Every priest’s vocation story is different; the diocese’s newest priest had a slow but confident journey
“I knew God was working in my life since I was a little kid,” said Lance Martin, 10 days before he was to be ordained the newest priest for the Diocese of Wilmington by Bishop Malooly.
Though he didn’t grow up a Catholic, he said, “I felt called to the Catholic Church in sixth grade. I used to walk by a church called Immaculate Conception that was between my house and my best friend’s. It was German gothic architecture, red sandstone. It had this weight about it and it had this white statue of the Blessed Mother.”
It’s easy to examine those early memories of Father Martin’s attraction to Catholicism, the design of that church in Lock Haven, Pa., and the impression of the Blessed Mother shrine, with Father Martin’s eventual conversion, his appreciation of art with his fine arts degree and his continuing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A greater truth
When he looks back now, Father Martin sees his interest in Catholicism with being drawn to the truth behind appearances.
He also recalls his older brother once asking him to guess what coin was worth more, a nickel or a dime. He picked the bigger coin, of course, but his brother revealed the dime’s true worth.
“I didn’t understand it then,” Father Martin recalled. “But later in life, I learned what the truth was.”
The lesson led the young Lance to begin to seek the “ultimate truth” in things, he said.
Still not a Catholic, when he attended Lock Haven’s public high school he had many Catholic classmates, but when he asked them faith-related questions, they often couldn’t answer them.
“But I knew there was a truth,” Father Martin said.
Also, when he was a child, he learned some hard truths of life early when family members died unexpectedly.
“My grandparents and my mother’s grandparents died when I was in second and third grade,” he recalled. “A cousin [a junior in high school] died in a house fire. Within four years we had five deaths and three of them were tragic.”
The events brought the family together, Father Martin said, but the losses, with the tears and sentiment that accompanied them, gave him a “different perspective” on life.
Different kind of cradle Catholic
Despite Father Martin’s family’s Protestant heritage — his father was the son of a missionary in Japan — Wilmington’s newest priest said he feels like he was a cradle Catholic, not only Catholic but called to priesthood before he had even joined the church.
“After I graduated from high school, I went to California. I lived there for a couple of years and ended up feeling called to religious life. I wasn’t sure if it was Dominican, Jesuit or Franciscan. I was just very cautious going about it.
“I always searched but ended up getting frustrated.”
‘Wild blue yonder’ RCIA
Was it because he wasn’t actually a Catholic then?
No, he said, it was because he only encountered shallow, gimmicky, sound-bite answers about the faith. But his faith journey to the church and his vocation found a smoother path once he joined the U.S. Air Force.
He was trained in ground radio and, at the time, figured he could use the skills he acquired to eventually work in Christian music or at a Catholic radio station someday, he said. In the meantime, he started helping chaplains at Catholic services.
When Air Force sent Martin to Lakenheath, England, Martin finally decided to enroll in Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes. His classes weren’t completed there when he was missioned to Aviano Air Base in Italy.
“That’s where I became a Catholic,” Father Martin said. He was involved “helping out with church stuff, organizing pilgrimages. Italy is where I got to know all these religious orders. I lived off base. I traveled around to religious sites. I didn’t study Italian but I learned to speak it fluently.”
If his faith journey had been slow, it was always confident, Father Martin said.
In the Air Force he felt called to priesthood again. The Air Force was also helping the new Catholic learn about the universal church.
“Going to Mass, I would take my missal with me,” Father Martin recalled. The places he took that Mass book included England, Scotland, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, Austria and Qatar.
Father Martin had expected to enroll in a seminary after his Air Force years, but after a Stop Loss extension to his service time, he returned to the United States in the midst of the breaking news about the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002-03.
“I was seriously mad at God,” he said.
Instead of the seminary, he served as a chaplain’s assistant in the California Air National Guard and earned a fine arts degree in San Francisco.
When his Guard unit was deployed to Qatar, the future priest met a chaplain there, Father Anthony Giamello of the Diocese of Wilmington.
“I had traveled the world and wanted to settle down,” Father Martin said. “He [Father Giamello] made me realize that as a diocesan priest you get to know families, you baptize their babies, you end up marrying them. So that’s what I am today.”
After seeing different faiths around the world, such as “Muslims saying their prayer beads” in the Middle East, Father Martin wishes Catholics lived in a similar religious context in the West. “But here, if you see someone saying the rosary” in public, “it seems odd.”
He thinks good religious education can restore some of the past Catholic culture in this country.
“If I could have a slogan for my ordination, it would be ‘forgotten heritage,’” he said, because the church’s rich tradition of practices and devotions.
He expected his mind to be racing during the litany of his ordination Mass when he would be prostrate before the altar. Could be he thought of something Giusseppe Cozzolino, his Italian landlord in Aviano, Italy, once told him.
“To live your life serving God, is to have lived the life of a king.”
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Father Martin file
Name: Lance Stirling Martin
Born: July 10, 1970, in Harrisburg, Pa.
Parents: Edward Martin, Joyce Hibbler Martin
Siblings: Todd and Michelle
Education: McGhee Elementary, Lock Haven, Pa.; Lock Haven Junior & Senior High School, Lock Haven, Pa.; Academy of Art University, San Francisco, BFA (2008); St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Baltimore, bachelor’s ecclesial degree and master’s of divinity
Military service: U.S. Air Force (1994-2003) California Air National Guard 2003-2009)
Pastoral assignments in seminary:
Holy Spirit, New Castle, 2010; St. Benedict’s, Ridgely, Md., St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Denton, Md., 2011; St. John the Beloved, 2012.
Pastoral year: St. Ann, June 2013-Aug. 2014
Assignments during seminary semesters:
Immaculate Conception, Towson, Md., (2011-12); St. Francis Xavier, Hunt Valley, Md. (2014-15)
Ordained to transitional diaconate:
June 7, 2015, at St. Ann Church, Wilmington by Bishop Malooly
Ordination to priesthood:
May 28, 2016, at Cathedral of St. Peter, Wilmington, by Bishop Malooly