St. Martin de Porres

November 3, 2019

The Pastor's Page

St. Martin de Porres was born on November 9, 1579, in Lima, Peru. He was born outside of wedlock, the son of John de Porres, a Spanish knight, and Anna, a freed black slave from Panama. His father was mortified when he observed how his newborn son had inherited his mother’s African features and dark complexion, and he refused to acknowledge him. Martin’s baptismal records show him listed as the “son of an unknown father,” and as a result he was considered “illegitimate,” a terrible social stigma in Peruvian society. He was raised in the faith by his Christian mother.

As a boy St. Martin studied medicine and was an apprentice to a barber-surgeon. He also became a Third Order Dominican, a person who adopts Dominican spirituality as an associate member while still a lay person. In 1595 he moved into Rosary Convent in Lima as a helper, and in 1603 he joined the Dominican Order and made his religious profession as a Brother.

Brother Martin distinguished himself in personal holiness. He had a great devotion to the Eucharist and prayed regularly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. He was strict and highly disciplined with himself, performed rigorous acts of penance, was exceptionally humble, and gladly performed menial tasks. Within the community he served as the infirmarian, the community’s caretaker of the sick and disabled, the barber, the wardrobe keeper, and the gardener, and he swept the floors and cleaned the toilets. He operated the community’s food shelf and distributed food, clothing, and medicine to the needy.

Brother Martin also ventured out of the convent to serve the poor in the city of Lima. He put his medical training to good use with his competent and compassionate care for the sick. Because of his expanding reputation, more and more people came to him for help. For some he administered medical treatment, for others it was a handshake or a simple touch, and there were so many healings and such remarkable cures that the people considered him a miracle worker.

Brother Martin also had a special place in his heart for African slaves that had been forced to come to Peru, and he conducted a special outreach to them. He also founded an orphanage and a hospital for them.

St. Martin was immensely popular with the people of Lima because of his tremendous dedication to the poor and his exemplary personal holiness. He also was held in high regard by his fellow Dominicans who called him the “father of charity,” a title he shunned, and out of self-deprecation he referred to himself as a “mulatto dog.”

St. Martin was a close friend of St. Rose of Lima. He reportedly had the supernatural gifts of bilocation and aerial flight.

St. Martin de Porres died of a raging fever at Rosary Convent in Lima on November 3, 1639, at the age of sixty. He was beatified in 1837 and canonized by Pope John XXIII on May 6, 1962. He is the patron saint of hairdressers, public health workers, social justice, and race relations.

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