Diverse community kicks off centennial celebration for St. Martin’s in Gaithersburg
Nov 19, 2019
St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, kicked off its centennial year celebration on Nov. 10, marking its patron saint’s feast day with a trilingual Mass that drew standing room crowds, both in the church and in its newly refurbished parish hall.
Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who served as St. Martin’s pastor from 2003 until Pope Francis named his as an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore in 2016, served as the main celebrant. The concelebrants included Father David Wells, St. Martin’s administrator, along with several other priests who have served at the parish. The liturgy reflected the mosaic of the community, with music and readings in English, Spanish and French.
Processing into the church to the song, “Vienen Con Alegria” (Spanish for “They Come with Joy”), Bishop Brennan smiled as he saw many familiar faces. He joked that when he first arrived at St. Martin’s Parish 14 years ago, he thought he would be there for the 100th year celebration, and he was right.
Bishop Brennan talked about how St. Martin’s, since its founding in 1920, has fostered the spiritual growth of its members, with its works of charity being among its hallmarks. With a Catholic school, a religious education program offered in both English and Spanish, a Eucharistic Adoration chapel, and multiple ministries that meet weekly, the parish lives out its mission to meet the spiritual needs of its diverse community.
St. Martin’s Parish serves the needy through its annual coat drive that emulates the famous story of its patron saint, the soldier St. Martin of Tours who cut his cloak in one-half to give it to a poor person, and that night he had a vision where the beggar revealed himself to be Jesus. Among its service ministries, the parish also houses the Lord’s Table soup kitchen and has a food pantry that serves the community. For St. Martin’s centennial, Father Wells chose the passage from Joshua 24:15, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” as the Scripture inspiration for the year.
Bishop Brennan gave his homily first in English, then Spanish, and finally French. He talked about how most people have heroes, and how he’d watched the Washington Nationals come from behind in many games to win the World Series. Parishioners chuckled, as it was a common sight to see him wearing his red Nat’s cap over those many years.
Repeating the Nationals’ motto from their championship year, he said, “Heroes choose to ‘Stay in the Fight’.” Then he added, “And so do saints.”
The bishop said St. Martin of Tours was an even more worthy hero, tending to the flock, willingly, eagerly, putting his faith into action by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, winning freedom for inmates, responding to the needs of those in front of him as a form of prayer. “St. Martin would have preferred a life of prayer,” said Bishop Brennan, who added that the saint knew faith in Jesus Christ would save people from superstition and make them “free to live lives as beloved children of God.”
He challenged the congregation to be bold in preaching Christ and to seize opportunities to witness to why faith matters. Bishop Brennan spoke of the new paganism of today’s age, which he said is just as futile and heartless as the one St. Martin encountered in the fourth century.
The bishop encouraged St. Martin’s parishioners to pray for the opportunity to speak of Jesus to others, to tell them of “the cause of our joy,” and to back up their words with actions, giving common witness to the world and to every individual they encounter.
Bishop Brennan asked them to stand with the immigrant and the unborn, to visit and care for the sick and the dying, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, “to imitate St. Martin’s zeal in constant charity so that we would hear the wonderful words that St. Martin must have heard, and be invited to rejoice in our Father’s house.”
The bishop’s joy at returning to the parish he’d served for almost a decade and a half was evident on his face.
The celebration of that Eucharistic feast held within it, a blessed chaos of a toddler deciding to walk down the aisle to hug a grandmother, and teens huddled together against the walls to allow older parishioners to sit. The church and the hall teemed with the extended family of St. Martin’s, its past, present and future, people who attend Mass daily and some who do so occasionally, the altar servers and Eucharistic ministers and deacons, and the ushers, Knights of Columbus, and schoolchildren, alumnae and volunteers, and those who simply knew that this parish fed people’s souls as well as their bodies.
The procession around the outside of the church following an image of St. Martin of Tours ended in the parish hall, where Bishop Brennan blessed the new facilities, and took the opportunity to bless those who sat in the basement, watching the Mass on a large screen. James Joyce wrote of the Catholic Church, “Here comes everybody,” and the diverse group of people attending St. Martin’s anniversary Mass, procession and the reception that followed illustrated the truth of that writer’s words.
At the potluck that followed, people sat in the gymnasium and waited their turn to wish the bishop well on his new endeavor and to shake hands with the priests. Many people remarked about how Bishop Brennan remained the same priest they’d remembered. They noted his humility, reflected in the simple wooden crosier he held, a sign of his role as the shepherd to his flock. He sat with a plate full of delicious food, not eating because he gave his full attention to anyone who came to his table to say “hi.”
“It’s just like when he was here,” one parishioner said, laughing. “He doesn’t get to eat,” because he was too busy feeding the flock.
Meanwhile, parishioners enjoyed a feast of baked chicken, Spanish rice with olives and tomatoes, fried plantains, empanadas, beans, fresh salad and homemade lumpia (an Asian spring roll), not to mention desserts, including olive oil orange cake. When people finally finished eating, when most of the parishioners had left, when the volunteers began cleaning up and clearing out, the bishop finally ate his dinner, all the while still stopping as the occasion arose, to shake hands and visit with each person that came by the table.