Fr. Martin Bednar, OFM
It all began back in Barnesboro, Pa., a small coal-mining town. My parents didn’t have the opportunity for an education beyond grammar school. But what workers they were! My father was an untiring coal miner; my mother never tired in giving the best for her five children.
When I was 13, my family moved to Miami. Those were the days of John L. Lewis and the mine strikes. My father, a loyal union-man supporting John L. Lewis all the way, decided he had to venture out to somehow provide for the family. It all turned out to be a great move.
Even though a Catholic education was inexpensive in those days, my parents couldn’t afford even that, so I attended the public school system. I never went to Catholic school until I entered the seminary. I never even went to CCD or any religious education classes. I was of the Eastern Rite, my father being a Slovak of the Reuthenian Oriental rite.
Because of that, I was baptized and confirmed when I was one week old and so I was always excused from classes. Since I already had the sacraments, I didn’t need to prepare for anything. Fortunately, everything is different today.
When I graduated high school, I asked to go to the seminary. It all seems like a contradiction. In spite of my parents’ lack of education, they were filled with faith.
In all my years in Pennsylvania, and then in high school in Miami, I never remember missing Mass on Sunday. We went together as a family (all seven of us — parents, three sisters, brother) every Sunday, even in the snow of Pennsylvania and the hot sun of Miami.
I remember during my last year of high school my mother got up early each day to drive to Mass during Lent. I didn’t want to see her going alone each morning, so I accompanied her. It was not long after Lent ended that I began to think that maybe, by some chance, I might have a vocation to the priesthood.
The only priests I knew were two Franciscans in my parish in Barnesboro. Though I was not familiar with their order, I saw in those two friars a life of fraternity. I saw them make sacrifices to serve the people. Many times each came to our house, and it was always a special time for the family.
In my parish in Miami were the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. I happened to hint to one of them one Sunday about an interest in the friars. Before I knew it, I had all kinds of information about them and an application to Callicoon, N.Y., the seminary of Holy Name Province. After much thought, preparation and prayer, I found myself on a bus heading from Miami to Callicoon.
The next phase of my life saw me in the seminary from September 1954 until ordination in February 1964. I experienced so often doubts, crises, changes of direction and frustration. But I also found something that the Lord put in my life —his love and a constant awareness that he was at my side to help me get through whatever I needed. “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle” is the prayer I often said then and say now. The day of ordination came and shortly after that I was heading for my ministry —in Bolivia.
I had a tremendous life and experience in Bolivia. Of course, in the beginning I thought I’d never learn the language, but I was with a couple of experienced friars who were the best of brothers: Fr. Conor Mullally, OFM, and Fr. Bernardine Ward, OFM. While we worked together in Charazani with Quechua-speaking people, at an altitude of 11,000 feet, I learned what the missionary life was. St. Francis always wanted to go to the missions to proclaim the message of Jesus, and I felt so privileged to have a ministry that St. Francis always wanted to take part in.
During my 12 years in Bolivia, I had the excitement of being elected for two terms to the position of Superior Regular of the Franciscans of Holy Name Province. I also had the privilege to be elected in 1974 as the President of the Franciscan Federation of Bolivia. This position saw me working with 260 Franciscans from eight countries toward establishing a Franciscan province. This goal was accomplished in 1982.
My ministry as a friar was not limited to Bolivia. In July 1977, I returned to the States. After eight months of continuing education, I went to the Bronx, N.Y., and ministered in Holy Cross Parish. After eight years in a terrific parish and house of formation for future friars, I was named pastor of St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md. And so I began seven years in another great parish.
In July 1993 I received my next assignment, the Ministry of the Word. I took residence in Belleair Bluffs, Fla., to begin giving missions in both English and Spanish. For seven years we four friars were a family, visiting many people in the South, proclaiming the Word and bringing the spirit of St. Francis to persons of different languages and ethnic cultures.
I began my next ministry last August at Immaculate Conception Parish in Hialeah, Fla. Finally, I was back home. Since I was blessed with a good knowledge of Spanish, with a love for and understanding of Hispanic culture, I am very much at home in this new ministry. Fr. Roderic Petrie, OFM, and I are two Franciscans in a diocesan parish with the hope that soon we will have our own community of friars in South Florida.
— This essay was written in 2001 when Fr. Marty was serving the Spanish-speaking community in Hialeah, Fla. It appeared in the September 2001 issue of The Anthonian magazine.