“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send me these, the homeless, the tempest-lost to me…” -Emma Lazarus
Those lines are drawn from a sonnet inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty but could just as easily refer to Marti Hurd’s ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. For the past twenty years she has served as the Pastoral Minister at our parish for those undergoing their most challenging times. Marti has walked as a companion with those having recently lost loved ones and oversees groups dedicated to grief support, widows and widowers, cancer survivors, and divorcees.
She also works with those who coordinate Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion who provide that Sacrament to the homebound and helps to arrange priests to provide the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to those needing it. In addition, Marti coordinates members of the parish family who take Communion to the five care centers we currently serve, and prior to COVID, made sure monthly Masses happened at four of those five centers.
Her path towards this ministry was a convoluted beginning in northwest Illinois when her then husband accepted a job transfer in 1986 to Central Ohio. They were leaving a rich history and great closeness of friends and family; the transfer was only supposed to last for a few years. Marti has two sons and at that time enrolled them at Our Lady’s elementary school and, being a teacher, was offered and accepted a position as a part-time aide in the school. In the spring Bill Groce, the principal, offered her a Kindergarten teaching position; at that time Kindergarten was only half day.
In the summer of 1991 Fr. Romano asked if she would, for one year, coordinate the Religious Education program during the other half of her day. A short time later in February, as Marti describes it, Fr. Romano in his Italian accent approached her saying, “The families are happy, I am happy, you are happy.” That one year turned into ten years and during that time Marti also earned a master’s degree in Religious Education.
In 2000 with Fr. Steve Hawkins as our pastor, the Parish Religious Education program was moved to Sunday mornings. As the part time Director of Religious Education, Marti was present on campus on Sunday mornings running that program. Fr. John Swickard was appointed pastor at OLPH and assumed that responsibility April 3, 2001. His first weekend as pastor, before even learning the full names of his parochial staff, Fr. Swickard was suddenly confronted with three deaths. Marti was the only member of the parish staff he could find that Sunday morning, and she assisted him in navigating many of the details.
Her empathetic and passionate handling of that situation resulted in Fr. Swickard asking Marti if she would begin working as a part-time pastoral minister, along with being a part-time Kindergarten teacher. Karen Cook was part-time youth minister and Fr. Swickard asked her to also assume the Religious Education duties for the remainder of the academic year. It soon became apparent that our parish needed a full-time pastoral minister and Fr. Swickard asked Marti to take a one-year leave of absence from the school to see if she and the position were a good fit. Much like her “one year” as Director of Religious Education, the “one year” leave of absence has now continued for twenty years.
Since that time, Marti has proven to be a companion to everyone who is hurting, whether it be physically, emotionally or spiritually, at our parish. She describes this calling as, “I get to do what I love and get to see God’s hand even in the most difficult situations.” Her experiences as teacher, Director of Religious Education, and Pastoral Minister have all been fulfilling and rewarding in their own unique ways, allowing her meandering responsibilities to follow along God’s path for her.
During that convoluted path towards this ministry, Marti explains that she had felt “this tug” for some time, a certainty that God was inviting her into something deeper or something more involving ministry. The coursework for her master’s degree started with common classes for all the students and in course seven they diverged into a focus on either Religious Education or Pastoral Ministry. With sixteen years of teaching experience, including three in Illinois, and 10 years coordinating PSR the obvious choice at that time was Religious Education. However, Fr. Swickard convincing Marti to take that one year’s leave of absence led her into full-time ministry in Pastoral Care, revealing “tug” had been satisfied.
Perhaps her greatest challenge in her current role is simply not having enough hours in the day to tend the needs of those hurting in the parish. Marti is obviously a methodical person who likes to have her days organized, but “The phone rings and your whole day shifts.” She pauses and then adds, “Maybe your whole week shifts.” As the youngest of twelve children, Marti credits her family for helping her to adapt to changes and shifts, shaping her for flexibility.
Marti’s joy as a pastoral minister is being “a companion to people when they are hurting.” She believes she is doing what God is asking her to do, and that He has given her the grace and strength to companion those who are hurting. Having experienced great losses within her own family and suffering through her own divorce, Marti believes God is using her pain to companion others who are similarly hurting.
I asked Marti how she can weather constantly companioning those who are literally undergoing their worst possible moments. She immediately responded how the book Fortunate Son by Lewis Puller Jr. impacted her worldview. Lewis is the son of legendary marine general Lewis “Chesty” Puller and followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a marine officer. He was horribly wounded in Vietnam and Marti recalls a section in the book devoted to his physical therapy. The PT’s constant advice to him was “strength and balance,” something Marti strives to apply in her own life. She turns to our Lord for her strength and knows the constant need to keep a balance in all things. As someone who regularly reads military history and having somehow missed Fortunate Son, I will be purchasing the book.
Regarding her own life, Marti has grown to appreciate and treasure moments of solitude. She expressed the older she gets, she moves into being more contemplative, something I personally can certainly appreciate. She loves spending time with her family including her two sons and nine grandchildren who live near her in the Grove City area. Marti also enjoys cooking, sewing, doing cross-stitch, puzzles, and reading. In the last of those Marti focuses primarily on spiritual books.
As with many of the parish staff I have interviewed, if Marti had a genie best friend or magic wand with one wish, she would dramatically increase the space on our parish campus. In particular Marti would like to build a new performing arts center for Kim Nocero at the school.
I try to take something away from each of these interviews, something that reflects the person, something they bring to the parish. With Julie Freeman it was her absolute devotion to the Our Lady school children; with Amanda Athey it was her looking at everyone in the image and likeness of God; with Karen Cook it was how she has gracefully put up with me constantly being a source of annoyance for nearly a decade.
With Marti it was when we sat down in the sacristy and I pulled out my notebook and pen. Before I could even get started, she asked me for my story. Even for someone ready to tell her story, Marti first wanted to know mine and be my companion on my personal faith journey.
By Eric Brooks