FATHER MAURICE J. NUTT’S “TRIBUTE TO BROTHER MARTIN DEPORRES SMITH, C.Ss.R.”
“In life it is a privilege to meet certain individuals who help shape and direct your life. It was as a young impressionable seminarian that I first met Brother Martin DePorres Smith, C.Ss.R. Without a doubt meeting him left an indelible mark on my life and ministry. I will be forever grateful for the “life lessons” he taught me. It was about four years ago (around July 2014), I received word that one of our African American Redemptorist Brothers had passed on to his eternal reward. This wasn’t just any religious. This man had a great influence on my life and ministry. It was his humility, keen insights and unrelenting humor that made this simple religious an extraordinary human being and Christian. I regrettably was unable to make it Brother Martin’s wake and funeral due to a prior responsibilities even after I had promised him that I would preach his wake. Because the impact his had on my life, I wanted to share the words that I sent to his family and friends who mourned his passing.”
To the family of Brother Martin, to all my Redemptorist confreres present, to the members of Holy Rosary Catholic Church and to all those gathered for Brother Martin’s wake service. I bring you condolence and consolation. Brother Martin earned the Master of Theology degree from Xavier University and was a cherished alumni.
It is with great sorrow that I send these words of condolence to you assembled as we honor and remember a man who was not only a Redemptorist confrere to me but in every sense of the word, a “brother beloved!” I painfully regret that I am unable to physically be present with you this evening. Brother Martin DePorres Smith was a mentor and a model of religious life not only for me but for many African American priests and religious throughout this country. As a pioneering black religious in this country, Brother Martin essentially taught us not only how to merely maintain or survive religious life and priesthood but how excel and thrive. He demonstrated this in his own life by not being relegated to working in a church office or cooking in a kitchen. Brother Martin knew that he could do that and so much more by advancing his education and earning Master degrees in Social Work and Theology. I was there to witness him achieve both these personal and professional goals.
Brother Martin had a deep and abiding spirituality. His intimate love for Jesus was seen in the way he prayed and in his trust in the Lord no matter what obstacle or problem he faced. He knew of a God who made “a way out of no way.” Brother Martin found joy, comfort and solace from listening to soul stirring Gospel music, reading and studying God’s Word and good preaching. He didn’t like dull worship services. I remember many times sitting next to him in Mass and if the choir wasn’t singing or the preacher wasn’t preaching, Brother Martin would bend over to me and whisper, “I think the Holy Spirit just got up and walk out of this church!” You can imagine me trying not to bust out laughing while Brother Martin sat there with his stoic, solemn face.
Another thing, if he would not have professed his vows as a Redemptorist and became Brother Martin DePorres Smith the religious. He could have easily been Mr. Bill Smith the comedian. Brother Martin was hilarious. The things he said. The things he did. Many times Brother Martin didn’t have to say anything to you; he didn’t even have to do anything; all he had to do is just look at you! I hate to admit this at his wake service but there were many times we would be at a public gathering and we would not want to sit anywhere near Brother Martin because we would end up looking like a “plum fool” laugh out loud while he just sat there as if nothing happened. He used to say, “Why don’t you want to sit next to me? Ya’ll act like I didn’t take a bath today.” I loved he but he was a mess!
Seriously, I will be forever grateful for Brother Martin’s wisdom. He was always there for me when I needed advice, counsel or simply a word of encouragement. Above all, Brother Martin had a whole lot of common sense. He knew a lot about life, about people, and about situations and circumstances to avoid. Long before Oprah had her Master Life Classes, Brother Martin was schooling us on this thing called life. Most of the time, we listened and learned from him and even when we didn’t and made our dumb mistakes, Brother Martin never chastised or abandoned us, he continued to love us and journeyed with us. I will certainly miss his wise words and guidance.
Finally, as I say farewell to my dear friend and brother, I am reminded that the Bible says that we are given “seventy years and eighty for those who are strong.” Well, Martin lived his seventy-three years given to him by God very well. He didn’t reach eighty but he was still mighty strong: Yes, MS had made his body weak but Brother Martin was mighty strong; he was strong in his faith, he was strong in his knowledge of God’s Word, he was strong in his ability to love and strong in his witness to Jesus, he was strong in his Redemptorist vocation and he was strong in his African American Spirituality and culture! I want you to know tonight that our loss is certainly Heaven’s gained. We are all sad to see Brother Martin leave us but he was tired and it was time for him move from labor to rest.
And so I say to Brother Martin: “Your battle with sickness is over and your victory is won! Well done good and faithful servant. Enter now into your everlasting peace and eternal rest. I will always love you and forever miss you!”
Your beloved friend and brother,
Father Dr. Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R.