Mother Mary’s Years of Searching

While in Nigeria as a lay missionary, Marie Martin planned the beginnings of a religious group of women, committed to medical missionary work. She had taken a private vow of obedience to Bishop Shanahan and was always loyal to Church authorities. So, when she received a telegram from Bishop Shanahan asking her to return to Ireland and begin her religious training in Killeshandra, she had deep forgivings – but she obeyed. This was a pattern set for many years. She did not know exactly how her vision would be accomplished, but she searched, sought advice, used her connections and her natural affinity to get along with people to constantly check what was God’s will for her and for the companions she was gathering around her. She knew her own temperament. She wanted to do what God was asking, not just “do her own thing” and thus she always waited for ecclesiastical approval before taking the next step.

Marie joined the group in Killeshandra in June 1924. She was 32 years of age and had three years of missionary experience behind her. She struggled from the beginning, sensing she was in the wrong place. But she did not leave immediately. She sought advice and prayed much. It was only in March 1926 that Marie returned to her family home in Dublin.

During her long years of discernment, Marie was always active. “Years of waiting” gives a passive tone to her search which it never was. She had long bouts of illness with her heart condition, but always responding to current need as she saw it. Her brother, Desmond needed care while recovering from T.B. and Marie was at his side. She heard through her contacts in the Legion of Mary of a hostel for unmarried mothers and prostitutes in Glasgow and she volunteered. When all avenues for an active missionary life seemed closed to her, she tried to join a Carmelite monastery, and like St. Therese of Liseaux give her life for the missions in a hidden way. She received a ‘yes’ from the community members but the Prioress, Mother Dymphna, saw this was not the way God was calling her. The monks at the newly founded Glenstal Priory were in need of housekeepers. Marie Martin volunteered with the understanding that they would be schooled in the spirituality of St. Benedict. St. Benedict’s Rule would give the new Sisters the freedom of spirit that she so deeply desired for the missionary life. These years between 1926 and 1936 deepened and sharpened her spirituality. There was no superficial piety:

“Our aim – to share Christ´s work, suffering, sacrifice and life (and perhaps death) – to be patient, loving and kind in all things, not driven by ego. This is how Christ was and we do these for the same reason, the love of the Father.” (1933)

In 1936 the Vatican finally issued a decree allowing women religious to become engaged in obstetrics and surgery. In fact, it actually encouraged religious to take up this work.
This was the green light for Marie Martin, known even than as Sr. Mary. She had found a prelate in Nigeria who would accept her., Monsignor Moynagh and her sights were set on Africa once again.