Call to service brings John Martin to priesthood

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

May 15, 2017

Dcn. John Martin (left) is seen at the ordination Mass to the transitional diaconate, which took place at St. Maria Goretti Parish in April 2016. Dcn. Martin will be ordained to the priesthood May 20. (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)


FORT WORTH — John Martin always felt a call to serve. A desire to “give of myself in some way” eventually led the Trinity High School graduate to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. After nine years of military service, he toyed with the idea of joining the highway patrol.

“But, all along, thoughts of the priesthood were in there, too,” he said.

Desire will become reality May 20 when the 54-year-old transitional deacon receives the sacrament of Holy Orders from Bishop Michael Olson during an ordination Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral. The ceremony culminates years of study and an even longer journey of faith and discovery.

Born in a Portsmouth, Virginia naval hospital, Martin grew up in a family of non-church goers and was never baptized. His father, J.W. Martin, was Methodist and his mother, Darlene Honaker Martin, a lapsed Catholic.

“I knew about God and Jesus and we were taught to live morally but we never went to church,” he confessed.

So, in a way, the Church came to him. The impressionable youngster watched a televised Mass celebrated by a pope —possibly Pope Paul VI who presided at an October 1965 outdoor Mass in Yankee Stadium.

“I just knew that was the way to celebrate God,” Martin said, recalling his early attraction to the liturgy. “I began to identify with Catholicism and I knew if I ever did get baptized, that’s what it would be.”

His interest continued to grow when the family moved to Rockville, Maryland to a home down the street from a Catholic church.

“My friends went there so I’d go to church with them sometimes,” he continued.

But the opportunity to take RCIA classes didn’t come about until the serviceman was stationed in Okinawa, Japan with the Marines. Guided by two Catholic chaplains, the catechumen studied the faith and was baptized and confirmed during the Easter Vigil Mass in 1988. His mother and father responded to the news enthusiastically.

Dcn. John Martin assists in giving Holy Communion at his diaconate ordination Mass last year. He and Dcn. Stephen Hauck will be ordained to the priesthood May 20. (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)


“My dad said he was proud of me and my mom was very happy,” Martin said, recalling the reaction of his now-deceased parents. “I suppose they were leaving it up to me to choose [a religion].”

Shortly after his baptism, the new Catholic confided to one of the chaplains that he always felt called to be a priest.

“He told me, ‘That’s beautiful, John, but unfortunately, you’re way too old.’”

The Filipino priest told him that men who study for the priesthood grew up in the Church and became altar boys. Many enter the seminary as teenagers.

Martin was 26 at the time.

“So, I gave up on that for a while,” he said. “Many years later, I found out what he told me is probably true in the Philippines — not here.”

Martin was enjoying a successful, 22-year career in quality assurance at Bell Helicopter when he found himself revisiting the idea of a vocation to religious life.

“I began to feel I needed to do more — to give of myself in a more direct way,” explained the St. John the Apostle parishioner.

He remembered looking at a vocation inquiry card, intended for men age 18 to 35, that ushers handed out at Sunday Mass. Martin, who was in his 40s at the time and a bachelor, thought once again, “forget about it. I’m too old.”

It was Father Karl Schilken, his pastor, who advised the discouraged veteran to contact the diocesan Vocations Office. After two years of careful discernment, the 48-year-old Catholic convert entered Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. The seminary offers an enriched formation experience for men over 30.

Prior to his April 2016 ordination to the diaconate, the seminarian spent a pastoral year at Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls where he worked alongside Father John McKone.

“I went to funerals with him and helped at young adult confirmation classes,” Martin said. “On Father’s day off, I led the Office of the Hours and did a reflection.”

He also gained experience as a hospital chaplain by working at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Carrollton. Last summer, the deacon served at his home parish, St. John the Apostle in North Richland Hills.

His duties brought him into close contact with people who identified with the “older” seminarian and seemed to appreciate his life experience.

“They know I’ve been there and had to balance a checkbook and make a car payment,” he pointed out. “Parishioners have always been more than positive to me.”

The future priest hopes to reach out to people who don’t have any faith and introduce them to the Church. Catholics who no longer attend Mass are another concern.

“I want to walk with anyone who is suffering,” said the deacon. “I want to be relatable and someone people feel comfortable talking to.” 

FORT WORTH — John Martin always felt a call to serve. A desire to “give of myself in some way” eventually led the Trinity High School graduate to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. After nine years of military service, he toyed with the idea of joining the highway patrol.

Published (until 12/27/2035)
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