By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
FORNEY — When Father James Yamauchi arrived as pastoral administrator of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in July, the first thing he noticed was how many multi-generation families attended Mass together.
“Every single week, we have grandparents at Mass with their grandchildren and lots of families who have been here for generations,” he said. “The best word for this parish is ‘family.’ There’s a nice collegiality.”
As the Kaufman County parish celebrates its 125th anniversary this year and prepares for a special commemorative 1 p.m. Mass on Dec. 17, parishioners have shared reflections on the generations, family ties and profound faith that initiated, built and strengthened St. Martin.
“I knew that my family had deep roots in their Catholic faith and had been going to church at St. Martin for a long time,” said parishioner Julie Shuler, whose ancestors helped found and build the parish and whose grandchildren represent the family’s seventh generation at St. Martin. “The parishioners always took great interest in their church. They’ve passed along from generation to generation the importance of your church life, your parish and your priest.”
During her research as a member of the 125th anniversary’s history committee, Shuler consulted archives from the church and the Diocese of Dallas; local and regional newspapers; the work of historians Debbie Landregan and Patrick J. Costello. She also tapped her family, three branches of which had connections with St. Martin’s early history.
“It blew me away to find out that my great-great grandfather, Joseph Leo Adams, was one of three men who went to meet with Bishop Thomas Brennan in Dallas, requesting that a parish be established,” said Shuler, a descendant of the Adams, Brennan and Schlebach families that were among the early settlers of the area in which St. Martin was established in 1891. “It has been so exciting to be part of this anniversary.”
St. Martin—among the oldest parishes in the 126-year-old Diocese of Dallas—came to be at the behest of Irish immigrants who worked on the Texas and Pacific Railroad and often stayed to farm the area’s rich soil. The community became known as Layden’s Ridge in tribute to a pioneer family that arrived in the 1870s. The location—where Talty sits, about 5 miles southeast of Forney—later was called Irish Ridge, where German immigrants also clustered to farm hay and cotton.
Talty, which was legally established in 1874, took its name from the owner of the general store, which lodged the post office.
Pastures still engulf parts of Forney and Talty, but St. Martin now is within range of the steady hum of motor traffic on nearby Interstate 20.
Growth has occurred since 1891, when Adams, Tom Layden and Edward Vaughn gained Bishop Brennan’s authorization to build a parish, with the first land parcel donated by Martin Layden, Jr.
The parish had a convent and a school, staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, through most of the first half of the 20th century.
Among its anniversary events, the parish held a festive gala, featuring dinner and dancing, on Nov. 11—the Feast of St. Martin of Tours.
The gala included video presentations that paid tribute to St. Martin’s history and to its late pastor, Msgr. Glenn “Duffy” Gardner, who died on May 3 after suffering a seizure.
John Mastervich, St. Martin’s longtime Parish Finance Council chairman, said that Msgr. Gardner provided great leadership for the parish, which holds Mass in its parish hall, having outgrown the current church, dedicated in 1929.
He said that Msgr. Gardner’s easy-going, good-humored disposition made him a treasure.
“Our real champion was Father Duffy,” said Mastervich, who for years has organized the parish’s successful fall festivals. “We were very excited to have him here. We’re in an area of tremendous growth. We’re putting together the financial framework to take to the bishop to get his blessing to build a new church.”
Since Mastervich moved to the parish in 1990, the Mass schedule has grown from one Mass per weekend to four, he said.
Father Yamauchi, who was a sacristan for Msgr. Gardner when he served as pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plano, said that St. Martin now has 800 registered families.
“I was so pleased to find at St. Martin people who are dedicated to their families, to the church and to living the Catholic faith,” he said. “The biggest characteristic of this parish is that the parishioners are very, very generous.”
Jacy Wright, 23, said that she returned home to Forney and St. Martin after college and found more children and young people in the parish than during her childhood.
“You see many more children in the parish,” said Wright, whose mother, Beth, serves as St. Martin’s Parish Catechetical and Youth Ministry leader. “The kids here now have tons of Catholic friends.”
Parishioner Paula Pokladnik said that she delights in seeing the younger generations living their faith.
“One of the most exciting things is to see our youth program’s growth and to see the younger people taking ownership,” said Pokladnik, who joined St. Martin in 1990 and has served in numerous ministries. “From the time I walked through the door of St. Martin, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Pokladnik, who launched the parish’s “Almost Angels” faith formation program, said that St. Martin has been a particular blessing since her husband, Dick, passed away in 1999.
“It’s not only my faith community but also my social community,” she said. “St. Martin has been so good to me.”