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Martos, Joseph John


March 25, 2020

Louisville - Dr. Joseph Martos, professor, author, businessman, and social activist, died on March 25, 2020 at age 76, in Louisville, KY. The cause was leukemia, which he had been battling for nine months.

Dr. Martos lived in two worlds: one abstract and theoretical and the other personal and practical. He taught for more than 40 years and wrote or co-wrote more than ten books. His magnum opus, "Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to the Sacraments in the Catholic Church," is still used as a textbook. A member of Louisville's St. William Catholic Church community for 27 years, he worked to promote peace and social responsibility. He was a man of faith known for being a liberal theologian who pushed his church to adapt with modern times. Dr. Martos loved being active, and spent hours taking care of the apartment buildings he owned with his wife, Arden. For 25 years, they offered affordable housing and economic help to the people in their community, changing the lives of many for the better.

Joseph John Martos was born June 11, 1943 in Queens, NY. He was an altar boy, an outstanding student, and an Eagle Scout, whose law guided his own life. "A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent."

He wanted to become a priest and after two years at a local seminary, went to the North American College in Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University. There, he was introduced to the writings of philosopher Bernard Lonergan, and gradually became aware that he might be more a person who deeply examined abstract subjects, than a parish priest. He left the seminary, and earned a master's degree at Boston College and a doctorate at DePaul University in Chicago. In 1976, Dr. Martos went to teach at Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was assigned a course on the sacraments. Unable to find a satisfactory textbook, he wrote Doors to the Sacred. He then took a one-year contract at Xavier University in Cincinnati, after which he sold real estate to support his family. He became a member of the New Jerusalem Community, led by Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr, with whom he would later co-author five books including "Why Be Catholic?" (1989) and "The Wild Man's Journey" (1991).

For six years Dr. Martos taught theology at DeSales University in Allentown, PA, becoming department head. He was then hired as a full professor at Spaulding University in Louisville, and in the summer of 1992 he and his second wife, Arden, moved to the state known for whiskey and thoroughbreds.

They purchased a run-down 19th century mansion in Old Louisville where they lived on the first floor and rented out the others. The couple found that their new neighborhood included a mix of people rich and poor: students, day laborers, pensioners and people trying to turn their lives around. "Joe and Arden were heaven-sent to me," said Esau Owens. While he was living in a halfway house he became their carpenter, receiving much needed income but also life guidance along the way. "Joe was like a father. He taught me to forgive others and myself, and how to love. He helped make me a better man."

Over the years, Dr. Martos and his wife acquired several similar buildings with the goal of being landlords who provided decent housing at affordable rents. They also helped in other ways. If a tenant might lose her job because she didn't have $10 for the bus pass, or someone else needed some vital medication, they would provide the money. "That's worth much more than ten bucks," Dr. Martos said. "We were able to do as much as we could for people, because we lived where there were people in need." He was fond of a Thornton Wilder saying: "Money is like manure, it's not worth a thing unless it's spread around."

Dr. Martos became head of Spaulding's Russell Institute of Religion and Ministry. He taught courses in Christian morality, contemporary Catholicism, philosophical ethics, and logic, to name a few. He insisted on critical thinking and challenged his students' cultural assumptions. "The first time you lose your faith is the hardest," he liked to tell them with a wry smile. "I am not so concerned with what you think, as that you think." Janet Boice admits she never could have survived 20 years as a chaplain without the ability to appreciate different points of view on faith and religion. "Dr. Martos taught me to listen without it threatening my own faith," she said. "He was a patient and intelligent teacher."

After retiring in 2003, Dr. Martos continued to lecture, write articles and books, advocate for social justice and neighborhood improvement, and manage the rental properties. He only slowed down (a little) while undergoing treatment for his cancer.

Dr. Martos was an educator, a lover of language (especially puns), a problem solver, an eternal optimist who looked for the best in others and in all situations, and an activist in his community. He is survived by his wife, Arden, two sons from his first marriage, Justin and Ambrose, and his sister Marianne.

Published by Courier-Journal from Dec. 1 to Dec. 6, 2020.

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