MMM Communications Ireland 23.01.2023
Extract from a tribute by Aine McEvoy from some of the people who knew her. First published in MMM Magazine 1992
Fr. Hugh Kelly SJ, (1886 – 1974), a life-long friend of Mother Mary
She had a woman’s instinct and a woman’s insight and a woman’s conviction which is stronger than anything. She felt she was doing a work that God wanted to be done. He gave her that idea and she was going to do it.
She never reasoned about it. Difficulties never bothered or troubled her. No matter what it costs she would do it well. Could you give a shorter training to a Sister? No, we will do the best. When you do a thing, do it well.
She was a very attractive woman and very feminine. She was refined and delicate and a lady to her fingertips. She looked well always in anything she wore. She had a fair complexion and fair hair. She had a wonderful way with people, even clerics.
She went out to Nigeria at the invitation of that great missionary, Bishop Shanahan. He was one of our great modern Irish men who has never been recognised. He really was the spearhead in our modern missionary effort, which, to my mind, is the biggest thing we have done since the explosion after St. Patrick’s time. When we get the faith, we give it and I think that, since 1916, the missionary explosion has been an amazing thing in this country.
Mother Mary was invalided home from Nigeria. In fact, the doctors told her she would never be strong again and she should put out of her mind any work and any idea of a religious vocation. It would be impossible. She was to be a permanent invalid.
I used to visit her home regularly at Greenbank in Monkstown (Dublin). We would have long talks. She always had the idea of founding a Congregation on new lines. She had seen the desperate medical condition of the people of Nigeria and the appalling loss of life of little children and the suffering of the mothers. She felt that something must be done. You cannot merely give the Word of God to these people. You must make life worth living for them.
That would be a splendid act of charity to them in such dire need. She had this idea in her mind but it seemed an impossible thing to achieve.
Sisters were not allowed by the Church to do maternity and obstetrical work. There was nothing to be done, but she hoped and hoped. She inspired a few girls and gave her ideas to them. They began to meet often and have visions and dreams.
By chance, she was asked by the Prior of the Benedictine Monastery in Glenstal to take over the care of the school and kitchen and in return the group would get spiritual education from one of the monks.
Mother Mary herself was attracted to Benedictine spirituality. It has a certain quiet and peace with a simple kind of prayer that was hers and that she gave to others. It was a contemplative prayer with an attachment to the Divine Office and to the Liturgy of the Church.
Bishop James Moynagh (1903 – 1985): Bishop of Calabar, Nigeria
I came home from Nigeria in 1934 looking for just the kind of help Marie Martin had in mind. I met her and she asked me if I would sponsor her medical missionary Congregation. I accepted and I suppose I was influenced by the extraordinary faith and courage with which this frail person spoke of doing this work for God.
I returned to Calabar, and it was proposed that a Sister of the Holy Child Jesus who had come to Nigeria in 1930 would act as Novice Mistress and give accommodation to Miss Martin and the girls who were to come with her.
I had a cable from Monsignor Whitney from KIltegan in December 1936 saying that Marie Martin and two companions were sailing to West Africa. They arrived in January 1937.
In that same year, Archbishop Riberi, who was Apostolic Delegate, was visiting all the missions in Nigeria. Mother Mary Martin and her companions, Mother Magdalen O’Rourke and my own sister, Mother Joseph, who had joined the group were already in the care of the Holy Child Sisters. I was pleased to find that Archbishop Riberi was enthusiastic about the whole project. He said I was to go ahead and send an appeal to Rome asking permission for approval of the foundation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Permission to found the Congregation and permission for Mother Mary to make her Profession came from Rome in a very short period.
In the meantime, Marie Martin had become extremely ill and was in the Government Hospital in Port Harcourt. I went down to Port Harcourt and she made her Religious Profession while ill in bed in the Government Hospital.