Marie Martin: Foundress of the Medical Missionaries of Mary
Marie Martin was a pioneer in health services, in women’s development and education, and in women’s religious life. In a public address she gave in Boston in 1952, she expressed concern about telling the story of how MMM began because, she said, “It is a very simple one, so simple that I really feel it may not interest you.”
The story was far from simple. She encountered many difficulties on the long road to founding the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Her vision was clear: dedicated women were needed, women who would bring health care to places where there was none, and would give particular care to women and children. She wanted the group to be international from the beginning.
This frail woman was a person of faith and courage, with a deep love of God and other people. She welcomed diversity and saw the need for MMMs to have freedom to make decisions, to be courageous, and to be professional in their work. This required a deep spirituality. At the time, for her and for others who shared her ideas, it was radical thinking.
Marie Martin was deeply human and often felt confusion when the way was not clear and frustration when she was misunderstood. Above all she wanted to discover and follow God’s will in her life. It was an improbable story. When you read about that story you will realize just how improbable it was.
In the following account, Mother Mary’s own words are noted in black.
Phase One: Backdrop
Who was this woman who inspired women from all over the world to bring hope and the healing love of God to millions? Born in Ireland in 1892, the second eldest of twelve children, Marie loved her home and family. She enjoyed the social whirl.
As in every family there were difficult moments. After a drive home during a snowstorm when she was twelve, Marie contracted rheumatic fever. When she was fifteen, her father, a wealthy merchant, was killed in a shooting accident.
“I was once a young girl and I lived at home, in a very happy home. I was one of twelve children and happened to be the eldest girl, with eight brothers, so you can imagine the number of times my hair was pulled. But we enjoyed life and we were all very happy together. I went to school, but only when I was fourteen years of age, as I had been very delicate and had rheumatic fever and therefore was not allowed to do any much schooling. And even when I went to school I was most of the time being cured of my rheumatism, in a place called Harrogate with the Holy Child Jesus nuns. When I came home, what was I going to do with my life?
“I was very fond of nursing the sick and the poor, so when I had all my home duties done and being at home with my brothers at night, Mother used to allow me to go out and visit the sick and poor, but our first duty was our home, for she always said to us, “Now girls, if you at home you will also have the brothers. If not, you will find they will be going to clubs, etc.” So we all dined together every night and about half past ten or eleven, when I felt I had done my part, I used to go out then and visit all the poor people of the parish, settle them down for the night, the cancer cases, the tuberculosis cases, those who were suffering, preparing for death. As I’d go I just wondered what I should do with my life and I prayed and asked God to show me His will.”
This was a passionate woman who fell in love and thought seriously of marriage.
“I was very fond of life. I enjoyed everything: tennis parties, dances, and so on, just like every normal girl. I thought the marriage vocation was a wonderful one. I only thought of my mother, she, the mother of twelve children, twelve souls for God. Oh, what a vocation! Could I be that? And I had determined that if it was God’s will that I would get married and be like Mother.”
Marie Martin was a woman who had a profound relationship with God. A turning point in her life came one day during a visit to the local church.
“Each day before I went into town I used to call in and pay a visit to the Friend of friends and tell Him of all my ideas. This day I was going in, and strange to say, I was thinking more seriously about the matter and I just fell to the foot of the altar and I told Our Lord about my anxiety and my ideas for the future, asking Him to let me know what He would wish and like a flash I saw that if I became a religious, and especially a missionary, I would be the mother of millions and millions of souls. I made up my mind then and there
that with God’s help that I would go and offer myself somewhere to do mission work and to be the mother of souls and if He was good enough to call me to be His spouse.
“I left the chapel. I went into town and I met my friend, and as you know I had my mind made up by then: marriage was out of the question.”
Years after founding the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Marie said of Gerald, “He was the person I most loved in all the world.”