By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent and Mary Stadnyk | News Editor
Father Brian J. McCormick is not the type of guy who would refer to himself as being a “trailblazer,” “a prophet” or a “present-day St. John the Baptist.”
But the well-over 200 people who came to celebrate his retirement after dedicating more than 40 years of his priestly ministry to the community living in the Wilbur section of the City of Trenton through Martin House, would and did.
Among the throng who attended the Mass of Thanksgiving that Father McCormick celebrated in St. Gregory the Great Church, Hamilton Square, on June 24, which was the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, or the luncheon that followed in Nottingham Ballroom, were all he knew by name and deeply loved. There were family members, brother priests, classmates from high school and colleagues and friends from Martin House, where he had served ever since he was appointed to the inner-city agency in 1970 by Bishop George W. Ahr. Martin House was founded in response to the riots that devastated the city in 1968 with the goal of providing help to the city’s poor and homeless. Under the auspices of Father McCormick, Martin House is now an independently operated charity and is no longer an agency of the Diocese of Trenton.
Father McCormick commended the staunch support the agency received from local suburban parishes, such as St. Gregory the Great, over the years. “Together we built and financed 167 homes, and carried the 167 mortgages,” he said, then noted that 67 of the mortgages had been “retired.”
In addition to affordable housing, Father McCormick spoke of the educational opportunities that were provided to more than 350 children and adults through the Martin House Learning Center, the Doorway to Hope, which allows single mothers to become self-sufficient by teaching them life skills, and Martin House Clothing Store, which is operated by neighborhood women and dedicated to supplying quality secondhand clothes, furniture and household appliances to the Martin House residents.
Father McCormick exhorted the congregation to look to St. John the Baptist and follow his example of humility and repentance.
"It is my greatest desire that we all sense God our Father’s presence and power among us and in each and every one of us. In the spirit of John the Baptist, may we let him point out to us all that stops us from responding fully and joyfully to Jesus and in this spirit help us to carry out Jesus’ desire for all of us to love one another.”
The love that Father McCormick had for others was manifested in the scores of memories that were shared.
Vivian Abbott of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton, recounted a story from years ago when her sister had visited Father McCormick at his home which was located on the Martin House campus.
“When my sister sat on a chair, she fell through the bottom,” Abbott said.
And when her sister offered to furnish Father McCormick’s house, the priest refused and simply replied, “’I need to live like my people,’” Abbott recalled.
“We’re grateful to God that he has stuck with his ministry all these years and has worked tirelessly for the poor,” Abbott said.
In another story, Abbott gave an indication of the loving and forgiving heart that Father McCormick had. She told about the little rock that Father McCormick kept on the small altar in his living room, It was a rock that someone had thrown through his window.
And, here “he kept the rock on his altar,” Abbot said.
Marie Gladney, executive director of Mount Carmel Guild, Trenton, expressed how grateful she was for the collaborative working relationship that the guild, which is another inner-city Trenton diocesan agency that provides services to the poor through its Emergency Assistance and Home Health Nursing Programs, and Martin House have enjoyed over the years.
If the guild encountered a client in need of assistance with housing, “we would refer them to Martin House.” Likewise, if any of the Martin House residents were in need of help with food or household items, “they would come to us.”
Referring to Father McCormick as a “trail blazer” in his work among the poor, especially when it came to providing affordable housing in Trenton, Gladney said: “He did God’s work. He’s been the cornerstone of Martin House.”
When prompted on his greatest accomplishment of the past 40 years, the man who the New York Times once referred to as “a garrulous locomotive of a man who in his holy war against poverty and hopelessness lets no one off the hook-not society, not government, not the poor themselves,” Father McCormick humbly and modestly replied, “Bearing witness to valid Christianity is my greatest accomplishment.”