Rev. Martin Carter, SA – Franciscan Friar of the Atonement
(July 31, 1930 – December 25, 2021)
He was called an inspiration. A trailblazer. A pioneer.
Among many accomplishments in his life, The Rev. Martin Carter, SA, founded a leadership group for Catholic African American youth, worked in multiple dioceses in the Office of Black Ministry and served as the first Black pastor at Our Lady of Victory parish in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The distinguished Franciscan Friar, who entered the Society of the Atonement in 1948 at age 18, passed away on December 25 at age 91.
Born in High Point, North Carolina, on July 31, 1930, Father Carter’s family faced racial prejudice. He and his family were not permitted to attend Catholic church until the Friars of the Atonement opened a church in his community that allowed African American parishioners, prompting his fascination with the Catholic faith. He was baptized on Christmas Eve in 1944 and made his first communion at Midnight Mass.
In his teens, he applied to several seminaries, but wasn’t accepted because of the color of his skin. He sent a letter to the Franciscan Friars, who later accepted him in accordance with their policy of turning 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 Carter 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.”
Father Carter decided to become a priest when he gave a speech at a former slave church in Maryland and a parishioner suggested he become a pastor. After his ordination in 1975, Father Carter went on to serve at a parish church in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he fought for civil rights and helped facilitate the integration of Catholic schools.
He was then stationed in Jamaica, where he established a mission and helped orchestrate the opening of an ecumenical church.
When he returned to his native North Carolina, he was chosen as the Episcopal Vicar for 10,000 African American Catholics across 52 counties.
Then, while teaching in Chicago, he helped start what became known as “Kujenga,” a program to nurture the leadership skills and spirituality in African American Catholic youth. Kujenga, which in Swahili means “to build,” now serves hundreds of thousands of African American youths across the U.S.
Father Carter went on to work in the Office of Black Ministry in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, from 1982-88, before becoming the Director of the Office of Black Ministry in Brooklyn at Our Lady of Victory in Brooklyn, where he served from 1995-2008.
He was the first Black pastor in the parish’s 126-year history, and was instrumental in keeping the church open when it was slated to close. Father Carter not only kept it open, but thoroughly revived it, painting the Madonna in the church garden, renovating the church’s infrastructure and leaving the parish in stable financial condition.
In 1995, during his first year at Our Lady of Victory, Father Carter had the honor of receiving a visiting Mother Teresa at the church.
After his time in Brooklyn, Father Carter planned on returning to Jamaica, but suffered a heart attack. At age 83, he lost his eyesight and spent most of his final years at Graymoor.
Still, he continued his ministry and outreach through his disability. Up until his passing, he spoke with those who sought his counsel over the phone, from his room at St. Cabrini Nursing Home in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Of his immediate family, Father Carter is survived by his twin brother, Gilbert Carter, of High Point, North Carolina.
Visiting hours for Father Carter will take place at Our Lady of Victory Church of Saint Martin De Porres Parish in Brooklyn, N.Y., from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, January 7. A vigil Mass at noon will follow and will be livestreamed on https://stmartindeporresparish.org/
At 4:30 p.m., Friday, January 7, there will be visiting hours at Our Lady of the Atonement Chapel at Graymoor in Garrison, N.Y. A wake service will follow at 7 p.m.
A Mass of Christian burial will take place at 11 a.m., Saturday, January 8 at Our Lady of the Atonement Chapel, with interment to follow in the Friars’ cemetery. The Friars will host a luncheon in the Friars’ Dining Room after Mass. Those planning to attend the luncheon are asked to RSVP to the Minister General’s office by calling 845-424-2113.
The funeral Mass at Graymoor will be recorded and broadcast on the Friars’ Facebook page later in the day on January 8 for anyone who is unable to attend.