Dea­con Don­ald Martínez

Tradiciones Heroes - - Contents - By cody hooks

An in­spi­ra­tion among the faith­ful, Dea­con Don­ald Martínez

“Oh yeah, you sure can,” said Dea­con Don­ald Martínez, thumb­ing through the bib­li­cal read­ings for a noon ser­vice, just one he leads each week in the chapel be­hind Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Taos.

“I try to pre­pare a lit­tle bit be­fore hand so I don’t go in there with an empty mind, even though many times you pre­pare and go in with an empty mind any­way,” he said.

But in those times espe­cially — with a calm and clear head, whether on foot or in the par­ish of­fice — a per­son can learn a lot more about them­selves than they’d ex­pect. He cer­tainly did.

Martínez, or Dea­con Don as he’s known around town, used to just get up and take a walk for “oh…10, 20 miles” when­ever he needed some dis­tance from his stress­ful job man­ag­ing a large gro­cery store. He also got some think­ing in ev­ery sum­mer dur­ing the Pil­grim­age for Vo­ca­tions, an an­nual trek of Catholics in New Mex­ico to pray for the peo­ple to go into the priest­hood, a monastery or, as Martínez even­tu­ally would, the di­a­conate. When Martínez’s el­dest son im­plored him to walk the pil­grim­age the first time, he turned him down. He didn’t par­tic­i­pate the next year ei­ther. But fi­nally, Martínez re­lented. (Ac­tu­ally, his wife, Celina, drove away while his back was turned, leav­ing him with a stunned look and a sleep­ing bag.)

As hap­pens with many pere­gri­nos (the pil­grims), he walked again the next year. And the next. And the next. By the time two heart at­tacks forced Martínez, now 81, to slow down, he’d walked the pil­grim­age for over three decades, longer than al­most any­one else.

“You know how it is, some days you hurt. It’s not easy to walk 100 miles. One day, I got an­gry. I said, ‘God, I don’t know what I’m do­ing. I’ve been walk­ing for 10 or 12 years and you’ve never called any of my chil­dren.’ ”

But in the quiet of the walk, he heard these words: “I don’t want your chil­dren. I want you.”

Martínez an­swered the call.

Rev. Dea­con Don­ald Martínez poses for a por­trait in­side Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Mor­gan Timms A per­son can get a lot of think­ing done walk­ing 20 miles.

For his per­pet­ual ser­vice to the com­mu­nity of Taos,

the par­ish­ioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the faith­ful pere­gri­nos, and for his un­ques­tion­able con­tri­bu­tion to the spir­i­tual rear­ing of so many peo­ple in North­ern New Mex­ico, The Taos News hon­ors Dea­con Don­ald Martínez as one of the Un­sung He­roes of 2018.

Fol­low­ing the Holy Fam­ily

Martínez grew up in Santa Fe in a “very strict Catholic fam­ily.” He doesn’t boast, but points out that he’s only missed Mass a few times in his life, so few “you can count them on one hand. And you don’t have to use all the fin­gers.”

“His ded­i­ca­tion to his faith is just in­cred­i­ble,” said Roberto Lavadie, a wood­worker and Guadalupe parish­ioner. “He cares for the peo­ple he serves. He’s al­ways there.”

Martínez and Celina have been mar­ried for over 60 years. The two moved to Taos in 1960. They built their home on Ran­chi­tos where they raised six kids be­cause it was the only paved road in Taos, he said.

If peo­ple know the dea­con for his ser­vice in the church, he’s know as much for his ded­i­ca­tion to his fam­ily. Celina’s grand­mother gifted the cou­ple a statue of the Holy Fam­ily, his fa­vorite de­vo­tion. “She said, ‘As long as you fol­low the ex­am­ple of Je­sus, Mary and Joseph, you guys will never have any prob­lems.’ And it’s true. The Holy Fam­ily has been our ex­am­ple,” he said. They still pray to the Holy Fam­ily any­time they go away for a trip and have spread the de­vo­tion to the Guadalupe par­ish.

Celina ran the house­hold and metic­u­lously man­aged the fam­ily bank ac­count while Martínez worked.

He had to ask for a job at the gro­cery store three times, but he was fi­nally hired on the spot and asked to clean the up­stairs bath­room. Over the years, he worked his way up. By the time he left Safe­way, Martínez was man­ag­ing over 200 em­ploy­ees.

Walk­ing the pil­grim­age

Martínez is among a few peo­ple, along with Fr. Ed Sevilla and Arce­nio Cordova, whose names con­jure from the depths of mem­ory the sights, smells and sores of the early years of the Pil­grim­age for Vo­ca­tions. Martínez walked it so many years, he’s now the pil­grim­age rec­tor, the sec­ond-in-com­mand of the yearly spir­i­tual un­der­tak­ing.

In the early 1970s, a group of boys and young men from Es­tan­cia turned down a fish­ing trip so they could walk to Chi­mayó. The first route from the north started in Ran­chos de Taos and fol­lowed the banks of the Río Grande, ac­cord­ing to a his­tory com­plied by lo­cal his­to­rian Ernestina Cordova. And in 1977, the north­ern route to the holy shrine started in Cos­tilla and went south via the High Road — a path pil­grims still take ev­ery year, along with three other routes that all meet in Chi­mayó for a fes­tive Mass.

Dur­ing pil­grim­age, the walk­ers en­ter a spir­i­tual space found only in the steady steps of roughly 20 miles a day. They med­i­tate, sing and pray pe­ti­tions for the sick, their parishes and for the com­mu­ni­ties they walk through.

“When it got dark, that’s where you pulled out the sleep­ing bag. Peo­ple would feed us on the side of the road. It wasn’t or­ga­nized like it is now,” Martínez re­calls.

Joseph Quin­tana walked sev­eral pil­grim­ages with Martínez. The week long trek and con­ver­sa­tions with the older pil­grims, he said, “builds char­ac­ter, spirit, unity, team­work…a lot of things that im­pact a youth­ful per­son.”

“I don’t feel the same thing ev­ery time I go,” Martínez said. “It’s go­ing to be com­pletely dif­fer­ent. And it espe­cially de­pends on how you’re liv­ing your life. Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion.”

One pil­grim­age was espe­cially dif­fer­ent — when he heard the call to be a dea­con.

Five years ago, two heart at­tacks forced the Martínez to give up walk­ing, but not his love for it. “I know you’re hurt­ing,” Martínez told the tired and sore pil­grims on the sec­ond day of the walk this June. “But re­mem­ber this: it hurts more for those of us who can’t walk with you.”


By the time Martínez was 45, his job paid well but came with the steep price of re­lent­less stress. A doc­tor and good friend said Martínez was on the verge of a ner­vous break­down and that if he didn’t change his life, he wouldn’t be long for this world.

He lacked four years to re­tire­ment. But it was too long to go on the way he had. “I wanted to re­tire but I wanted to live, too,” he said.

The day he quit, Martínez went to the Guadalupe church, where he had been a parish­ioner and may­orodomo since mov­ing to Taos. As it hap­pened, the groundskeeper had also quit his job that day and the pas­tor sug­gested Martínez step in.

“I said, ‘Fa­ther, Don’t look at me. I don’t want to do no work at all.’ ” Then he said he’d think about it. And then he told the priest he’d work un­til they found some­one else. But then he went through the steps of be­com­ing a dea­con (the only one out of an ini­tial crop of 100 men). He still works nearly ev­ery day at the church, 37 years later.

In that time, he’s per­formed count­less bap­tisms, wed­dings and funer­als; prayed in the ado­ra­tion chapel most morn­ings; and on snowy days wakes up a lit­tle ear­lier to plow the park­ing lot.

“He’s re­ally been there,” said parish­ioner Ig­na­cio Per­alta. Though Martínez loves to talk, it’s been his “ac­tions more than his words” that have stood out.

There’s cer­tainly a lot of joy to his work as a dea­con, though heart-wrench­ing days come with the ter­ri­tory. Martínez was a good friend to Fr. Michael O’brien, the founder of the pil­grim­age who, af­ter his death, was ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing dozens of men when they were young boys in the church. Martínez had coun­seled peo­ple who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced the abuse and known some who’ve taken their lives be­cause of it.

The Catholic Church’s sex­ual abuse scan­dal de­mol­ished the faith of many. Early on, the church “didn’t know how to han­dle it and they han­dled it very badly. There’s a lot of re­group­ing and re­coup­ing to do,” he said.

‘That cal­iber of per­son’

When he first heard the call to be a dea­con, he won­dered if God truly knew his heart, then why him?

“I wasn’t putting my­self down or any­thing, but I didn’t feel I was that cal­iber of per­son, you know,” he said.

Be­fore head­ing off to the ser­mon in the chapel, Martínez again men­tioned the Holy Fam­ily and the as­pi­ra­tion for fa­thers to be like Joseph, moth­ers to be like Mary and chil­dren to be like Je­sus, which he ad­mits “is the hard­est one.”

In his as­pi­ra­tion, Martínez has been an in­spi­ra­tion, a life­long walker guid­ing the rest.

As with his job at the gro­cery store, join­ing the pil­grim­age and be­com­ing a dea­con, some bless­ings take a lit­tle time be­fore they’re ready to be turned over for a per­son to take as their own and let it be worked in the world.

‘Time you al­ways have,’ Martinez said.‘it’s just what you do with your time that counts.’

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