THE HISTORY OF OUR PARISH
The history of the Catholic Church in Troy, which dates from around 1875, is closely tied to the history of the missions in Central and South Alabama. Although no Catholic parish existed in a fifty-mile radius, these Catholic men and women of Troy, both those reared in the faith and converts, maintained a deep love of and devotion to their faith. Between 1875 and 1905, Mass was probably celebrated in Troy on an annual or semi-annual basis only, and not until the 1940's did Troy have Mass celebrated on a weekly basis. Despite the absence of a Catholic community, resident pastor, and regular services, the Catholics in Troy remained loyal to the church and provided the necessary base upon which a parish could later be established.
In 1875, Troy was first listed in church records as a station, to be visited whenever possible by a priest from Montgomery. At this time Montgomery had but one Catholic church, and the priest assigned to that church probably visited Troy once or twice a year. This situation continued until 1905 when Troy received regular visits from the pastor of that church four times a year. The priest’s main responsibility was to discover who the Catholics and former Catholics were and to maintain some form of contact with them.
The year 1915 brought important changes to the Catholics in Troy. Martin Connor, a long-time Troy resident and one of the small numbers of dedicated Catholics in Troy, left a bequest to the Diocese of Mobile for the construction of a church in Troy. (He also left money for the construction of St. Andrew Church, Montgomery, and for the education of seminarians.) The cornerstone for this brick church in Troy was laid on Thanksgiving Day, 1915, by Bishop Edward P. Allen, and the ceremonies attracted priests from around the diocese as well as approximately one hundred people from Montgomery. Indeed, the ceremonies attracted so many people, the local newspaper noted that an extra coach had to be added to the train from Montgomery. The church, which would seat 175 people comfortably, was the probable reason that Troy received mission status in 1915 even though there were only ten adults in the congregation.
From 1915 to 1928, Troy was included in the Montgomery Missions, which covered the rural areas extending from Montgomery outward 40 miles north to Clanton, 140 miles southeast to Graceville, Florida, and 90 miles south to Andalusia. The one missionary priest usually assigned to the missions was responsible for visiting established missions in nine towns, finding and ministering to Catholics in seventeen other towns, and visiting, whenever possible, two prisons and one soldiers’ home. Because of Troy’s central location, available church, and the large number of Catholics (in comparison to other mission towns), Mass was celebrated in the church on a monthly basis.
The various missionaries who served the area during this time had demanding jobs. Their chief form of transportation was the train, and they had to be traveling constantly, finding room and board where possible, and trying to minister to the needs of Catholics and former Catholics scattered throughout an 8,000 square mile area. In their journals the missioners recorded aspects about their work, and in addition to praising the many dedicated Catholics throughout the area who always greeted the priests warmly, the priests often tell of having to sleep within a cell block at a prison and wake prisoners for morning Mass. Saying Mass in a railroad station while waiting for the next train to arrive, arriving in a town and hoping that some kind soul would offer his assistance were other events that the missioners described.
During the period from 1928 to 1940, Troy experienced both a growth in the number of Catholics and a change in the parish’s status. In October of 1928, Father Joseph A. Royer assumed the duties as the parish’s first resident pastor and missionary for Greenville, Opp, and Andalusia. At this time the Catholic population of Troy had grown to about twenty-five people; Mass was now celebrated in town on two Sundays of every month.
In 1932, however, St. Martin parish reverted to its mission status. Father Herman C. Cazalas, who lived in Montgomery, served as the missionary priest for Troy and seven other missions. Even though Troy did not have a resident pastor, Mass was still celebrated in town twice monthly. Troy maintained its mission status until 1944, but during that time the frequency of Sunday services increased, and since 1943 Mass has been offered in Troy on a weekly basis.
Because of the steady growth of St. Martin Parish, a new church and parish complex was needed. Many priests, parishioners, and Diocesan leaders had for some time studied ways to meet the needs of the growing Catholic population in Troy, and in 1976 Father Thomas Leonard purchased the property on which the new church stands and laid the groundwork for the future construction. Father Robert Fulton, who came to Troy in June of 1977, assumed the difficult task of supervising the planning and construction of the new church. Before ground could be broken for the building in October 1978, much work had to be done by Father Fulton, Sam Wilson, a parishioner who designed the building, and Nelson Jones, chairman of the Building Committee. Since the ground-breaking ceremony, these three, as well as many other parishioners, worked tirelessly to help the parish realize its goal of having a beautiful church, parish hall, and rectory which has served the people of Troy for many years.
Many reminders of the old church on Walnut Street are present in the new one. On the outside of the new building, the bell which for many years announced the beginning of services on Walnut Street is prominently displayed. Inside the church, one can see the crucifix, the statues honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Mother, and the Stations of the Cross which are from the old church. In the entry way, the old cornerstone from the first St. Martin Church faces the cornerstone of the new St. Martin Church, emblems which emphasize the continuity of the parish, its heritage and future growth.
That growth necessitated in 2000 another building project, one that almost doubled the size of the parish hall, added seven classrooms, storage capacity, and a garage. Additionally, in 2001-2002, Father James Dean oversaw the purchase of a house and lot contiguous to the church property with an eye toward potential parish expansion as well as relocating the small, second-floor rectory to a stand-alone dwelling.
Beginning in the early 2000s, significantly stronger ties began to form between St. Martin Church and Catholic students attending the Troy Campus of Troy University. For many years, a Sunday evening Mass was offered at the Sorrell Chapel on the campus and continues to this day. However, the parish involvement with the college students rose to the next level when Father Dean invited FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries to Troy to minister to students on their faith journey. Supporting and encouraging the FOCUS missionaries is an ongoing parish commitment.
The year 2013 was a benchmark for Catholic students when the Newman Residence Halls opened at Troy University. The two-building, 376-bed facility was shepherded to completion by Father Den Irwin in conjunction with the Troy University Foundation and the Archdiocese of Mobile. The dormitories house the Newman Center for student ministry, and includes a small chapel, office, kitchen, and meeting space.
The new millennium also brought with it a growing involvement between St. Martin Church and the Hispanic and Vietnamese communities. Masses in Spanish and Vietnamese are a regularly scheduled part of parish life. Father Irwin also regularly celebrated a Latin Mass.
In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the construction of the first St. Martin Church, the pastoral council under the direction of Father Irwin initiated plans to renovate the interior as well as the exterior of the church. After an extensive fundraising campaign, the project was completed in early 2017. The renovations included a baldacchino over the altar, a raised sanctuary, a new marble floor, more comfortable seating, and an integrated interior plan to complement the stained-glass windows that were installed in the 1990s. As a finishing touch, artisans in the parish designed and emplaced a mosaic behind the tabernacle based on the iconography in rose window of the original Walnut Street church. The exterior work involved updating to more energy efficient windows, painting, and replacement of aging components in the 40-year-old façade. Also, in connection with the anniversary, a generous parishioner donated a large outdoor marble statue of St. Martin of Tours sharing his cloak with a beggar; the figure will be the centerpiece of a planned prayer garden behind the rectory.
Father Irwin also supervised the rehabbing of the former second-floor priest’s living quarters into the Upper Room, a general-use space for council meetings, RCIA classes, and fellowship. In addition to construction, Father Irwin enhanced aspects of parish administration. Under his tenure, the parish hired a full-time church secretary, a deacon was assigned to St. Martin Church to assist the pastor, and choir membership and repertoire increased.
St. Martin Parish continues to grow, not only in size, but in service to God and community because the love of and devotion to their faith that marked those first members of the Catholic Church in Troy still characterizes the members of St. Martin Parish. Through the watch care of its pastors, pastoral council, and congregation, the parish stands ready to minister to spiritual needs of the Troy community and its environs for the next 100 years.