Fr. Martin dies at 74

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Father Richard B. Martin, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Burke, died May 3 of complications from diabetes.

In a statement on Father Martin's death, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde said that he was deeply saddened but grateful for Father Martin's long years of service to the Lord and the church.

"In his 17 years as pastor at Church of the Nativity, and nearly 48 years as a priest, he was devoted to the spiritual care of his flock, and his loss is keenly felt," wrote the bishop. "He was unfailingly kind, making tangible and visible his expression of kindness."

To read Bishop Loverde's full statement on Father Martin's death, click here.

Father Martin was born Oct. 17, 1939, in Providence, R.I., to John and Georgette Martin. He spent much of his young life in Warwick.

He attended public and Catholic schools in Rhode Island, graduating from LaSalle Academy in Providence in 1958. In 1962, he graduated from Providence College and entered St. Bernard Seminary in Cullman, Ala., to study for the priesthoodHe transferred to St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pa., and was ordained to the priesthood May 14, 1966, by Richmond Bishop John J. Russell at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Richmond.

He served in the Richmond and Arlington dioceses including: at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, 1966-68; at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria, 1968-76; as an active duty Air Force chaplain, 1977-81; at St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax,1976-77; at St. James Church in Falls Church, 1981-84; and at St. Philip Church in Falls Church, 1985-86. In 1986, Father Martin was appointed pastor of St. Philip Church by Arlington Bishop John R. Keating. In 1996, Bishop Keating appointed Father Martin pastor of Nativity.

For his service as an Air Force chaplain, he received the U.S. Medal of Commendation in 1980.

Father Martin will be remembered for many acts of kindness, but one of his greatest legacies will be Operation Starfish, which serves the poor in Haiti.

Over the last 15 years, Operation Starfish has built more than 1,000 houses in eight Nativity villages in Haiti. Operation Starfish has been so successful that the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., created its Haiti project after Father Martin's model.

Jim McDaniel, coordinator of Operation Starfish, has been a friend of Father Martin for 16 years. McDaniel said that the pastor's impact on the parish and the world will not be forgotten.

"(Father Martin) leaves a legacy of love, and it goes far beyond the parish," he said.

More than 80,000 people have been helped in Haiti because of Operation Starfish, said McDaniel.

He said that Father Martin never lost touch with people who moved away from the parish. McDaniel said he's received messages of condolence from around the country and the world, including Haiti.

On Monday, a Nativity School student came up to McDaniel and asked, "Who will feed the poor in Haiti now?" The answer, of course, is Father Martin's legacy - Operation Starfish.

Joe and Kelly Luquire, parishioners of Nativity, were at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass when the announcement of Father Martin's death was made by Father Wilson I. Korpi, parochial vicar. Joe said some people knew about his death, but most did not. There was a clue in the youth choir song sheet that said, "In loving memory of Father Martin."

"He tried to live like Jesus," said Joe.

The amount of visible grief shown on the faces of the congregation moved Kelly.

"I've been a Catholic all my life," she said. "I've never seen such sorrow."

Father Korpi served as parochial vicar with Father Martin at Nativity since 2010. They also served together at St. Philip Church when Father Korpi was a permanent deacon.

"Father Martin was a man who never just taught the Gospel; he lived it," said Father Korpi.

Christine Bachman, a parishioner for 17 years, said that Father Martin's homilies spoke to her.

"It simply wasn't possible to leave one of his homilies and not want to be a better person that week," said Bachman.

The viewing will be at Nativity May 8 from 2 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered May 9 at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to "Operation Starfish" c/o Church of the Nativity, 6400 Nativity Lane, Burke, VA. 22015.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014