Marie Martin was a woman of great integrity. She was persuaded to complete her religious training in the Holy Rosary Congregation in Ireland but did not feel she could take her vows at the end. She had always wanted to do medical work and did not believe that she would be doing God’s will in a teaching congregation. From the start she felt she was in the wrong place and left in 1926.
“When I arrived home I was naturally very tired and worn out over three and a half years in Africa. I had taken my vows, private vows to His Lordship, Bishop Shanahan. All that this world had given me, as His vicar, I had given to him, for God. I’d given my obedience. I went to my director and told him of what had happened and he said, ‘The first thing you must do now is to ask to be released of your private vows, for your whole situation has changed.’
Marie went to Bishop Shanahan and told him that she did not feel she would be doing God’s will by entering a teaching congregation. She had always had the idea of doing medical work on the missions and felt that was God’s will for her. He begged her to give it a try. Marie agreed, saying that she would do anything for the missions, but only under one condition: that she enter the new congregation as any postulant or novice would, with the same freedom and that if she didn’t feel it was God’s will she could leave. The bishop consented.
Marie continued,“With that I was released of my private vows and I went to see the Mother Prioress of the convent, who were going to start this new work. I humbly asked for admission and the first thing she said [was], ‘Remember, Miss Martin, if you enter this Order, you’ve got absolutely nothing to do with the founding of it. This has now been given into our hands by Bishop Shanahan and you just enter as a novice or postulant in any other congregation.’
“I said,“Mother, I’m very grateful to hear those words because I feel this is the only way I could enter, because … I do not feel that it is God’s will for me, but the bishop has asked me to give it a trial and I am only willing to do so.’
Marie entered the congregation at Killeshandra and did her postulancy. For a long time she felt she was in the wrong place, but her director told her to continue. She finished her spiritual year and felt the same way, but again her director told her to continue. She complied but said,“I finished my second year but I could not take my vows for I did not feel I was doing the will of God.”
Marie later saw God’s providence working because she had completed her novitiate but at this point she again felt uncertain and confused. With so many obstacles in the way of starting a women’s medical missionary group, she decided to devote her life to prayer.
“I therefore left and found myself in the same position, not knowing what to do. We could not be religious at that time and undertake the works that were nearest to my heart and that was the care of the mother and child at childbirth. So I thought the best thing to do was to enter Carmel.”
She applied to the Carmelites, who told her that she had to get all the votes of the religious in the house and to come back for their answer. When she returned on Easter Tuesday she met the prioress, who told her she had all the votes. Marie was thankful that she could now give her life in prayer and sacrifice that someday God will find someone to start a congregation for the care of the mother and child in mission countries.
The prioress said, “While you have the votes I’m afraid I can’t accept you. After Mass this morning I got a very strong inspiration that I should advise you not to enter here, but to persevere in trying to find an order that would do the work that you see and believe so necessary for the Catholic missions.”
Many people would have given up but Marie was undeterred. In Scotland she met a priest, Father Agius, SJ, who said he was founding a medical missionary Order.
Marie said, “I was disappointed. I went back to my director and told him … that during the time that I’d been waiting for my answer from Carmel I’d been over to Scotland, where I‘d heard of them founding an Order which seemed very like that I was dreaming about. I met the director, who was a Jesuit. He told me all about the work, that they were going to have vows, that they were going to do all branches of medical work, and that they were going on the missions.
Her director advised her to go back for a year. If she believed that it would fulfil the work necessary for the missions she should remain. If not, she should come home.
Marie helped out at a hostel that Father Agius had started. The work was very hard and there was no religious training. She begged the priest to leave the work, or to get others to do it for a year or two, until the women who wanted to join had religious training. He did not agree so the women left, often leaving Marie practically alone. She returned to Ireland in 1929, her health broken down, and for the next five years she was an invalid.
Marie said, “I was broken down in mind and body and heart. I didn’t know what to do or what to think and all I could do was suffer with Our Divine Lord and ask Him to show me clearly what he wanted. During that time … I began to think and pray and formulate, and yet my director said it could never be that a religious with vows could do maternity work. So I put it out of my head and I just thought I was a failure and that nothing could be done but to live at home, where I got strong. At that time the doctors thought I would never be able for any active work again. However, God has His own ways of doing things.”