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Msgr. Paul Martin, 75; Retired Mission Pastor

October 10, 2005|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Msgr. Paul Martin, a longtime pastor at the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano so devoted to the sick he would sleep in a chair waiting for late-night calls, has died after a six-month battle with colon cancer.

Martin, 75, died Oct. 2 at his home in San Juan Capistrano, said the mission's pastor, Father Art Holquin.

Martin retired in 2003 after shepherding the parish for almost four decades as it swelled from 800 families to almost 5,000. But as he had for the previous 38 years, he continued to say Mass regularly and minister to the sick and needy.

And even after moving from the rectory to a nearby church-owned duplex, he rejected beds in favor of a recliner. A donated bed engraved with his name became a makeshift filing cabinet rather than a spot to slumber.

"His life was really given very unselfishly," Holquin said. "He always wanted to be ready in case there was a call in the middle of the night."

He developed the habit of sleeping in a chair while caring for his dying sister, film actress Marion Martin, in 1985.

Born May 8, 1930, in New York City, Martin became enamored of the priesthood as a child after visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral there, Holquin said. His family moved to Santa Monica in 1938 to be close to his sister, already acting in Hollywood, and he was ordained in 1958.

Martin's 38 years at the mission included several milestones for the historic parish, founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. Twenty-one years ago Martin led the rebuilding and enlargement of the parish church, near the Old Stone Church, which collapsed in an earthquake in 1812, six years after its completion.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II designated the mission a minor basilica because of its historical significance.

But even when the mission was in the spotlight, as it was during the May 4, 2000, visit of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush on National Day of Prayer, parishioners said Martin remained focused on helping those in need.

Pictures from Bush's visit show Martin walking the future president around the grounds as well as chatting with a visiting homeless man, said Margie Meyer of San Juan Capistrano, a parishioner for 19 years and one of the more than 1,000 people who attended his memorial service Thursday at Mission Basilica.

"He had the same amount of time and genuine love for each person, no matter what their status was," Meyer said. "He just truly saw all people as equal."

Martin's inclusive nature was reflected in his homilies, Holquin said. "He was not very keen on preaching hell and damnation," the pastor said. "He was much more comfortable preaching that all of us are God's children."

His love for others extended to the stray cats he would feed every day behind the mission's rectory. Church officials hope to raise funds to convert that small patch of land, the last uncultivated portion of the mission, into a memorial garden featuring a bronze bust of Martin and several bronze cats, Holquin said.

Martin told parishioners in May that he was terminally ill through a statement read at services.

"As I have done throughout the whole course of my life," Martin wrote, "I place myself completely in God's gracious and loving hands during this challenging time."

After the announcement, he continued to celebrate Mass daily in his dining room and took appointments until a week before his death.

"He not only taught us how to live," Meyer said, "he taught us how to die with faith and dignity."

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