SHAVERTOWN — In the parish of St. Therese’s Church on Pioneer Avenue, everyone knows Jack.
Jack Martin is the head sacristan, an officer charged with the caring for the sacristy, the church and their contents. Martin, who will turn 90 on April 27, performs his duties every day.
Martin has Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive major league baseball game streak in his sights. Ripken voluntarily ended his streak after playing in 2,632 consecutive games for the Baltimore Orioles.
As of today — Easter Sunday — Martin will have been in St. Therese’s Church for 2,250 consecutive days, dating back to Feb. 1, 2007.
The streak began after Martin recovered from open heart surgery in December 2006, and he shows no signs of slowing.
“He’s fiercely loyal to his job at 90 years of age,” said the Rev. James Paisley, who heads the church. “He moves around like a 20-year-old. Nobody else would be able to do what Jack does.”
Paisley, admittedly a “details guy,” said Martin’s value is immeasurable.
“I keep forgetting he’s 90 years old,” Paisley said. “He makes life so much easier for me. I never have to second guess when Jack’s around.”
Whether he’s preparing the gifts for Holy Communion, making sure there are enough ministers or counting the heads at Mass (he does count everybody), Martin is as dedicated to his church and his faith as anyone could be. At each Mass, Martin worries whether there will be enough Eucharists for all communion recipients.
“Can you imagine what would happen if Father Paisley ran out of Eucharists and went to the tabernacle and the key wasn’t there?” Martin wondered.
Martin also makes sure the water that Rev. Paisley uses to wash his hands during Mass is warm, not cold.
Joined parish in 1944
Martin has been a member of the St. Therese’s parish since 1944 and he has been the head sacristan for 20 years.
“I love this church,” Martin said. He and his late wife, Deany, were married there in 1952; their three children were baptized there. Martin’s face illuminates when he talks about his son, Jacky, his two daughters, Lorraine and Cathy, and his seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
When he’s not counting heads at every Mass, Martin has time for some other interests. He loves country music, especially Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis and Roy Clark. Martin used to play drums in a band called “The Nightimers” in the 1950s and 1960s. He also plays the trombone.
He graduated from Connellsville High School, 40 miles south of Pittsburgh, where his best friend from childhood through high school was Johnny Lujack, who starred at Notre Dame and won a Heisman Trophy.
Martin is still a football fan; he roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Martin is a steak-and-mashed-potatoes kind of guy. He makes the five-minute walk from his house to church every day, and although he still drives, macular degeneration limits his time behind the wheel, especially at night. Somehow, he still is able to count heads from the church’s loft.
“They just don’t make Jack Martins anymore,” said Dan Wisnieski, a member of St. Therese’s and a longtime friend. “He is truly a legend in his time. His charisma, knowledge and memory are second to none.”
Wisnieski said Martin likes to talk about the old days, like when he worked at his father’s gas station in Trucksville when gasoline was 12.9 cents per gallon and full service was expected.
Martin retired in 1985 from the B.F. Goodrich Co., where he was in charge of shipping and receiving.
“I drove a forklift too,” he said. “I put more than 300,000 miles on that forklift and I didn’t go anywhere.”
Six years post-retirement, said Martin, “they started bothering me here.” He laughs and says he enjoys every minute in the church.
“A lady bought me a sleeping bag as a joke,” he said. “I never used it here, but I use it at home.”
Wisnieski said Martin has lived a rich and full life, and everyone who has come to know him has been richer for the opportunity.
Martin said he will continue as sacristan as long as he can and for as long as the church will have him.
“I hope to die in a pew,” he said. “But only after Mass is ended and the church is cleaned up and ready for the next Mass.”