Martin Sheen

Who Mentored Martin Sheen?

Watch a public service announcement featuring Martin Sheen in support ofNational Mentoring Month.

The prolific career of Martin Sheen (Ramon Estevez) has stretched from stage to screen to television. Most recently, he has won critical acclaim for his role as President Jeb Bartlett on NBC’s television series, “The West Wing.”

Sheen is active in the anti-nuclear campaign and is a national spokesperson for Mentoring USA.

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear” is an old cliché that was certainly fulfilled in my life by three very different mentors who seemed to materialize at the most opportune times when I was young and most receptive. Although they could not have been more diverse in personality and background, they could not have been more alike at the core of their character or the depth of their humanity.

[One mentor was] Rev. Alfred Drapp, assistant pastor at Holy Trinity Parish and School in Dayton, Ohio.

Father Al arrived at Holy Trinity for his first parish assignment when I was fourteen. He was an energetic young man with an innate wisdom who believed our personal relationships were reflective of our relationship to God. It was not long before he was having a noticeable effect on every family in the parish despite his lifelong struggle with shyness, which endeared him to us all the more. I served mass for him regularly, and he was my confessor.

Even as a boy I dreamed of going to New York after high school to pursue an acting career, but my father was determined that I attend college. A deformed left shoulder at birth made me, in my father’s eyes, incapable of earning a living as a laborer. Hence the necessity of a higher education. This became the most contentious issue between us for a number of years. Unfortunately, I was never a good student, and when I flunked out of high school in my senior year my father was disappointed and angry. Father Al advised me to go to summer school and graduate. He also suggested that to appease my father I agree to take the entrance exams to the University of Dayton. I did both.

Unknown to anyone, I purposely failed the exam, scoring just 3 percent out of a possible 100. My father got the message, but still would not bless my dream. Perhaps he wanted to see some proof of my talent or determination. Father Al stepped forward again and, careful not to offend my father, he loaned me enough money, out of his own pocket, to get started, and soon I was on my way. Several months later, when I was settled in New York building a life for myself in the theater, my father very lovingly came around and became my biggest supporter.

Over the years my relationship with Father Al matured and his friendship became invaluable. Although my journey took me far away and at times I became lost, he was always there like an anchor reminding me to continually ask those two key little questions: Who are you? Why are you here? As long as I can answer at least one of them I always know where I’m going, and Father Al will always remain with me.

Excerpted from The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent Americans Recall Their Mentors. Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Editor, with foreword by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.