Hearts are aching across the city with news of the passing today of the much-beloved Father T.J. Martinez, 44, founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School. With all who knew him, including this reporter, "Father TJ" had a special relationship that transcended religious affiliations, personal status and means.
Everyone who knew him felt an extraordinary connection to the man and, often as a result, a greater connection to God.
"Father TJ had a genuine gift of making people feel as though you were his best friend," said Nancy Kinder, head of the Kinder Family Foundation and ardent Martinez fan. "He was the most positive person I have ever known or will ever know, especially during the pain and suffering that he went through. Houston lost a unique leader and friend. Our heart goes out to his family."
Martinez was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer earlier this year and recently entered Hospice care.
Born in Brownsville, Texas, he graduated from Boston College with honors in politics and communications after which he studied to become a Jesuit priest. While preparing for the priesthood, the indomitable Martinez earned a law degree from the University of Texas and a Master's in school leadership from Harvard.
He opened Cristo Rey in 2009 with 80 students. Today, 500 are studying at the school which has graduated two classes of seniors, all of whom were accepted to college.
"Father TJ was one of the most outstanding and charismatic individuals I have ever known." — Rich Kinder
As Paul Posoli, Cristo Rey interim president noted, "We know that Father Martinez was so many things to so many people, and that each person who had the honor of knowing him — whether as a spiritual leader, mentor, role model or friend — was better for it."
Sharing his larger than life personality with all, Martinez was known for his high spirits, personal charisma and exuberance for life, the latter witnessed in his penchant for cowboy boots and trophy silver belt buckles. He was known among friends in the early days of Cristo Rey as the "Energizer bunny priest," for the boundless energy that accompanied his visionary leadership in education.
On Martinez' passing, Cristo Rey supporter Tony Sanchez, president and CEO of Sanchez Energy Corp., noted, "Father Martinez is the finest man I know. He gave every minute of every day caring about other people — and the Cristo Rey Jesuit kids. He will be missed by everyone across Texas. This is a loss to all."
Achievements noted in his biography included "In 2010, Father Martinez was knighted into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, a Papal Knighthood that recognizes outstanding service to the church in founding the only Catholic high school in the state of Texas that exclusively serves underprivileged children."
Kinder Morgan CEO Rich Kinder was keynote speaker for Cristo Rey's first graduating class in 2013. At the news of the priest's death, Kinder said, "Father TJ was one of the most outstanding and charismatic individuals I have ever known . . . He was an inspiration to the students, staff and supporters and has shown that educating all our young people is attainable with dedication and hard work."