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1/15/2013 4:02:00 PM
Book tells story of nun who served on streets
Ron Talarico photo
Holy Names Sister Kate St. Martin
Ron Talarico photo
Holy Names Sister Kate St. Martin

A new book tells the story of a nun and nurse who spent decades working with people who are poor, mentally ill, rough or devastated on the streets of Portland.

Holy Names Sister Kate St. Martin, 91, now lives relatively quietly at the convent at Marylhurst. But in 1970, in full habit and even then in middle age, she stood for the first time outside the Blanchet House meal site, intending to volunteer as a nurse on Portland's skid road. One man walked up to her and asked for a tranquilizer. She demurred and the man walked away, telling friends the nun obviously was not going to be much help.

That's one of the stories in Fire in the Dark – Making A Difference in the World, by self-publishing author Ron Talarico. Talarico, 67, is former administrator of the De Paul Center for Alcoholism Treatment, where Sister Kate worked during the 1980s.

He recorded interviews with the diminutive nun for two decades, when she would stop work long enough to chat. Her topic is often the alcoholics and AIDS patients she helped, medically and spiritually. The setting is Portland's Old Town — with its old hotels that resembled bat caves, its doorways that doubled as bunks, its corners strewn with bottles and used needles.

Sister Kate became beloved by people in Old Town. Other social workers admired and adored her. She comforted many families who had lost loved ones to the grueling life on the streets.

In the 1990s, Sister Kate began caring for AIDS patients, sitting with many during their last hours.

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