By Eileen Connelly, OSU
God’s journey for us is sometimes full of twists and turns, but if we faithfully follow the path he lays before us, the result is true peace and joy. Such is the case for Br. Martin Sanabria, OFM, who professed his solemn vows as a Franciscan friar on Oct. 11.
A native of Jalisco, Mexico, Br. Martin came to the United States with his parents and four siblings when he was just four years old. The family settled in Torrence, California. Due to financial struggles and his mother’s concerns over local gang activity, Br. Martin was unable to complete high school and instead joined his father doing construction work.
He first experienced the call to religious life at 18, as he prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament while on a youth retreat. “I felt that God was asking something of me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, or what I should do,” Br. Martin said. He began contacting various religious communities and attending vocation retreats, only to be turned away because he lacked a GED. After many years of discernment and disappointments, Br. Martin met the late Br. Javier Reyes, OFM, while working with the Hispanic community at a local parish.
“He was the first Franciscan I’d ever met and was so welcoming,” Br. Martin explained. “He invited me to the House of Welcome in Portland, Oregon, to discern my vocation, improve my English and find out if this is what God and I both wanted."
Br. Javier was a turning point on the journey for Br. Martin, who had seen statues of St. Francis over the years, but had no knowledge of him or the Franciscans. “Br. Javier introduced to me St. Francis,” Br. Martin said. “He really was an extraordinary, holy saint. How much he loved God and the word of God and his passion for the Gospel really resonates with me. He was devoted to his calling, and what moves me is Francis’ conversion: making that commitment to leaving everything behind to follow God and always looking forward to the good news of the Gospel. Living the Gospel gave him life. It gives me life, too.”
The friars themselves also inspire Br. Martin – their spirituality, humility and care for others. He originally professed temporary vows in 2007 and solemn vows in 2011, but requested a leave of absence from the Order several years later. He returned in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and said, “I’m now at peace and have reconciled with God and myself.”
For the past three years, Br. Martin has ministered with the St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco, where he said, “I’m kind of like a chaplain, just being present with the poor. We have different departments – free clothing, hygiene help, a clinic and soup kitchen, a resource center – and I make my rounds to all of them. I’ve learned that I’m not there to teach the poor, but for the poor to teach me. What I see in them is the word of the Gospel; they live it in their lives, and I see it with my own eyes. When I hear their stories and what they have suffered, the Gospel becomes clearer to me. I understand what the Gospel is talking about because I see it, hear it, live it. This has been a real gift for me.”
Br. Martin's joy shines through as the friars congratulate him following his solemn profession.
Br. Martin professes his final vows on Oct. 11.
Br. Martin lies prostrate before the altar during the Litany of the Saints.
Br. Martin signs his name in the Book of Life.
Br. Javier was a turning point on the journey for Br. Martin, who had seen statues of St. Francis over the years, but had no knowledge of him or the Franciscans. “Br. Javier introduced to me St. Francis,” Br. Martin said. “He really was an extraordinary, holy saint. How much he loved God and the word of God and his passion for the Gospel really resonates with me. He was devoted to his calling, and what moves me is Francis’ conversion: making that commitment to leaving everything behind to follow God and always looking forward to the good news of the Gospel. Living the Gospel gave him life. It gives me life, too."
Br. Martin was the final friar to profess solemn vows before the creation of the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Oct. 17, making the occasion even more meaningful for him. “I wasn’t expecting to be the final friar, but it was a blessing to be,” he said. “It brings me hope and joy, affirms my faith and strengthens my vocation as a Franciscan to know that we friars are in this together. My dream is that we can do more to help the people of God and further the kingdom of God. I feel like the doors are open for all of us for many opportunities to reach out to the poor, to the rich, and help them grow in their faith.”
He advised men considering a call to Franciscan life to “be open to God, trust him and follow your heart to what God is calling you to do. Remember things happen in God’s time. Pray to Mother Mary, pray the rosary, and contemplate how God is working in your life.”
Is God calling you or someone you know to become a friar? Contact our Franciscan Vocation Ministry team – we are here to support you as you discern your vocation. To get started, fill out this form.