Each February, we observe Black History Month, recognizing the central role that African Americans have played in our country.
Over the years at Graymoor, there have been several Black Friars who faithfully served the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. From carrying out ministries aiding the afflicted and poor, to establishing programs to nurture and enrich Black Catholic youth, our African American Friars have graciously helped countless people through the work of their vocations.
As we continue to observe Black History Month 2023, we wish to recognize a group of our African American Friars who dedicated their lives to unity and the At-One-Ment charism, as well as hope, healing and harmony.
Father Martin Carter, SA
Father Martin Carter’s remarkable story began in his teens, when he wished to become Catholic.
It wasn’t that simple, though, as he and his family faced racial prejudice. Growing up in High Point, North Carolina, there weren’t Catholic Churches that allowed Black parishioners.
That was until the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement opened a Parish in his community, allowing a congregation consisting of people of all races and backgrounds. He was baptized into the faith at the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1944, and made his first communion at Midnight Mass.
Later, he applied to several seminaries, but again was not accepted because of the color of his skin. He wrote the Friars a letter, and was subsequently accepted into the Society of the Atonement, as the Friars turn no one away based on color, race or creed.
“As I grew older, I began to see the influence the church could have throughout the world and I began looking at different information from various missionary orders,” Father Martin once said about his decision to join the Society of the Atonement. “Many orders were interesting, but Graymoor was the only one open to my reality.”
After delivering a speech at a former slave church in Maryland, a parishioner suggested he become a pastor. It was then he decided to pursue the priesthood. Father Martin was ordained in 1975 and first served in parochial ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he fought for civil rights and helped integrate Catholic schools. He went on to help orchestrate the opening of an ecumenical church in Jamaica, and serve as a Vicar for 10,000 African American Catholics across 52 counties in North Carolina.
While teaching in Chicago, Father Martin achieved one of his greatest feats, helping establish “Kujenga,” a program designed to enhance the leadership and spirituality among Black Catholic adolescents. “Kujenga,” which in Swahili means “to build,” now serves hundreds of African American Catholic youths across the United States.
From there, Father Martin went on to work in the Office of Black Ministry in Raleigh, North Carolina for six years, before becoming the Director of the Office of Black Ministry in Brooklyn, at Our Lady of Victory. He served there from 1995 to 2008, and was the parish’s first Black pastor in its 126-year history.
In his first year at Our Lady of Victory, he had the honor of receiving a visiting Mother Teresa.
Under Father Martin’s leadership, the parish remained open when it was slated to close. Its infrastructure was revitalized, and he left the church in stable financial condition.
After losing his eyesight in his 80s, Father Martin remained at Graymoor and continued his ministry. He stayed open to helping anyone he could, speaking to those who sought his counsel over the phone.
On December 25, 2021, Father Martin entered in Eternal Life at the age of 91. But his faithfulness, piety and achievements will not be forgotten by the Society of the Atonement.
Brother Mario Hancock, SA
Brother Mario Hancock spent much of his life in ministry, and traveled across the world sharing the Friars’ message of reconciliation.
He was born Grady Hancock in Griffin, Georgia on Christmas Day in 1937, but grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He took the name Mario after entering the Friars Novitiate and receiving his Franciscan habit in 1956.
After professing his first vows in 1958, Brother Mario worked in the Graymoor Book and Gift Center. During that period, he had the honor of meeting and befriending Mary Lou Williams, a famous and accomplished jazz pianist, who visited Graymoor. He later helped her compose her first liturgical jazz.
“She was overjoyed to see a Black religious,” Brother Mario once said of his initial meeting with Williams.
He professed his final vows in 1963, and a year later, served at Convento Sant’ Onofrio – the Friars’ house in Rome. There, he worked in administrative services until 1983 and became proficient in the Italian language. As such, he became well known among many religious communities in Italy.
Brother Mario was then assigned to the Newman Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology from Howard. While in Washington, D.C., Brother Mario served as a youth minister at St. Francis de Sales parish and an assistant chaplain in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He then earned a degree in mental health from Montgomery College in Maryland.
Brother Mario returned to Graymoor and worked at St. Christopher’s Inn, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and a ministry of the Friars of the Atonement. He also served at North General Hospital in Harlem and subsequently the Clinic for Mental Health at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey.
A member of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, Brother Mario passed into Eternal Life on October 24, 2005 at the age of 67. Still, his contributions and service to the Society of the Atonement haven’t gone unremembered.
Father Martin Madison, SA
Father Martin Madison’s ministry took him across North and South America.
He found his calling with the Society of the Atonement in 1953, and professed his first vows three years later. After professing his final vows in 1959, he was ordained a priest at Graymoor on June 7, 1962 – with Francis Cardinal Spellman presiding.
The same year he was ordained, Father Martin received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from St. Pius X Seminary. Eighteen years later, he earned his Master of Divinity from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
After first serving as a professor of religion at St. John’s Seminary in Montour Falls, New York, Father Martin made his way to the Southern Hemisphere, becoming associate pastor at Sao Sebastio Parish in the Diocese of Jatai, Goias, Brazil.
Father Martin then returned to Graymoor in 1965, taking up pastoral ministry at the St. Paul Friary. A year later, he worked in pastoral ministry at the Chapel of Our Savior in Brockton, Massachusetts, before becoming an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Golden, British Columbia, Canada.
He was then appointed chaplain at Raybrook Hospital in Saranac Lake, New York, before becoming associate pastor at All Saints Church in Harlem. He then worked in campus ministry at Howard, before his first stint as pastor of Christ the King Church in High Point, North Carolina.
Father Martin returned to Chapel of Our Savior in Brockton between 1988 and 1989, before returning to Christ the King to serve as pastor from 1990-94. He then joined fellow Atonement Friar Father Martin Carter at Our Lady of Victory in Brooklyn, serving as associate pastor.
After retiring from ministry in 2007, Father Martin ministered part-time at Graymoor. Although he entered into Eternal Life on October 14, 2018, Father Martin left an indelible mark on all those he served.