Rita R. Martin, a counselor of homeless women at a Better Waverly residence, died of complications from multiple myeloma and infection Monday at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Lochearn resident was 69.
Born Rita Reynolds in San Diego, she earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and French at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. While a senior, she met her future husband, Larry L. Martin, a college professor.
"I was on a one-year assignment to the school, and we were introduced through a family there," said Dr. Martin.
After their 1967 marriage, the couple moved to Baltimore. She later earned a master's degree in church ministries from St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park.
She joined St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church in Walbrook and was its parish council president on two occasions. She also served on Archdiocese of Baltimore committees.
"She was a lady of tremendous faith and great pastoral vision," said her former pastor, the Rev. Sylvester Peterka, who now serves in Philadelphia. "She was one of my advisers. She had a sense of compassion and understanding."
In 1988, she responded to an ad for a jobs counselor at the Marian House, a residence for homeless women and children on Gorsuch Avenue in Better Waverly.
"As soon as I interviewed Rita, within three minutes of talking with her, I knew she was the one I wanted," said Sister Augusta Reilly, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. "She came to Marian House and made it her home. She took individual women under her wing, she fiercely fought for them, she got them Pew Grants and would take them to church on Sunday."
Mrs. Martin also assisted in furnishing the house, a former Roman Catholic convent. Friends said she had a talent for decorating for celebrations and holidays. She also embraced computer technology.
"She did whatever it took to make the program a real home and was a change agent for the hundreds of homeless women and children served there," said Sister Augusta, who lives in Baltimore. "She was an inspiration to all."
Susan K. Gauvey, a U.S. District Court magistrate judge and Marian House board chair, recalled Mrs. Martin's work as the home's intake counselor.
"She went to the jails and the homeless shelters and found the women who were ready for the marvelous program that Marian House offers," the judge said. "She was all about people. She was a wise woman and a tough mom with a great deal of spirituality. She had real integrity."
Judge Gauvey said she made sure the women at the home received birthdays cards and had celebrations.
"She loved them deeply and counseled them well," said Judge Gauvey.
After she received her master's degree in 2003, a friend asked her why she was so committed to pursuing education in spirituality and theology.
"Her telling response suggested that someday her church just might need to tap her for formal ministry; and if so, she was determined to be ready," said Sister Augusta.
Katie Allston, executive director at Marian House, said Mrs. Martin was an ideal person to serve as the home's gatekeeper.
"She was reserved, calm and poised," she said, "She had no ego that she showed to others."
Mrs. Martin also hosted Sunday dinners at her home and welcomed children and family friends to her table. In the late 1970s, she began inviting international students from Coppin State University to her home. Her husband said she would host a dozen students who had no family in this country.
"She could really do salmon," her husband said. "She enjoyed being in the kitchen. She was a good cook and she was adventurous. She did not mind trying new recipes."
In December, she hosted a large party where the guests sang Christmas carols for an hour and then enjoyed desserts. For this occasion, Mrs. Martin made a Japanese fruit pie.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church, 3301 Windsor Ave.
In addition to her husband of 47 years, who is a Coppin faculty member and teaches history, geography and international studies, survivors include two daughters, Michelle Martin-Daniels of Randallstown and Joanna Martin of Lochearn; a sister, Marie Thomas of Richmond, Calif.; and a grandson.