In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus sailed the Caribbean Sea and on November 11, 1493 reportedly gave the name of St. Martin to our island. Columbus chose the name since, according to the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, it was the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, France, who lived from the year 317 to 398.
It is not surprising, therefore, that in 1841 when the Catholic Church was established on the Dutch side of the island, it was named St. Martin of Tours. Dutch-born Fr. Arnold ten Brink was the first pastor and in 1844 he laid the corner stone for the first Catholic church at its present location on Front Street in Philipsburg.
However, the parish grew so that church was expanded several times. By 1933 the parishioners realized that the construction of a larger church was necessary. On May 30, 1952 the present church was constructed, at the cost of 132, 659 Dutch guilders which, according to today's exchange rate would be about $ 74, 000 US.
As the population on the Dutch Side of the island grew, so did the Catholic community. In addition to the main church Philipsburg, other churches (belonging to the same parish) were established. One in Cole Bay was built in 1847 only to be destroyed by fire in 1872 and never rebuilt. In 1897 a small chapel was constructed in Simpson Bay to be replaced in 1965 by the present small church of Mary Star of the Sea. Finally, in 1977 the Risen Christ Church was completed in South Reward.
How S.V.D. came to St Maarten
We read in the book SOUALIGA CATHOLICA that the first and the second priest in our parish were Dutch diocesan priests, not members of a religious order or congregation. They served our community from 1841 till 1887, Father ten Brink 15 years and then Father Nieuwenhuis for no less than 34 years. After them there was a long list of Dutch Dominicans, members of the Order of Preachers. In 1978 Father Heillegger opened the row of Antillean and Filipino diocesan priests and since 2005 the Missionaries of the Divine Word (SVD) are in charge of the parish of St Martin of Tours. How this worldwide congregation found the way to our island ?
The Provincial superior of the SVD Chicago province was invited to attend an episcopal ordination in 2004 in South Dakota, USA. On the day of the ordination he arrived in the cathedral and took his seat among the assembling clerics. The person next to him happened to be the bishop of Willemstad in the Caribbean who was there to represent the Antillean Episcopal Conference. In June 2005, the provincial’s term as superior expired and he awaited his next assignment. In the meantime, Bishop Secco of Willemstad was in need of an English speaking priest for the for the parish of St Martin of Tours in the Dutch Windward Islands and had been in conversation with Bishop Reece of Antigua, who informed him that the ex-provincial of SVD in Chicago might be available. So Bishop Secco called Chicago and got Fr. Thomas Krosnicki on the line. “Could you come to help us in St Maarten for one year?” One month later, Fr. Krosnicki sat in the plane, not knowing what to expect. He knew nothing about the island, its culture or the local church but he expected the pastoral situation to be similar to that on the other islands where the SVD work. He was in for a great surprise. Besides the Sunday Vigil and Sunday morning Mass, he was chauffeured to the two additional parish churches for the weekend liturgies and he was overwhelmed by the large number of people and the intense Caribbean heat in the non-airconditioned churches. To make a long story short : the one-year assignment was extended for an additional three years. In a short time it was clear that this was indeed a large parish and that associated pastors were needed. The SVD management agreed that the parish could use and would welcome additional Divine Word Missionaries on a permanent basis. We welcomed Fr. Manuel Antao, Fr. Miguel Flores Lopez and later Fr. Yohanes Bally. The rest is history : Fr. Thomas handed the parish after 5 years over to a younger colleague, Fr. Bob Johnson, who in his turn had Fr.Adam Oleszczuk as his successor.