Sister Eva Regina Martin, SSF, the former director of Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies and congregational leader of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, died Monday morning at the Lafon Nursing Facility in New Orleans.
She was 74.
Martin was hospitalized Feb. 5 suffering from cardiac arrhythmia. She was moved to the Lafon facility, which is operated by the Sisters of the Holy Family, about a week ago, according to Sister Greta Jupiter, SSF.
Martin was named director of the IBCS by Xavier University President Norman Francis in 1997 after a national search. The institute, founded in 1980, prepares clergy and lay people for ministry in African-American communities and offers a master’s degree in black Catholic theological studies.
She left that post in 2003 to take a leadership position with the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of African-American nuns founded by Henriette Delille, a free woman of color who devoted her life to serving both free and enslaved black people in New Orleans. In 2006, she became congregational leader.
Acting directors have run the Xavier institute since Martin’s departure, but the Rev. Maurice Nutt, C.Ss.R., was recently named as her permanent replacement. He was assigned to the Redemptorist Parish Mission in Chicago.
Martin is credited with several initiatives during her time at the helm of the IBCS, including the publication “Sacred Rock,” which published papers of students and faculty; a youth-empowerment program for high school students; and the IBCS Preaching Institute.
She maintained contact with the institute even after her departure. She was the keynote speaker at last year’s IBCS commencement and had been a member of the search committee for a new director.
“God has called home a woman of great faith who was wholeheartedly committed to Christ, the church and the Holy Family Sisters,” New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond said in a statement. “I knew her as a friend and co-worker in ministry and will greatly miss her.”
Sister Greta, who became congregational leader after Martin’s hospitalization, said she had “a magnanimous heart.”
“She was highly educated; she was very spiritual; and she was a true educator in that she was always instructing, always tapping the personal resources of a person,” she said.
Martin was born in Grand Coteau and received bachelor’s degrees in both education and theology at Xavier. She earned a master’s degree in education from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, and a doctorate in African-American studies from Temple University in Philadelphia.
She served in ministries in Louisiana, Texas and Belize, Sister Greta said.
In 2002, she received the Harriet Tubman Award from the National Black Sisters’ Conference.
She served on an American bishops advisory board for black Catholics and was on the board of directors of Notre Dame Seminary and the Catholic Book Store in New Orleans.
In a 2001 interview, Martin said many African-Americans in New Orleans were descended from slaves who came originally from the Bakongo region in south-central Africa. People in that region thought communally, living “not only for themselves but for their god, for their family, for their community, for protection of that community,” she said.
That ideal was passed down to New Orleans’ black Catholics, who watched out for their community, she said.
She said that was evident in the actions of Delille, as well as such figures as Thomy Lafon, who donated generously for the education of black and white children, and Marie Couvent, who set aside land and money for a school for black children in Faubourg Marigny.
In that same interview, she said many black Catholics in New Orleans still remember the segregation era and their reactions to that experience differed widely.
“Some of them are bitter; some have never come back (to the church),” she said. But others persevered in their faith, she said.
“They wanted to pass the faith on to their children, and they suffered,” she said. “It was that faith that carried them, that spirituality that carried them, that liberated them.”
Visitation will be from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Sisters of the Holy Family Motherhouse, 6901 Chef Menteur Highway, New Orleans. A wake will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday. A Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Louis Cathedral, with visitation there beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Editor’s note: This story was changed April 16 to reflect that Martin became congregational leader of the Sisters of the Holy Family in 2006, rather than in 2003.