Born at Gap (Hautes-Alpes), August 5, 1803
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame du Laus, August 2, 1821
Oblation at Aix, February 9, 1823 (no. 13)
Ordination to the priesthood at Marseilles, July 30, 1826
Died at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, September 10, 1900.
Joseph Alphonse Martin was born in Gap, August 5, 1803. We know nothing about his family except for the fact that he was, no doubt, rather poor because in 1825 Joseph asked Father de Mazenod to help his parents. The Founder answered him that his brother who would inherit the family goods should see to the paying of “the mess caused by the folly” of their father. As well, Joseph had at least one sister who died in 1859.
He began his novitiate in Notre-Dame du Laus, August 2, 1821, at the same time as Eugène Joseph Bruno Guigues. Father Tempier accepted them without consulting the General Council. However, he wrote: “Martin has arrived... He is 18 years of age and is filled with common sense, piety and steadiness of purpose.” The novice pronounced his perpetual vows at Aix on February 9, 1823. F. X. Alphonse Coulin, a deacon and a professor at the novitiate, wrote in July of 1822: “Martin will make himself very useful. He is a man of courage.” He then studied theology at the house of the Mission at Aix. He was ill in November of 1824. It was Father de Mazenod’s opinion, however, that he was suffering more “from imaginary rather than real illness... Also, I am tempted to believe that his real desire was to go sit for a while under his mother’s roof rather than take medication... Nevertheless, he always remains a very good and well-behaved child.” He was ordained to the priesthood in Marseilles by Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod on July 30, 1826. The preceding May 24 from Turin the Founder wrote to Father Tempier: “With what impatience I wait for the ordination of these two priests, Martin and Arnoux! It is like rebirth for me to see these two children raised to the priesthood.” (Letters to the Oblates of France, 1826-1830, Oblate Writings Vol. VII, no. 242, p. 101.)
Father Martin then began his missionary career in the countryside, a ministry that would be fruitful and long-lasting. He spent his first year at Aix and seemed to be too inclined to outside activities. Father de Mazenod wrote to Father Courtès indicating that Martin should prepare sermons for the missions. “Since our vocation is preaching missions, it is only by obedience that we should get involved with other things.” Subsequently, we find him at Notre-Dame du Laus in 1827, then at Nîmes in 1828-1830. He already took part in several missions with Fathers Mie and Honorat. After the closing of that house, during the July Revolution of 1830, Father Martin was working in Aix in 1831. The Superior General made a canonical visit of this community in March and wrote that Father Martin “found it difficult to reconcile the work that they have given him and the kind of regularity that I demand. These are not the kind of apostles that will conquer the world!” From 1832 to 1837, Father Martin seems to have had no fixed residence. He preached missions with the priests from Notre-Dame du Laus, from Aix, from Le Calvaire and also from Billens in Switzerland where the Founder had purchased some property and sent the novices and the scholastic brothers during the Revolution of 1830. Among others, Father Martin gave a mission in Lausanne in 1833, in Ferney, Voltaire’s home turf, in 1836, at Bern and in the canton of Geneva in 1837.
Bishop de Mazenod never stopped transferring Father Martin from place to place. He was at Notre-Dame de Lumières in 1837-1838, at Notre-Dame du Laus in 1838-1839, at Aix in 1839-1840, at Laus once again, then at Le Calvaire in Marseilles where he served as superior from 1841 to 1844. Everywhere his preaching was blessed with success, except when he preached in the cities. In 1844, he preached in Brignoles. March 6, he wrote to the Founder: “We who are only used to evangelizing the rural poor... we find ourselves a little out of our element here... A certain group of highborn devout ladies ... would have preferred flowery, mystical discourses rather than mission sermons.” In 1845, he was a member of the community of Aix and, in 1846, was superior at Notre-Dame de Lumières from 1847 to 1850 and superior in Algiers from the beginning of the mission in January of 1850 until the departure of the Oblates in July.
Bishop de Mazenod, who appreciated Father Martin’s availability and his talents as a missionary, placed more and more confidence in him. He appointed him superior of some important communities: at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours from 1850 to 1857, at Talence (Bordeaux) from 1857 to 1860, once again at Notre-Dame de Bon Secours from 1860 to 1867. Father Martin was personally invited to take part in the General Chapters of 1837 and of 1843. He took part in those of 1850, 1856 and 1861 in virtue of being superior or as a delegate chosen by his confreres.
During his second term as superior of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, on a regular basis, he sent reports to the General Administration. These reports were published in Missions OMI. In 1865, he wrote that 100,000 pilgrims came over the course of the year and that the priests preached some twenty missions. The author of his obituary wrote: “Endowed with a very robust constitution, he heeded only the ardour of his apostolic zeal and seems not to have paid attention to the distances and wear and tear of the travelling involved that were so demanding at the time in these regions that, in addition, were so very rugged, any more than he paid attention to his physical needs or the lack of food. An apostle so prodigal of himself could not fail to call down the blessings of Heaven on his work, nor to touch the hearts of the very Christian people of these regions. As well, the ceaseless flow of Father Martin’s preaching produced the most beneficial fruits of salvation while at the same time bringing long processions of pilgrims to the feet of that so beloved Virgin of Bon Secours.” (Missions O.M.I., 1928, pp. 370-371)
Subsequently, Father Martin remained almost always at this house. He was, however, at Le Calvaire to celebrate his Golden Jubilee of Priesthood in 1876 and at the time of the expulsion in 1880. He then followed the Juniors of Lumières to Diano Marina in Italy where he was in residence during the 1887 earthquake. He, then, returned to Notre-Dame de Bon Secours where he remained until his death at the age of 97, September 10, 1900. When Father Tempier died in 1870, Father Martin became the dean of the Congregation.
The author of his obituary could still write: “Despite his advanced age, he lived the greatest regularity and showed himself to be assiduous in attending community exercises in common. He only renounced following all the demands of the Rule when most serious infirmities had confined him to his cell during the final months of his life... From his contacts of living with the older members of the Congregation, he had received such a solid formation that he bore the stamp of it right to the end. And, if he used to tell often and with great pleasure edifying anecdotes about them, their spirit of mortification, of regularity, of apostolic zeal, he was himself the living example of the effectiveness of their holy example.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and bibliography
Father Martin’s dossier at the Oblate General Archives is well stocked. In addition to his oblation formulas of 1823 and 1826 we find more than 250 letters to 10 Oblates, about 140 of which were to the Founder and written from 1847 to 1859, 40 to Father Casimir Aubert, about thirty to Father Tempier and the same number to Father Vincens. He is mentioned in a few letters of some twenty Oblates, his contemporaries, especially Fathers Honorat, Magnan and Telmon with whom he often preached before 1841.
“Notice nécrologique”, in Missions OMI 1828, pp. 367-373.