Father James Martinez, OSA, who died ln December, left a remarkable impression on the parishioners of St. Augustine's in Troy. (Photos provided)
Father James Martinez, OSA, who died ln December, left a remarkable impression on the parishioners of St. Augustine's in Troy. (Photos provided)
When Father Jim Martinez, OSA, died Dec. 16 the baby boomers of Lansingburgh lost an icon of our childhood: a prayerful priest, a learned teacher, a mentor, a coach and a trusted friend.

His funeral Liturgy was held at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Bryn Mawr, Pa., on the 92nd anniversary of his baptism. Family and friends gathered at the parish where he had served as pastor for more than 30 years. He loved the people and they loved him! A priest friend said of him, “Father Jim was an exemplar in the Augustinian life.” He noted his soft-spoken way, his willingness to say “yes” to whatever was asked of him, and how he loudly proclaimed Gospel values every day by how he lived his ministry. He was a man of humility, service and good works.  He was a priest-servant. A man of God. A servant of the people.

The people of St. Augustine’s in Troy have known that for more than six decades. Father Martinez was given his first parish assignment as associate pastor there in 1959. In addition to pastoral duties, he taught at Catholic Central High, and because he was the new priest, was put in charge of the parish CYO, which then numbered more than 300 teenagers. He also coached the elementary CYO basketball team. He tackled all of those jobs with enthusiasm, prayer, humor and patience, and always with a smile.

When the teens expressed a desire to go on ski trips, Father Jim took ski lessons at Rock Candy Mountain. He asked to borrow the pastor’s car because he needed it to “take a class.” He then prayed every week that no harm would come to him or the car that might need explaining. When a local news crew came to film the first ski school graduates, Father Jim politely declined. 

Father Jim, Father Eugene DelConte, OSA, and several parent-chaperones took a full busload of teens to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Upon arrival, the kids scattered, but all returned to the bus on time; all made it home safely without incident. Father Jim and the parents also became lifelong friends. Long after their children had grown, the parents and Father Jim — known as “The Cocoon” — vacationed together every year for nearly 30 years, traveling from Maine to the Poconos.

St. Augustine’s was a large, active parish. There were 900 students in the grade school. My class was especially blessed. Father Jim came just as we entered first grade. He was “Father Mart” to many of us who could not pronounce or spell Martinez. We literally grew up with him. He taught us the Villanova University fight song before we could read. He was there for our skinned knees, Mass on Sunday mornings, our First Communion, Confirmation and our eighth-grade graduation. He taught some of us at CCHS. He guided us through the usual adolescent angst, the social unrest of the day and the changes following Vatican II. He was for us a prayerful, calming, constant presence in our lives.

His homilies always began with, “My dear friends.” And so we grew to be. By the time we came of age, Father Jim had a station wagon. He drove us everywhere! There were more ski trips, basketball games, CYO rehearsals, shows and dances. There were bake sales, car washes, service projects, hikes, swim trips and the annual retreat, which was strongly encouraged. He drove us there as well. He took seniors to New York City, Villanova and Catholic University for campus tours.

Father Jim was a part of the fabric of our lives, individually and collectively.  Words used to describe him include, “kind, wonderful, inspirational, holy, compassionate, caring and the best.” He was there to serve anyone in need. We needed only “Dial M for Martinez.” He held us together on our worst days and danced with us on our best.

When he left Troy to minister in Florida, he was given a new car by the people of the parish. He routinely came back to Troy for weddings, funerals and celebrations.

Father Jim had officiated at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary Liturgy in 1960.  In 1969, my family traveled to south Florida on vacation. When we called him to check in, he drove from Casselberry to spend the day at the beach with us and talk fishing with my grandfather. Other families have similar stories of his hospitality, of playing tennis, boating on the Hudson, camping or enjoying the ocean he loved so much.

The bonds of friendship he formed with so many will not be broken by distance, time or even death. We honor his memory by living humbly, being faithful to our calling in life and watching out for others.

Tim Fogarty spoke for many of us when he said, “I am so saddened that this holy man of my entire childhood is gone. But I am sure that leaving during Advent to celebrate Christmas with his kin and his Augustinian family brings him great joy. My memories of him are golden treasures.”

His legacy will live on as long as memories are shared.

Schongar is a graduate of St. Augustine’s School, Class of 1967. She lives in Albany, is a Mercy Associate and member of the Church of St. Vincent De Paul in Albany.