Thursday, August 10, 2000

Servant to city's poor recognized for his work

By Rebecca Billman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brother John Martin accepts award from Helen Colony.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Brother John Martin, a Jesuit, stood in the doorway of Mary Magdalen House in Over-the-Rhine on Wednesday morning and received a prestigious international service award.

        The only people present were a Jesuit colleague, the American Red Cross presenter, and some of the people Brother Martin helps at Mary Magdalen, a personal resource center for the homeless.

        Considering Brother Martin's modesty, the simplicity of the ceremony was fitting.

        But winning the 2000 International Humanity Service Award from the American Red Cross Overseas Association puts Brother Martin in the company of entertainer Bob Hope, former President Jimmy Carter and Cincinnati's beloved broadcaster Ruth Lyons — all past recipients.

        ARCOA, the nonprofit group of overseas Red Cross workers, has given the award annually since 1956 to an individual or group for extraordinary service to society.

        The judging panel is composed of former ARCOA presidents, including Helen Colony of Dent, who served 1981-84. She nominated Brother Martin for his work with Mary Magdalen House.

        “The reason for the success of this house is Brother John Martin,” Mrs. Colony said Wednesday in presenting the award.

        At Mary Magdalen House, a person can take a shower, have his clothes laundered by volunteers, get new clothes, use the phone to reach prospective employers, or simply use the restroom. It is not a shelter.

        From 80 to 120 guests — Brother Martin always calls them “guests” — use the place each day.

        Brother Martin, 63, was to receive his award at the ARCOA convention in Boston last Saturday. But on July 31, he suffered a heart attack — his third since 1993. He underwent angioplasty at Good Samaritan Hospital last week, but was unable to travel to Boston.

        Instead, Mrs. Colony accepted the award for him, brought his plaque to Over-the-Rhine and, wearing white gloves so as not to smudge it, gave it personally to Brother Martin.

        It cites Brother Martin for “outstanding initiative, commitment and service extraordinaire as the director of Mary Magdalen House.”

        The Jesuit brother was born in Over-the-Rhine, grew up in Mount Auburn and Pleasant Ridge, and graduated from St. Xavier High School in 1955. He attended the Milford Novitiate seminary, then returned to St. Xavier to work as an assistant in the principal's office. He stayed until 1986.

        In 1987, Brother Martin started volunteering at a social service agency in Over-the-Rhine. Months later, he was asked to work at Mary Magdalen. It opened in 1988.

        Although by all appearances he is a co-director, Brother Martin balks at the title, declaring it an overstatement. He humbly refuted all praise offered by co-workers Wednesday, denying that he deserved recognition.

        During Wednesday morning's presentation, staffers at Mary Magdalen kept working. All but one.

        Fred Jones, himself homeless, was bearing an armload of shoes when he paused long enough to say, “He's one of the most wonderful, nicest men I know.”

        Brother Martin is scheduled to undergo three more angioplasties at 7:30 a.m. today.


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