By Maria E. Garcia
Editor Note: This is part 3 of the 4 part series Brother Martin: From Logan Heights to the Trappist Abbey
Upon Brother Martin’s return at the end of WWII to his beloved Logan Heights, he worked at aircraft plants and as a welder. He threw himself back into sports, not only playing them, but also coaching a team.
She was a teacher, and, in keeping with the standards of the time, she still lived with her parents. Brother Martin says that in those days girls did not have their own apartments.
But there was a darker side of his life. Some days he drank so much that he would blackout. He would then pledge not to drink again, but would break that promise within a few months. The drinking easily meshed with his interest in sports. They would play a game and then have a drinking party afterwards. At times it involved a team picnic at Mission Beach, but the result was the same: drinking and partying too much. He ended up going through a recovery program to curtail his drinking. Today he expresses his concern at how many social activities involve drinking in excess.
Brother Martin says he rarely went to the La Bamba Club in Logan Heights because you had to pay to dance with the ladies. But his interest in the opposite sex was also evident. He dated a variety of young women, including one in particular. She was a teacher, and, in keeping with the standards of the time, she still lived with her parents. Brother Martin says that in those days girls did not have their own apartments. Her dad had bought her a new car and they enjoyed going to a variety of places. Her family even had a TV, and Brother Martin remembers that in order to impress her father he would laugh at scenes her dad found funny in whatever TV show they were watching.
While he was readjusting to living in Logan Heights, Brother Martin was having a war inside himself about what he wanted to do with his life. He spoke with priests and nuns about his confusion. He taught catechism and led a Boy Scout troop for boys from Saint Augustine. He seemed to have one foot in the religious world and the other in regular everyday life. He was unsure if he wanted to follow a religious life or continue on the path he was on.
There was a Veterans of Foreign Wars office near the Neighborhood House that was named after Rudy Martinez, the first Mexican American killed in World War II. Brother Martin was asked by Armando Rodriguez to represent San Diego at a convention held at Walnut Creek. On the way home, they decided to visit a nun, Sister Tarcisius. She had come to Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1937 and she and Brother Martin remained very close. As he left her, she said to him, “I don’t want to see you again until you quit drinking.” Even today he says it hurts his heart when he thinks about it.
Although the brothers at the abbey were not under a vow of silence, they were encouraged not to talk to one another, so Brother Martin says he spent hours talking to the chickens.
In 1956, Brother Martin made the decision to join Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey. At first, he talked to the woman he was dating, telling her that he wanted to join the abbey to see if the religious life was for him. If it did not work out, he would come back to San Diego and live life as a married man. It was sufficient to say that the young lady was not thrilled, knowing that he was leaving her to choose the lifestyle he truly wanted. They broke up and he joined the abbey.
When Brother Martin’s father died, he asked for permission to go home but was told he could not leave. He remembers going into the woods by himself and crying his eyes out. In 1975, when his mother became ill, he was allowed to go home for a month. One of his brothers had what today would be called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of military action he saw in World War II and he considered himself not mentally capable enough to make medical decisions for his mother. The responsibility for his mother fell upon Brother Martin. His mother was in Doctors Hospital in the Midway district of San Diego, and he spent about thirty days in San Diego helping to care for her prior to her death.
His first job at the abbey was taking care of the chickens. Although the brothers at the abbey were not under a vow of silence, they were encouraged not to talk to one another, so Brother Martin says he spent hours talking to the chickens. He also says he lost his first language, which was Spanish. At that time, the Latino population in Carlton was very small and the opportunities to use Spanish were very limited. There was even an incident where a parishioner asked him to pray for her son because he wanted to “marry a Mexican.”
A Mexican American friend of Brother Martin’s remembered that, when he came to the town in 1972, he couldn’t even get a haircut. Thankfully, as the Mexican American population grew, the town became more accepting. Brother Martin was called to translate and he says he had to relearn Spanish. Today he once again converses regularly in Spanish. When a bishop came to speak at the abbey, Brother Martin translated for him.
Brother Martin holds three people in high esteem. Two are theologians and the third one is César Chávez. He had heard about César Chávez at a conference that he attended in Monterey, California. He was especially impressed with César’s strong religious beliefs and his commitment to nonviolence. Brother Martin had attended a funeral of an old friend in San Diego, and people encouraged a mutual friend, Minnie Gonzales to take him to see César and Minnie agreed.
Even today as he speaks about César you can see his admiration. He said he felt like he was in the presence of Jesus Christ. Brother Martin states that “César walked him around,” giving him a tour of Forty Acres in Delano. He vividly recalls learning about the role Filipinos played in the strike and even remembered César’s two dogs, Huelga and Boycott.
I think what impressed him most about César were his strong religious beliefs and the fact that César meditated. He also mentioned how impressed he was with the whole operation. He saw every “race in the book,” lawyers from New York as well as people from all over the country. Today he has a picture of César Chávez in his room at the abbey.
Brother Martin is constantly reading and attending conferences. He is especially pleased with interfaith communities. His fondness for cruzíos–retreats is evident, not only for the time spent in prayer and reflections, but also because of the sharing of cultures. He says that each country is different, but all have something to offer.
In our earlier conversation, Brother Martin said that God made gays and thus we should accept them. I am not sure that this is a popular belief among the clergy, but it reflects Brother Martin’s inclusive beliefs and his nonjudgmental ways. He says the church is for everybody.
Editor Note: Tomorrow is the final article in this 4 part series: A Walk with Brother Martin