Father Martin L. Elsner, SJ, died Sunday, Feb. 4 in Opelousas, La. He was 86 years old, a Jesuit for 68 years and a priest for 55 years.
Remembered as a gentle man of great faith and unfailing kindness, his life will be celebrated in a Mass of Christian Burial on Feb. 10 at St. Charles College Chapel in Grand Coteau, La. Burial will be in the Jesuit Cemetery at St. Charles College, immediately following the Funeral Mass. In San Antonio, a memorial Mass will be held Monday, Feb. 12, at 5 p.m., at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine at 1321 El Paso Street, followed by a reception in Brother Gus Hall.
Martin L. Elsner was born in St. Louis on Sept. 1, 1931to Martin L. Elsner, Sr. and Mary Gerometta Elsner. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by brothers John and Steve Elsner and sister, Mrs. J. C. Maguire, Jr. He is survived by nieces and nephews.
He entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) on Aug. 14, 1949, at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, La. He professed first vows two years later and was ordained to the priesthood on June 13, 1962, at St. Joseph Chapel at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. He pronounced final vows in El Paso.
Father Elsner began his priestly ministry in Shreveport, La., where he served as assistant principal from 1964 to 1968 at the former Jesuit High School. He was then appointed rector-president at Jesuit High School in El Paso, where eventually he also served as both president and principal. He was a source of strength and consolation to the Jesuits and to the community at large when the school closed in 1972. He then became superior of Jesuit House in El Paso, a small community made up of Jesuits who had served at Jesuit High before it closed. These men continued the Jesuit mission of education by serving in public schools because that is where they thought they would find the students with the greatest need; Father Elsner taught at Riverside Public School.
Father Elsner was called from El Paso to serve in the provincial office in New Orleans in 1977. He served for one year as vice provincial for Pastoral and International Affairs, continuing for two more years as an assistant to the provincial with the same portfolio.
After three years in province administration, he became pastor at St. Joseph Church in Houston, a post he held for eight years (1980-88). After a sabbatical, he became pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Antonio. He remained in San Antonio until 2017, serving twice as pastor (1989-96, 2000-2008) and many years as an associate (1996-2000, 2008-2011). From 2011-2017, he was the spiritual director at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio until declining health indicated a move to the St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Pavilion in Grand Coteau in October 2017.
A gentle and kind man with an unfailingly positive attitude, Father Elsner moved easily from the classroom to pastoral work. He never wanted to be far from dealing with God’s people, whether in the classroom, the parish or in the seminary. He once wrote that it was the people he dealt with who taught him that “the directions for bringing Christ to folks … are as numerous as … seats in the Superdome.”
After an official visit to El Paso, Provincial Tom Clancy, SJ, wrote to Father Elsner, “Your only fault, as I see it, is that you are too good … you … convey to others that essential characteristic which we should all possess in greater abundance, namely, you look as though you really believe that you have been redeemed.” It was that sense of being redeemed that Father Elsner always wanted to communicate to all with whom he dealt.
He attended Jesuit High in Dallas (1945-47) and Price High in Amarillo (1947-49). After professing first vows, he studied continued his studies at St. Charles College. He studied philosophy at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., where he also earned a bachelor’s degree in English. He later earned a master’s degree in Education from Loyola University New Orleans and studied theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas.
Father Elsner was very active in Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, as well as the Southside Consortium for Catholic Schools and Westside Catholic Schools. He frequently served as a celebrant for the televised Mass on Catholic Television of San Antonio.
He received Outstanding Leader recognition from the archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools in 1997, and the Benetia Humanitarian Award from the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence in 2013.
We remember with gratitude all that God has done through his life of service to God and God’s people. Memorial gifts may be made to the USA Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus at 4511 West Pine Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108 or online at http://jesuitscentralsouthern.org.