In the second century, St. Polycarp, grand-disciple of St. John the Evangelist, wrote with sadness to the people of Philippi that St. Paul had evangelized and to whom he had written a beautiful letter. The sadness was about a priest, and his wife, who had “hung up his collar” before there was such a thing as clerical dress.
After such a long hiatus, I write this post on October 4, the feast of St. Francis who is patron of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Last week I was in Taos for a meeting with Vicente Martínez and Robert Torrez, former state historian of New Mexico. We are collaborating on a publication-project about the life and legacy of Padre Martinez, Cura de Taos. It was my joy to remain in Taos for a week, and concelebrate the 6 AM Mass at San Geronimo Pueblo on occasion of their patron feast of St. Jerome, September 30.
A year ago today, I literally fell into the river. It was a great day to do so–the feast of San Juan Bautista. All over Latin America, especially in such places as Puerto Rico with its capital named after the Saint, people celebrate the feast by contact with water. By going to the beach, river, swimming hole or bath tub/shower, they symbolically renew their baptisms.
All fatherhood is from God. One of the greatest privileges believers of all faiths have is to address God as ABBA, the Aramaic word connoting tenderness and love that is better translated “daddy” or “tata Dios.” Jesus taught us to pray the famous prayer addressing God as OUR FATHER. Jesus Christ is always, from all eternity, in relationship to His heavenly Father, and invites us to share in the same relationship through adoption–Gods’ grace freely given by which we are also children of God. Through Baptism, we become little brothers and sisters of our elder brother Jesus Christ, and of one another. In liturgy, we pray TO THE FATHER, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Our human fathers are sometimes flawed, sometimes they are almost saints. Whatever they are, they deserve our honor: “Honor thy father and thy mother,” the Fourth Commandment obliges.
Antonio Jose Martinez experienced human fatherhood. As a very young man of 19, he got married, and within the year had a daughter who shared her mother’s name: Maria de La Luz. Mother died in childbirth, and after a few years, Antonio Jose left his daughter in the care of her maternal grandparents in Abiquiu–it is strongly supposed–while he went to Durango to pursue an education. In 1824, a couple of years after returning to New Mexico as an ordained priest, he was assigned to the parish of Santo Tomas in Abiquiu. He had been baptized there in 1793, married there in 1812, buried his wife there in 1813 and had his daughter baptized there in the same year. He was there for only a short time before his daughter died at the young age of eleven going on twelve. Padre Martinez remained in his ancestral home of Abiquiu–although he had lived in Taos since he was eleven– for a total of about two years before returning to Taos in 1826 to become the priest in charge of the parish of San Geronimo at the Indian Pueblo. The parish church included several chapels in the large surrounding area, including the church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe to which he would remain related for forty-two years until his death in 1867.
Antonio Jose Martinez was blessed in the lives of his wife and daughter, both named Maria de La Luz Martinez, who died all too-soon. One of the flawed dimensions of the life of Padre Martinez is the fact that he had children after becoming a priest. For a priest of the Western (Latin) Rite to marry is forbidden by the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not divine law, nor has it always been the custom.
The mother of his post-priesthood children, Teodora Romero, was a young woman who became a widow and bereaved mother when she lost her husband and daughter in 1826, the same year Padre Antonio Jose Martinez came to Taos as the priest-in-charge of Guadalupe Church. Within four years, this couple had a son by the name of George, not Jorge, in honor–it is said–of George Washington for whom Padre Martinez had great regard. The cornerstone of the Washington Capitol was laid in the same year of 1793 that Padre Martinez was born.
There were other children Padre Martinez fathered, and we will treat them in this blog on other occasions. Two others, however, are worthy of special mention at this time: Santiago Valdez and Vicente Romero. Valdez was an orphan brought up by a Valdez family in Taos. The Martinez family of the Padre holds to a strong oral tradition that Padre Martinez was his actual father. In his Last Will and Testament of 1867, reviewed and renewed shortly before he died, Padre Martinez left his books, library and some property to Santiago Valdez. In addition, he indicated that it was his will that this familiar (relative, or member of his extended family) and his children bear the name Martinez. Most of them did. Ten years after the death of Padre Martinez, Santiago Valdez wrote a biography of the Padre, Biografia del Presbitero Antonio Jose Martinez, Cura de Taos. It is a manuscript in Spanish, never published up to the present, located within the Ritch Collection at the Huntington Library near Los Angeles. This blog will furnish a summary and generous excerpts among its coming attractions.
Vicente Ferrer Romero is the youngest child of Padre Martinez, fourteen years junior to Santiago Valdez. He came of age during the tensions and serious conflicts between Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and Padre Martinez. The Taos priest considered himself a journalist, and had many opinions about many things. He had founded the short-lived newspaper El Crepusculo de La Libertad (only six issues), and was friendly with the publisher of La Gaceta de Santa Fe who was a former (anti-slavery) Presbyterian minister. In this and other venues, Padre Martinez publicized his disagreements with the bishop’s policies regarding tithing and other matters. Vicente as a young teenager witnessed the tensions between the bishop and his father, Padre Martinez. They crested between the years 1856 and 1858, and were marked respectively by the ecclesiastical censures of suspension and excommunication. (More about these in a future blog.) Vicente Ferrer Romero, by 1873, went on to become a very effective lay evangelizer and circuit rider for the Presbyterian faith. A paper on Padre Martinez and Ecumenism, and another specifically on Vicente F. Romero will also be grist for future treatments in this blog.
In spite of the inner conflict that Padre Martinez must have suffered from having children after becoming a priest, as evidenced in his efforts to obscure his paternity in the baptismal register of Guadalupe parish, it is worth noting that his conflicts with the bishop were totally other. The moral character of Padre Martinez was never impugned by either Bishop Lamy or his Vicar General and schoolmate, Very Rev.Joseph P. Machebeuf. Nevertheless, the Catholic members of the Martinez family–not to speak of some of the putative children and their descendants–have felt some shame about being illicitly fathered by a priest. Moreover, it is most important to note that Padre Martinez never abandoned any of his children. On the contrary, he loved them, cared for them as he could, and provided well for them in his Will.
On this Fathers’ Day, I wish to conclude this posting with an homenaje to my own father, Jose Tobias Romero. Born in Taos, he was a shepherd boy during the summers in the mountains of New Mexico. He married his high school sweetheart, my mother Claudia Garcia, and they had three boys. We moved to LA as very young children in 1943; Lockheed Aircraft employed dad as a machine accountant (“tabulating”). Mom died in 1969, and a little over a year later, dad went to the Claretian seminary, was ordained a priest in 1975, and served as a priest for 22 years before going to the Lord in 1996. This Taoseno was married as a young man, had children, became a widower, went to the seminary and was ordained a priest. There was absolutely no stigma in this. On the contrary, it was an occasion for surprise and some adulation. Pray for us, dad. !Que en paz descanse! God bless all of our fathers, grandfathers, godparents, and all priests who have brought blessings to our lives.
Praise and THANKS to God for several things! I am grateful for my recovering health after a summer heart attack, for retrieving this web log about Padre Martinez, and for recent developments that are about to yield fruit. These include a documentary film about the Cura de Taos, a new history-biography of the Padre, and a new book about Taos that includes at least one essay on Padre Martinez.
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