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Martin, Mother Mary


Founder of the medical missionaries of mary; b. Marie Helena Martin, in Dublin, Ireland, Apr. 25, 1892;d. Jan. 27, 1975, Drogheda, Ireland. During World War I, she trained as a Voluntary Aid Defense nurse and was posted to hospitals in Malta and in France, during which time she became inspired to continue her healing work after the war. It became her dream to found a religious congregation and do medical work as a missionary. Hearing of an opportunity to work in a mission in Calabar, South Nigeria, she trained in midwifery in Dublin and went to Africa for three years, primarily caring for women and maternity cases. Her commitment to the life of a religious healer deepened, but she had many years to wait until the Holy See decided to let religious do obstetrics and surgery. Martin and two companions received religious training from the Benedictines of Glenstal Abbey, County Limerick, in return for their housekeeping services at the abbey school. The abbey was founded in honor of Dom Columba Marmion who had always been a spiritual inspiration for her.

Permission for religious to practice medicine came in 1936 with the instruction Constans ac sedula of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and in May of that year the Holy See gave its consent to the founding of a new congregation. Miss Martin and her two companions sailed for Calabar in early 1937, but soon after arrival she contracted malaria and nearly died. Her sickbed profession, Apr. 4, 1937, in Port Harcourt, marked the founding of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Still severely ill, Sister Mary of the Incarnation, or Mother Mary, had to leave Africa under medical instructions, never to return. Her two companions remained behind in noviceship and worked to build the first mission.

At home and improved in health, Mother Mary's efforts were turned to getting support for her fledgling congregation. Her brother gave her a house called Rosemount in Dublin to be a house of studies for the new novices, and in December of 1938, the novitiate at Collon, County Louth, was canonically erected and five novices were received. The following December, a maternity hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes, was opened in Drogheda. The congregation, growing rapidly, needed a larger novitiate by 1940, and a new one was built in Drogheda, which also is the motherhouse. In 1942, the hospital received state recognition as a training school for sister-midwives, and today the International Missionary Training Hospital is in full operation.

Mother Mary continued as mother general until January of 1969 when she resigned. She was confined to bed for many of her last years and died at the motherhouse. Much of the growth and success of the Medical Missionaries of Mary throughout the world was due to the unflagging zeal of Mother Mary, who was able to excite the interest and cooperation of many supporters and vocations. Her community continues to expand, working on four continents with over 25 mission hospitals, many out-patient clinics and field stations.

[a. m. hubbard]

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