Fr. Martin reaches landmark

CJ Warson · Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Sunday, June 4, marked fifty years since Father Dennis Martin began his ministry back in 1957.

West Liberty Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church had a celebration with both an English and a Spanish Mass, for the retired minister.

Before Martin became a Father he was merely a kid that grew up in Burlington, Iowa.

He went to Notre Dame, the local high school, and played sports that included basketball, golf and baseball.

However, Martin loved baseball the most. At the time he had other plans before deciding to become a Father of the Catholic Church.

“I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player,” Martin chuckled. “But that didn’t work out.”

But his plans after high school changed, he wanted to go into the ministry.

“It was the service idea,” Martin said. “I wanted to help people. I believed in God and believed in the Catholic approach.”

Father Martin hasn’t always been in West Liberty at St. Joseph’s. His journey of being a minister actually started down in West Point, Iowa at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

He then transferred to Marquette School, which had combined with Ft. Madison Catholic School into now what called Trinity.

From 1967 to 1982, he moved to Farmington, the next county over, and then kept going back to Marquette. He finally moved up north into the Iowa City area in 1982 to West Branch.

While staying there Father Martin took Clinical Pastoral education at the University hospital.

“They call it an extended quarter where pastors come in from the area to the hospital. Clinical pastoral education is when you meet in a group,” he said. “You can process your ministry in the hospital.

This process helps the pastors to better themselves in the area. They went around on their assigned floors and then get back together in a group and tell about their time. They would then get pointers on what they could do better next time.

Martin liked what he was doing so much that he decided to go up to Minneapolis for a year at Northwestern hospital. There, he could learn more and continue to help people.

In 1984 he came back to Iowa. At that time Mercy Hospital needed a chaplain. He was also with VA Mercy until 1993.

In 93’ he moved to Washington, Iowa for ten years before making his move to West Liberty in 2003.

After another ten years, in 2013, he made the move to retire and now lives in Rochester, Iowa.

“I now work for an organization called “Unbound”, which is a sponsorship organization,” Martin said. “We get invited to churches around the country and I go in the Mid-west area mostly.”

When he is needed, he substitutes in the area when they need someone because a priest has gone on vacation or is ill. He was subbing in for the priest that does the Spanish mass while the other priest is out for family matters.

There’s been a lot of changes in the minsitry over the past 50 years.

He said, “There’s a shortage of priests, there’s a loss of population in some of these smaller places, the families aren’t as big, the farms are bigger and the families aren’t as big on the farms.”

Not only have things been changing in these parts of the community, but the Latino populations is increasing. This includes West Liberty’s increase in the Latino population. In response he had to change some of what he does in the church.

“I was attracted to that ministry,” Martin said. “I started in Washington. Washington has a pretty good population of Latinos and so the ten years I was in Washington, I always did a Spanish mass. A good percentage of the Latinos are Catholic so that’s impacting the Catholic Church.”

Father Martin is capable of doing an English mass and a Spanish mass, such as what he did this past weekend as he celebrated his fifty years of ministry.

“That’s a difficult situation too because of the language.” He goes on saying, “The younger people speak English, but the older people have difficulty. That’s why I always like to have separate tracks going, trying to bring everyone together.”

Memorable moments include going down to Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala with families from West Liberty.

This was just some stuff that kept him going from day to day.

He could travel with families to meet their families that are still down there and worship with them.

However, there are other reasons besides being a part of other people’s lives that have kept him going in this line of work.

“God’s help,” he said. “You don’t have a family such as your own, but you’re accepted in a lot of families and friendships with sisters and priests. It’s a big thing.”
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