By Tony Rossi
“When I saw the priest walk in, I tried to duck him.” That’s how David Warden remembers the first time he saw Jesuit Father Antonio “TJ” Martinez, at a fundraiser. But Warden’s attempt to “duck” the priest was unsuccessful. In fact, it was so unsuccessful that he wound up becoming one of Father TJ’s closest friends and even converting to the Catholic faith. And now, in the wake of Father TJ’s death in 2014 at age 44, Warden is committed to keeping his legacy alive: a legacy that is helping teens from disadvantaged backgrounds in Houston get a solid education, develop important life skills, and build a foundation for a better future.
“Miracle in Motion” is the name of the book that Father TJ began writing before his death – and that Warden has since finished. In the Introduction, the priest explains, “Six years ago, I was ordered by my provincial to start a Jesuit college preparatory high school for the underprivileged in Houston, Texas. [He said], ‘I know you have no school, no land, no money, no kids, and no idea how to start this process…but go get it done.'”
That’s exactly what Father TJ did, becoming the founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Warden said, “The kids have to be more or less at the poverty level, even to get in, but they also have to be smart, and motivated, so they get a complete first rate Jesuit education in high school with the intention of going to college.” In addition, explains the school’s website, “a unique Corporate Work-Study Program places students in Houston businesses and nonprofits where they earn up to 50 percent of the cost of their education.”
Warden is an engineer and lawyer who also teaches at Rice University, so he got involved to help arrange job opportunities for the students through all his connections.
So how did Father TJ get it done successfully in such a short amount of time? Warden said, “He had an uncanny ability to relate to anyone at any place on the socio-economic spectrum. He could be in the barrios of Houston and relate to those people. And then that night, he could be in the most expensive homes in Houston, drinking fine wine and bringing those people closer to God…If you really wanted to put him in a capsule for me and for so many others, he was equal parts friend, hero, and saint.”
For Warden, who didn’t have a Catholic background, it was Father TJ’s approach to life and mystery that ended up converting him: “The more I talked to him, the more I saw room for somebody who approached the mystery in life. He called it the mystery of our faith. We don’t need to know how it all is, but we need to know there’s mystery out there.”
For a man with so much left to do, it’s a mystery why Father TJ died so young. The diagnosis of stage four stomach cancer came as a shock, but it led to him writing “Miracle in Motion,” the miracle being his students. The book is full of life lessons for all of them – and for any reader who has faced challenges or missteps in life.
For Warden, Father TJ will always be a light in the darkness. Warden concludes, “I may be the only conversion to the faith that he had while he was alive, but I suspect that he’ll get a few others through reading this book.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note BUILDING A LIFE OF CHARACTER, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: [email protected]
Tony Rossi is director of communications for The Christophers.[[In-content Ad]]