowed to practise obstetrics and gynaecology.
The only person who could grant permission was the Pope (Pius Xl), and for 15 years Mary Martin prayed and waited. At last, on February 11, 1936, Pope Pius issued a new instruction granting full permission to religious congregations to devote themselves to all branches of medical work. including midwifery, obstetrics and general surgery. The following year the Medical Missionaries of Mary were approved by Rome. The Order comprised Mother Mary Martin and two companions, and was founded in Africa, at Anua, Eastern Nigeria, where the three women arrived with only £24 between them.
Mother Mary made her religious profession when ill in hospital at Port Harcourt on April 4, 1937.
Within 25 years the Congregation had 15 mission houses—in Nigeria, Angola. Uganda and Tanganyika. They included four hospitals with teaching and training schools for African nurses; 52 Clinics, 29 maternity hospitals and four leper settlements treating more than 22,000 patients.
Thy mother house, novitiate nod maternity hospital were
opened in Drogheda in 1939. One of the visitors during the 25th anniversary year was Cardinal Montini, now Pope Paul. The Congregation now numbers about 500, representing almost every country in Europe. as well as Fast and West Africa, There is a novitiate in the United States, and over 50 American Sisters.
The Hospital of Our Lady of Lourdes. Drogheda was officially opened as an international medical missionary training centre in 1957. In 1963 Mother Mary was given the Florence Nightingale Award by the International Red Cross, and in 1966 she became the first woman to receive an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. Ireland.
A former member of the CATHOLIC HERALD staff writes:
It was my good fortune, between about 1928 and 1933, to know Mother Mary Martin fairly intimately. Not indeed that she was then Mother Mary: rather to the contrary, she was that Miss Marie Martin who was only just beginning to shed a reputation for biting off, as a sort of 'amateur religious", rather more than she was ever likely to chew. "She has this thing about medically qualified missionaries for Africa:' an aunt of mine observed, "and I believe the bishops are getting quite fed up with her".
After all, everybody knew she had pernicious anaemia; she looked like a wraith, and spent a lot of the day, under her doctor's orders, in bed. She was then in her early thirties. I had only recently left school.
I had been easily drawn to her (she was my first cousin) by a sense that here was somebody to whom M a personal crisis one could safely go, be cause she seemed a creature quite without guile; transparent to God, and entirely simple with otheis.
1 was only an undergraduate. but for Marie nobody was "only" anything. 1 had a very small reputation for knowledge of English literature. She was at the time preparing a draft constitution for her order and director. She felt so little selfimportant about it that she would consult me about the use of a word; or even as to Whom she should read (I suggested Elitit) to improve her style.
Not only her modesty anti capacity for trust is witnessed here; there was also that Marie Martir for whom in her later vocation nothing but the most modern and best attested means was to be employed.
When she left the field of medicine to find a produce' for the remarkable documentary "Visitation," the same instinct led her to the doyen of such film makers at that time. Andrew Buchanan. The result was a work which uniquely 'combined an invitation to become a medical missionary with artistic integrity. At the time of which I write the background of her daily struggle for sanctity and battle for the institution of her order was a large early Victorian house in the Dublin suburb of
Monkstown, overlooking the great harbour of Dunleary.
Though most cif the 11 children of Thomas and Mary Martin had gone their ways,
they were always coming back again to visit the equally beloved mother and Marie. The house, if it had known tragedy, was singularly happy.
if sickness kept Marie partly at a distance from the world, a pretty fair sort of sample of its denizens drifted in and out of Grcenbank in the company of the huge Martin connection. Since not all the Martins were in the same league as their sister for piety, she had been used all .her life to the queer fish in Peter's barque. She made no distinctions; nor was she worth trying to shock. A little needs to be said here about Mary Martin's interior
life, in so far as it was then visible to others. (Doubtless spiritual directors will in the course of time illumine the further and deeper ways her soul went.) Although the work she did, not only in Africa but in four other continents, is already prodigious it certainly was not the result of some
invincible physical drive which, had her energy been diverted, would have built up for some other purpose another world-wide organisation.
She never had the air of a woman of destiny born under some unique star. On the contrary one knew that for her the position of matron at Glenstal School or the fulfilment of her international vision were seen in the light of a holy indifference. It was a phrase she herself would have used quite simply, as she used many of the older spiritual-textbook phrases; but with her it was basic, and she practised what she preached. If you had talked to her about horizontal and vertical attitudes in the spiritual life. she would without working it out on a blackboard have hardly known what you meant; nor would she have seen any real distinction. However, if you had offered her a choice between a life of prayer in a cell and a life of activity, such as she has lived, all over the world, she would not have wasted five minutes arguing the toss. If solitude was God's will, that was that. God's "adorable" will, she would have said. The size of her spiritual family today is the measure of the purity of that intention. It was in 1936, I think, that Pope Pius Xf's call for medically trained religious brought relief to Marie Martin's deep personal dilemma as to whether indeed her very practical visions of such an order as she came to found had their origin in the mind of God or the Devil. ("I am by nature very timid," she once told me.) She was a woman who, after her first strange encounter with her vocation, knew that she had a special mediation between men and God to accomplish, and grace enough for it. From "your devoted cousin Marie," she, became for me "yours prayerfully in Our Lady and Jesus Christ, Mother Mary."
But not altogether. Some 14 years ago I stopped off at Drogheda for an overhaul. I am looking now at a small plastic snowman she slipped into my bed while I wasn't looking. . .
I don't know how a professional hagiographer would deal with it. For me somehow its the meaning of the Whole life. For she despised nothing that God had caused to be made, or allowed to be made.
' About eight years ago the Vatican accepted Mother Mary Martin's resignation as Mother General and conferred on her
the title of Honorary Mother
General. The official announcement expressed warm gratitude for the special service she had rendered to the missions since she founded the Congregation.