James A. Martin, 105; World's Oldest Jesuit

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Rev. James A. Martin, the world's oldest Jesuit, who was responsible for building a religious retreat center in Charles County, died Oct. 1 of pneumonia at Georgetown University Jesuit Residence in Washington. He was 105.

Father Martin began his studies for the Catholic priesthood in the early 1920s and was ordained in 1934. He first came to Washington in 1939, when he spent a year as the assistant dean of men and assistant athletic director at Georgetown University.

He then became athletic director of St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia for two years before being sent overseas as a chaplain with the Army Air Forces in North Africa, Italy and France during World War II. After the war, he helped raise money to rebuild Jesuit churches and schools in Europe.

From 1946 to 1949, Father Martin was a student counselor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and chairman of the Religion Department. He then returned to Washington as a counselor and religion teacher at Gonzaga College High School. During the early 1950s, he was part of the Jesuit "mission band," leading spiritual meetings and retreats in churches throughout the Washington region.

From 1955 to 1964, Father Martin was the founding director of the Loyola Retreat House in Charles County. He directed the planning and building of the Jesuit retreat center on 235 acres overlooking the Potomac River. Much of his later career was dedicated to conducting retreats and leading outreach missions for the church.

He had lived on the Georgetown campus since 1974 and worked periodically as a leader of church retreats and as a consultant to the Christian Family Movement.

From 1975 to 1983, he was director of the Washington archdiocese's Apostleship of Prayer, which encourages the daily habit of prayer. His final assignment was as a pastoral associate at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Alexandria from 1983 until his retirement in 1989.

James Aloysius Martin was born Aug. 30, 1902, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. His father was musical director of a Catholic church, and his three sisters became nuns.

An outstanding athlete in his youth, Father Martin was offered college athletic scholarships and a chance to play professional baseball but chose to enter the Jesuits instead, studying first at a seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., and later in West Stockbridge, Mass.

He received a master's degree in theology in 1926, a year before he received his bachelor's degree, both from Weston College (now the Weston Jesuit School of Theology) in Massachusetts. He taught Latin, Greek and English at a Jesuit high school in Manila from 1928 to 1931 and coached the school's baseball and basketball teams.

He studied theology from 1931 to 1935 at Woodstock College, a Jesuit seminary in Woodstock that closed in 1974.

Last year, Father Martin was one of 42 centenarians honored in an annual celebration by the D.C. government.

There are no immediate survivors.

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