Martin House Opens in 1975 As Rockford’s Black Ministry
By Sharon Boehlefeld, Features Editor
July 2, 2020
ROCKFORD—A ministry to the Black community here opened during the tenure of Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill.
On Jan. 5, 1975, he dedicated Martin House on South Main Street a few blocks north of the St. Elizabeth Community Center.
The diocese’s 1976 Centennial History Book recorded the  event. The section regarding Martin House reads: 
Catholic Inner City Ministry 
The Apostolate for the Black, referred to as the Catholic Inner City Ministry, is located at 1020 South Main Street in Rockford and is directed by Father William Collins. The building was do­nated by the Ingrassia family in 1974 and includes offices and living quarters for Father Collins.
This ministry directs its services and involve­ment to the minority races who take up residence in the city of Rockford. The ministry operates on the theology of liberation. It uses the Christian Gospel to work for justice and freedom and the wholeness of peoples’ lives. The Apostolate for the Black has three basic thrusts: worship, spreading the Gospel and applying the social gospel. The Black Apostolate is involved in the following programs at the present time: Welfare Rights Organization, Youth Coalition, Gospel Mass and Friendly Food Co-Op.
On Sunday, January 5, 1975, Bishop O’Neill dedicated Martin House, which is the home of Rockford’s Catholic Inner City Ministry. The new social center is a place where the citizens of southwest Rockford can come together in wor­ship and fellowship. Martin House is dedicated in honor of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Saint Martin de Porres, a patron saint of the poor and oppressed.
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By the mid-1990’s the ministry had added The Magdalene Program, an outreach to women trapped in prostitution and other illegal behaviors, and a community services program that provided support and supervised recreation for children in need.
Father Leo Bartel, diocesan vicar for Social Ministries at the time, announced on Jan. 5, 1995, that “funding has not met expenses for the last several years.” The diocese made the decision to move Martin House and it’s services under Catholic Charities.
But, by early 1998, it was clear Martin House itself could not be sustained.
On March 20, 1998, Father Bartel explained in The Observer that the ministry was being suspended but most of its services would continue.
The facility was more than $250,000 in debt, a cost the diocese covered. But the board of Diocesan Consultors could not find a way to continue to support it.
In its history, Martin House offered programs such as an alternative high school, job training and GED preparatory classes and, in the mid-80’s, a gang intervention program.
“St Elizabeth Center is suited to meet many of the needs that Martin House has sought to meet over the years,” said Tom McKenna, now a deacon, who had administrative oversight of both Martin House and St. Elizabeth Catholic Community Center at the time. 
Among Martin House’s programs that continue to this day through Catholic Charities are:
 Emergency food and clothing services at St. Elizabeth;
 Counseling and related services;
 Care and recreation for children in need; and
 Adult job preparation programs.
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