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The Light of One: Diary of a Young Southern Catholic


Continuing our daily Advent reflection series, Secular Franciscan and Franciscan Mission Service Board Member Patrick Martin writes about the impact meeting Franciscans had on his faith as an impressionable Catholic college student in the South.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, southern Catholics were not part of the national Catholic culture. We didn’t talk like the northern Catholics, our weddings weren’t at all like Catholic weddings up north, we preferred SEC football to teams like Notre Dame (especially when Georgia beat the pants off Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim the national title, but I digress). We were different. And to our Protestant acquaintances, we were VERY different, and probably not Christian.

That’s how I felt when I was an 18-year-old freshman at a large southern state university in a state where Catholics were in a distinct minority (less than 10 percent).

Franciscan Tau cross

It was with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation that I went to the Catholic Center at the university that first Sunday. And these two guys in brown robes walk in. I figured out that they were Franciscans (in fact, the only two in the state), because I’ve seen these guys in the movies before. My knowledge of the charism was limited to the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

What I discovered was a presence I had never felt before in church. It was a faith of humility, simplicity, and peace. I became more involved with the Center because I just liked being around these guys. They had a way of dealing with life which I hadn’t really seen before.

Like the time the tornado blew in.

I had just finished helping serve a dinner meeting of campus ministers at the Center when I stepped outside and saw the funnel. I ran inside in a panic to tell Father Joe, who calmly turned to the other ministers (all male) and said, “Gentlemen, please follow me to the Ladies Room.” Which might seem odd if you didn’t know that it was the most interior – and safest – room in the Center. Father Joe’s default reaction was simple calmness.

My faith has matured over the years. I realize now that “Southern” US Catholic is one flavor of a universal Church. The Franciscan movement has been global since Francis first sent his brothers throughout Europe and northern Africa. They even made it to Athens, Georgia. For that I am grateful. Francis, through the wonderful men and women who bear his name, speaks to each of us where we are, in humility, simplicity, and peace.

Coming up tomorrow: “God’s Presence” by Doug Garofalo!

A Secular Franciscan, Patrick Martin, OFS, currently serves as the regional minister of St. Margaret Cortona region and is a member the St. Anthony of Nagasaki fraternity. Patrick is also a parishioner of St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill where he led a JustFaith group, which sparked for him an interest in global issues. In 2007, he was a founding member and, subsequently, co-chair of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Global Solidarity Committee. He has been on the Franciscan Mission Service board of directors since spring 2013.

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Patrick Martin, OFS, is the vice president of Franciscan Mission Service’s board of directors. A Secular Franciscan, Patrick currently serves as the regional minister of St. Margaret Cortona region and is a member the St. Anthony of Nagasaki fraternity. In 2006 he left his position at American University to help open the archdiocesan Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, one of 25 schools across the country that serves the children of low income families exclusively with a college prep education and an innovative work/study program.