In the shadows of Christ's love | 87-year-old has served at parish for most of his life
Ed Marty was born in the shadows of St. Mary of Victories Church.
He doesn't have many photos from his childhood anymore, but the 87-year-old seems to light up when he shows a black-and-white image of a residence, once attached to the side of the church, where he was born in 1925 and raised along with his eight brothers and sisters.
"The bed was against the wall that connected to the church," Marty said of the place where his mother gave birth to him. It was just a few yards from the tabernacle that held the Blessed Sacrament.
Marty grew up, got married and had three children of his own, but he never really left this church. These days, he still makes the drive from him home in Trenton, Ill., on Sundays to serve Mass. He assists at two liturgies -- a 9 a.m. Novus Ordo (New Rite) Mass in Latin, and an 11 a.m. Mass that features certain prayers and readings in Hungarian.
Father Brian Harrison, St. Mary's chaplain, said that Marty is by far the oldest server at the church, and he's been serving here for the last 80 years. He got his start in the early 1930s, when he was in grade school. Marty lived elsewhere as a young man, but he started to regularly attend Masses there again in 1965, after he retired from Mobil Oil Co. He's been serving Masses regularly for the last 25 years.
"It must be a rarity for someone to be still serving Mass every Sunday 80 years after he began doing so -- and at the same church where he first learned to serve," said Father Harrison.
Asked what keeps him coming back after all these years, and Marty is hard-pressed to answer. "I don't know," said the soft-spoken man, as his gentle, blue eyes looked forward toward the tabernacle. "I was born here."
Founded at Third and Gratoit streets, St. Mary of Victories sits under the shadow of Interstate 55 in the "Chouteau's Landing" district of Downtown. It is the second-oldest church in the archdiocese, following the Old Cathedral on the Riverfront. The church originally was established in 1843 for German immigrants and experienced a rebirth of sorts in the 1960s, when it was designated as a spiritual and cultural home to the Hungarian immigrant community.
The church was designed by Franz Saler and George Barnett, with a neoclassical influence commonly found in 16th-century architecture. Its interior, featuring hand-painted frescoes, statues and carvings, was designed by Max Schneiderhahn, the city's first professional church artist. In 1980, St. Mary's was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Marty's grandparents lived right across the street from the church on Third Street. His parents had a 99-year lease on the property that abutted the church building, but eventually they had to move. The building eventually was torn down in the 1960s and now is the spot where a beautiful garden and courtyard are located.
"The first bishop I served for was Archbishop (John J.) Glennon," said Marty, noting that he also regularly served Masses at the Old Cathedral. And he's seen a variety of forms of the Mass -- the Traditional Latin Mass, the New Rite in English and Latin, and even Masses in other languages, including one in Spanish, which was celebrated at St. Mary's for a while. As a child, he would help ring the bells, especially at the midday Angelus.
In the late 1960s, Marty and his older brother Richard (now deceased) reconstructed part of the sacristy into a small side chapel, where Father Harrison celebrates a Traditional Latin Mass in private during the week. The temperature-controlled chapel offers a refuge during the warm summer months and the cold of winter. The centerpiece of the chapel is an altar with an underpinning that once was the original gate from the church's altar rail. The rail is still in place in the main church. A dedication plaque to the Martys hangs over the entrance to the chapel.
The Marty brothers also constructed an ambo in the main church using the wooden altar rail from a chapel once used by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who staffed the school. Ed Marty graduated from there in 1938.
Those projects weren't the work of professional tradesmen, but rather dedicated hobbyists who have shared a great love for their church. Ed Marty said he wishes more people would come to the church, noting that attendance is low these days.
"Tell them Ed Marty would like to see some of the old parishioners come back and visit," he said.
"This is a beautiful, historic church," explained Father Harrison. "We're doing everything we can to keep this place open."
St. Mary of Victories is located at 744 S. Third Street Downtown.
Masses are celebrated Sundays at 9 a.m. (Latin Novus Ordo) and 11 a.m. (English, with Hungarian readings and prayers). Confessions are heard for 30 minutes prior to both Masses.
For more information or tours of the church, call (314) 231-8101
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