This month, as we honor all mothers, we want to pay tribute to one of our own—Carolyn Martins-Reitz. Carolyn was a graphic designer for the Archdiocese of Newark. She helped create the layout for The Catholic Advocate. Sadly, on March 28, we lost Carolyn to COVID-19. The legacy she leaves behind is that of being a woman of faith and a dedicated mother of two with a strong passion for art.
“(She was) 100 percent devoted to everybody’s well-being,” said Rudy Reitz, Carolyn’s husband of more than 20 years. “Despite her own health issues, she was devoted to making sure everyone else was OK; completely selfless.”
Carolyn lived in Kearny with her husband, her son, Thomas Martins, and her daughter, Sharon Reitz. They attended Mass together as a family at St. Casimir Parish in Newark, where each of them was actively involved. Carolyn was a lector and president of the Holy Rosary Society. She also helped decorate the parish for Christmas and Easter and renovated several of the church’s statues. Rudy is an usher and assists with parish fundraisers. Thomas and Sharon were both altar servers.
“My mom was very faithful. She made sure that we were always doing the right thing and on the right path. She was always leading us properly in faith,” reflected Sharon.
“She was extremely devoted to the Church,” Rudy added. “She was passionate about praying.”
Rudy said what he loved most about Carolyn was her love of life and her strength. “She had to be strong to make sure Thomas was always cared for.”
Thomas was born with Down syndrome. Carolyn served as his primary caregiver and helped him communicate with the world. Thomas and his mother were known for their close relationship.
“Carolyn and Thomas had a beautiful bond, as evidenced each Sunday when they attended Mass together as a family,” explained Father Andrew Ostaszewski, the pastor of St. Casimir’s. “It was important to Carolyn that Thomas exceled in all that he set his mind to.”
In late March, the mother and son starting showing symptoms of the coronavirus. Rudy said that, aside from seeing his mother taken away by paramedics, Thomas was never fully aware of the situation. Shortly after, he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Thomas died just nine days after his mother on April 6—his 30th birthday.
“He was always bubbly, always smiling. Anyone who came near him, he loved,” Rudy said of his stepson.
“Thomas was the sweetest person I’ve ever known. He was always cheerful, never sad and always made everyone happy. The world is definitely a lot sadder without him,” Sharon noted.
She said her older brother was an “all-knowing technology person and a Pokémon wizard” who loved videos games. The two of them bonded over trips to Starbucks and Barnes and Noble.
Sharon, who is also a graphic designer at the archdiocese, graduates this month from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, her mother’s alma mater.
“Our connection was always through art,” she said. “We would make it a point to visit all the major museums in New York City and attend gallery shows together.”
One of their favorite things to do was peruse the shelves of art supply stores, looking for unique colors, paints and projects.
“We used to joke that our house was like a mini art supply store,” Sharon recalled. “We would critique each other’s work and bounce ideas off of each other.”
When the mother and daughter became co-workers, the support remained. “My mom was a resource of information. It was always fun to collaborate, and we enjoyed talking about the day together at the dinner table,” she said.
Now, Sharon and her dad are there to support one another. “We try to be around each other as much as possible. Grief comes in waves so when one person is strong and the other isn’t, it’s good to have that support,” Sharon explained.
“I consider ourselves very fortunate that we have a lot of people who care for us,” Rudy added. “A lot of people who are supporting us are church parishioners. It’s like an extended family. They are just wonderful people.”
Rudy said Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark has also been extremely helpful. Carolyn and Thomas will be interred next to each other at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum in North Arlington. Even in death, they will remain together.
“(It’s) very powerful,” Rudy said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”