Father-of-two Martin Barlow made history on Sunday when he was ordained one of the first permanent deacons in the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland.
For Martin, who lives in Drumcree parish, it was the culmination of four years of preparation, involving commitment not just from him but his wife Ursula and extended family.
In fact, around 80 members of the couple’s family attended the ordination in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, followed by a reception in Drumcree Pastoral Centre on the Garvaghy Road.
Martin, who has two sons Shea (18) and Oisin (13), is a graphic designer and will combine his new church role with his family and working life.
He has been appointed to Derrynoose, Keady and Madden for a year where he will assist at masses and with baptisms, weddings and funerals.
He said, “The only thing I can’t do is celebrate the Eucharist and hear confession.”
As a young man, Martin had toyed with the idea of becoming a priest. He said, “My grandmother, Elizabeth Murphy, used to pray that I would become a priest and I had an uncle who was in the priesthood.”
However, after finishing school he opted instead to go on to university where he studied graphic design, eventually meeting his wife and settling down into family life.
But his faith lapsed when a medical issue emerged in the family and for four or five years he stopped going to mass on Sundays and became a Christmas and Easter attender.
In 2006 he experienced what he describes as a “renewal of faith”. He explained, “I had gone on an Alpha course to support a friend but the floodgates opened. I made a promise that I could no longer be a Sunday Catholic. I had no idea I would become an ordained minister. I didn’t go seeking the ministry. It came to me.”
Three years later, Martin heard that the church was looking for men to apply to become permanent deacons. He said, “My greatest fear was how to tell my wife that I wanted to do it.” But he needn’t have worried as Ursula was fully behind him.
The first year involved the couple attending monthly retreats after which Martin was informed that he had been accepted onto the three-year formation course, which entailed study weekends and written assignments.
Said Martin, “I still have to be a dad and hold down a job but we have been told that our marriage and family comes first, followed by our jobs and then the ministry.
“We chose my youngest son Oisin to officially dress me in the vestments at Sunday’s ceremony, but the night before I took the two boys to the cinema, just to let them see that I will still be their dad.”