Profile: Br John Martin, head of the Brothers of St John of God

 "The buck stops here" is a motto of Brother John Martin OH, newly re-elected head of the Brothers of St John of God's English Province. He's been Provincial for nine years, elected three times for the three-year period allowed. And yesterday he was re-elected for an unprecedented fourth spell. Speaking in his office at Darlington before the chapter met, Dublin-born Brother John said he hoped another brother would be elected as the Order's Provincial. But colleagues decided otherwise. An affable and couteous man, he was one of a family of eight. His father was a bricklayer and the family moved to Nottingham when he was at school. "I got my first hint of a vocation aged 15 when rummaging through magazines in the library at school aged 15. I came across the Hospitaller, the Brothers, magazine. A quick flick was `interesting, but that's all," he said. "Six months later I came across the same magazine and rang the Brothers vocations, promoter at the mother house at Scorton, North Yorkshire. I spent a weekend there and was very impressed, but the promoter said I was too young at 16. "He said: `If God is calling you, you will return.' I did return while training as a chef at Nazareth House in Nottingham aged 18. The then vocations, promoter Bro. Michael Newman OH said the answer was `still No, due to my age. "But through God's grace, I entered the noviciate on September 29, 1978, aged 19 and was given the religious name of John of the Cross. "At times preparing to be a Hospitaller Brother was hard. But I learnt much about myself and what I needed to embrace if I was going to be able to embrace others in the manner of our (Spanish) founder John of God. This journey will continue till I 'cross over' "We had a lot of fun. I love being a Hospitaller Brother. God has truly blessed me in allowing me to have a share in his work of hospitality." This work is 'being neighbour' to nearly 2,000 people whose needs range from severe physical and learning disability, drug and alcohol- related problems to destitute migrant workers in London. The work has changed dramatically over the past 40 years since Brother John joined the Order. The Brothers ran four large institutional establishments at Scorton, Croft, County Durham, Silverdale, Lancashire, and Barvin Park, Potters Bar, near London, with hundreds of long-stay service-users. "It was a big wrench to leave Scorton, where Brothers had been since 1880. But in our stepping out in faith and responding to the signs of the times, we have been enabled to develop our services beyond our wildest dreams," said Brother John. The order embraced the idea of 'care in the community' in the early 80's and have been consultants to many Governmental departments concerned with this issue since then. "In moving away from institutional care a new way of managing our services had to be developed. We had to engage with a whole new set of professionals to advise and support us in making wise decisions and to mange colossal budgets. "Developing our services to meet the unmet needs of those in our care and looking out to the needs of emerging groups of vulnerable people on the edge of society is always at the core of any of our decision-making processes." One of the most exciting ventures over the last few years was the creation of the Brothers' new charity 'St John of God Care Services'. This has been pivotal in ensuring that their work, which began so humbly in Granada, Spain, 500 years ago, will continue into the future through working in partnership with their 800 professional co-workers. "Much good work was achieved in our large institutions," said Brother John. "Many Brothers and co-workers gave of their very best and the Lord will reward all they did for some of the most abandoned in our society. "But since those days the Order has developed nearly 50 types of accommodation suitable for those needing its supported- living service. "Its portfolio includes drug and rehabilitation services, care homes for people with learning, physical and behavioural disability and hostels for homeless men and women." Currently, they are using their expertise to manage a new charity called the Medaille Trust, which offers safe housing to women, young men and children who have been freed from the sex-trafficking industry by the police. "The trust is offering holistic care to victims of this modern day form of slavery. There is currently no statutory funding available for this work and we are completely dependent on the financial donations given by the Christian community" said Bro. John. "The brothers will soon open a large centre offer a life line to migrant workers from new EU countries in London so they don,t become homeless while seeking jobs. "We are working in partnership with excellent organisations such as the Passage Day Centre and the Broadway Day Centre for Homeless Men and Women." Nearer to their North-east roots, the Brothers are looking at the possibility of building a 50-bed nursing home at the Poor Clares, monastery, Darlington. The home would be for frail elderly and men and women with dementia. "We are particularly pleased to have set up St John of God Management Services to support other religious congregations, care for their elderly religious helping them to continue living in their own communities. "Currently we are working with 22 different congregations." "We are one of the Order's smallest provinces worldwide, but this has not dampened our enthusiasm and energy in trying to carry out our mission of hospitality," said Bro. John.

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