History Project – St. Martin De Porres Ministry

This week we honor the history of our Saint Martin de Porres Society. Metrice Smith takes us through the memories and personalities, beginning with the early days as the Fort Wayne/South Bend Black Catholics. Old timers may remember Thelma Schulte, after the second time the ancient St. Mary’s passenger van broke down taking members to an out-of-town meeting, asking Father Tom O’Connor to stop blessing the van before trips, since he appeared to bring bad luck!

Past and current memories

This group did not begin as St Martin De Porres, The original group (Fort Wayne/South Bend
Black Catholics) was formed in the late 70’s. The Original group included Black Catholics from
Parishes across the city and South Bend. My husband and I (St Henry’s parish) and Margaret Johnson (St Mary’s parish) were members.

The main purpose of the first group was to meet and discuss related topics with other Black Catholics. There was lots of discussion at the time regarding the formation of a National organization of lay Catholics. FW/SB wanted to be part of the discussion, so we also needed to raise money to send representatives to the conference in New Orleans. I attended as one of the representatives. It was a wonderful experience.

The National Black Catholic Caucus (NBCC) was formed and became active in 1983.The FW/SB Black Catholic group was not active. Thelma Shulte asked the diocese and was given permission to form a chapter of NBCC at St Mary’s. Per a memo from Thelma to Father she stated; “While some of our concerns are long range, our immediate attention is focused on Evangelization.” Some of the first members were Weldon Antoine, Delores Banks, Ida Fowlkes, Margaret Johnson, Cheri McPherson, Tom Turner, May Scott, and Vic and Susie Pierce. The group membership grew. I joined the group in 1999 when I returned to Fort Wayne.

Every five years, NBCC sponsors the National Black Catholic Conference which is held in one of the major cities across the United States .One of the goals of the Fort Wayne group was to attend the conferences. In 1997, this goal was accomplished. St Mary’s sent a large delegation to Baltimore, MD which included adults and children. The Bishop also attended. Various members of this group also attended NBCC conferences in Chicago, IL, Buffalo, NY, and Indianapolis, IN. One of their memorable fund raisers was Weldon and Vic’s chicken/ribs dinner sales. As the group size began to decline due to sickness and death, the members decided in 2005 to change the group name and become more inclusive. After researching names, we chose St Martin De Porres. I was president of the group at that time.

St Martin De Porres was the son of a Spanish nobleman and a young Indian women. He asked to become a member of the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima, Peru, and when he was 24, he was assigned to the infirmary of that convent where he remained in service until his death at the age of sixty.

He spent his life working for the sick and the poor.

The focus of the current group is service to the parish and our community. We have sent cards, plants, and daily necessities to shut-ins; and provided bed linens and funds to a shelter. Local quilt guild Sisters of the Cloth has a ministry teaching youth the art of quilting. The group assisted in donating funds to purchase new sewing machines for the projects. The Quilt Guild includes parishioners Maxine Stovall and myself. A Memorial Quilt is displayed in our Gathering Area. St Martin De Porres has also assisted young people in helping finance educational trips sponsored by their schools. The group also contributed to the surrounding area by sponsoring the Giving Tree at Christmas and providing necessities for the Easter parties. Jane Wick is the current president of the St Martin De Porres Ministry.

— Metrice Smith