Since he arrived at St. Clare, Essex, in early June, Father C. Lou Martin has had his room covered in moving boxes. The new pastor knows he has no choice but to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
He is applying that philosophy to St. Clare, a parish that has been without a pastor for more than seven years. The former pastor of Baltimore’s St. Anthony of Padua and Most Precious Blood celebrated his first Mass with St. Clare parishioners in late May.
“The first message I had for them was that I wanted to spend the next year having listening sessions, hearing what they have to say and what they want from their church,” the pastor said
During his inaugural homily, he laid out four challenges.
St. Clare is nearly $750,000 in debt, he told parishioners. Many were unaware of the financial straits St. Clare was in at the time of his arrival. So, he detailed, step-by-step, how the parish arrived at that point.
“We have to get our house in order,” the 59-year-old Father Martin told The Catholic Review.
The second challenge is addressing St. Clare School. Father Martin said enrollment is 141 students. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is currently studying the viability of all current schools.
“I called upon them to help fill the seats,” Father Martin said. “It’s vital that they choose they want the school.”
Principal Maggie Dates, who was hired midway through the school year, said she has had several discussions with Father Martin about the future.
She said since he was named pastor, there has been “a steady increase” of potential families asking about the school.
“I think it’s more than just a pastor,” Dates said. “It shows a commitment, a unifying force. He believes in Catholic education and that this is worth fighting for. It’s somebody to lead us into the future.”
Father Martin said the third challenge is to engage the youth of the parish beyond their elementary school years. He said there are more than 270 teenagers registered and a youth ministry group will be started to meet their needs.
The fourth challenge for the parish will be becoming a more integrated community, according to Father Martin. The parish has a growing Hispanic community. He will ask established parishioners and Hispanics “to open yourselves up” as they become one parish.
Father Martin had success blending communities at St. Anthony of Padua and Most Precious Blood, where he served for 14 years. The 33-year priest previously was pastor of St. Lawrence, Woodlawn. That parish merged with the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to become St. Gabriel of Woodlawn in 1997.
Father Martin also served at St. Rita, Dundalk, and St. Michael the Archangel, Overlea.
The Rhode Island native said his approach to ministry has remained consistent.
“My whole sense of God is that he wants to be intimate with us,” Father Martin said. “He was sent by God. He was human. God wants to be accessible to people.”