By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
ASSONET, Mass. — Carrying a cane and guided by Father Michael Racine and Deacon Paul Levesque, Father Patrick Martin walked gingerly to the lectern during the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Bernard Church.
“My vocation came when I was 10 years old,” Father Martin told the congregation.
Born and raised in Maine, he was number 17 of 22 children. There were no twins, and none were adopted.
“I had to be taken to the hospital to die on July 20, 1953,” he said. “There was no hope.”
He had contracted meningitis.
“If he doesn’t die today, he will die tonight,” the doctors told his parents.
They prayed to God to spare their child. Five months later he was discharged from the hospital.
“Your son is blind and crippled,” the doctors told them. “He’ll never walk again, and he can’t see two inches in front of his nose. What kind of life will he have? He’ll be nothing but a vegetable. Wouldn’t it be better that he had died?”
“My parents didn’t think so,” Father Martin said.
It was Christmas time, and his siblings were excited that their little brother was home again.
“I couldn’t walk so they decided to teach their little brother to walk,” he said.
The doctors said that he would never sit in a chair or stand.
“But kids don’t know what they can’t do,” said Father Martin. “All they know is love. We teach them the other stuff, and it’s sad.”
His brothers and sisters held him up as they passed him down the hallway — over and over again — and they taught their little brother to walk again.
The family lived three miles from Loring Air Force Base, where jets soared overhead.
His siblings would take his head in their hands and follow the jet’s trajectory.
“But I had shadow vision and couldn’t see it,” he said. “I saw specialists from all over, and everyone said there was nothing they could do.”
It was late August 1954, and plans were underway for his enrollment at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, 500 miles away from his home and family in northern Maine. His younger sister had the flu, and the doctor was there on a house call.
“I see an airplane. I can see one now,” he told them. But no one believed him.
His mother asked him to point, and he did. She began to cry.
Their family doctor witnessed the miracle.
“I don’t know what to say,” said the doctor. “We don’t even know how he’s alive.”
“We’ve got a God Who loves us,” his folks told him.
Instead of going to a school for the blind, he re-enrolled in public school.
“I went through all of my schooling competing with my friends,” he said. “I read my books one single letter at a time. Instead of 180-degree span of vision, I had two or three degrees of central focus — tunnel vision.”
Since he didn’t read fast enough, he started memorizing as he read.
“That’s how I got through school,” he said.
The nuns came every Saturday morning to his parish to teach the children. In the fifth grade he memorized the “Baltimore Catechism” from cover to cover. At the end of the school year, they had a catechism contest similar to a spelling bee.
“I beat everybody,” he said.
“How come you’re not an altar server?” asked his parish priest.
“My blindness,” he answered.
“If you can memorize the entire ‘Catechism,’ you can be an altar server,” the priest said.
“I don’t think he knew the hope he opened up in me,” he said. “Just maybe I can share God’s Word with the people, even with my blindness.”
Many years passed. A week before Father Martin’s ordination, his retreat director said, “If you could ask one thing from God, Patrick, what would that be?”
“I would ask Him for a picture,” he said. “I’d show everyone a picture. ‘Look! This is the God that loves you.’”
Every day he took a walk in a nearby park.
“I love to sing right out loud,” he said. “If you have a good voice, you sing as loud as you can. If you have a voice like mine, you sing to get even.”
But he stopped in his tracks. He had stopped singing, yet the words kept coming. He returned to his room and wrote down six verses of a song. Then he made a tape recording so he wouldn’t forget the melody.
That night he played the song.
“My retreat director cried all the way through,” he said.
“Don’t you see, Patrick, what God did for you today?” the retreat director said. “You asked Him for a picture. Do you think God forgot that you are blind? God gave you an audio photo so that you can hear that He loves you.”
Father Martin began to sing and the congregation joined in:
“He loves me! He loves me! /He loves me as I am,/Oh yes, He loves me!/Yes, He loved me yesterday,/And yes, He’ll love me still tomorrow,/For He loves me just today, the way I am! He loves me! He loves me!/He loves me as I am/Oh yes, He loves me!/Finding me wherever I am,/He gently guides me by the hand,/For He loves me as I am, oh, He loves me!/For He loves me as I am, oh, He loves me!”
Father Patrick A. Martin leads parish missions all over the world. To schedule a mission or retreat, contact Jim Oscar at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727-372-8690.