The life of Saint Martin de Porres is highly relevant today, a mixed race man from Peru who overcame racist law barring him from becoming a full member of any religious order.
“It is deeply rewarding for those striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.” – Pope Saint John XXIII
Born 1579 in Lima, Martin was the ‘illegitimate’ son of a Spanish nobleman and a slave of African and Native American descent. Two years later, his sister was born and at that time his father abandoned their family.
Martin grew up in poverty, and when his mother no longer could afford to support him, sent him away for schooling and later an apprenticeship. He developed a devout prayer life, devoting many hours of the night to prayer.
At age 15, he wanted to join the Dominican order nearby him but Peruvian law at the time barred anyone multiracial from becoming full members of religious orders. He petitioned the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima to accept him as a donado, a servant for menial tasks. As a donado at the convent, Martin continued to practice his trade, barbering, and took on kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning.
After eight years of pious loyal service, Prior de Lorenzana decided to disobey the law and permit Martin to take vows as a lay brother of Dominican Order. Martin (and the Prior) were heavily criticized by some of the 300 men in the convent, some calling him a “mulatto dog” while other priests mocked him for being descended from slaves. He took his vows in 1603 at the age of 24, and is said to have refused the honor many times before finally acquiescing.
After taking his vows, he was assigned to run the infirmary and remained in service until his death at the age of 59 in 1639. Throughout his life, he was known for his care of the sick, both inside and outside of the convent.
Pious tradition holds that Martin performed many miracles of healing, sometimes with only a glass of water. Tradition tells of the time when an epidemic struck Lima and he was said to have been able to passed through locked doors to care for the sick in the closed off sections of the convent. Martin was known to minister to all, from Spanish nobles to slaves recently brought from Africa.
“In normal times, Martin succeeded with his alms to feed 160 poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to the indigent. Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry and infirmary, Martin’s life is said to have reflected extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and a remarkable rapport with animals. He founded a residence for orphans and abandoned children in the city of Lima.”
After his death, reports of miracles and graces received from praying for the intercession of Martin were so profuse that his body was exhumed after 25 years and found completely intact, with a mysterious sweet fragrance.
Letters were sent to Rome pleading for his beatification; nearly 300 years later he was canonized by Pope John XXIII in Rome on the 6th of May in 1962. He is the patron of black people, mixed-race people, poor people, race relations, social justice, and racial harmony.
His feast day is celebrated on November 3rd.
Prayer of Saint Martin de Porres (From the Roman Missal)
O God, who led Saint Martin de Porres
by the path of humility to heavenly glory,
grant that we may so follow his radiant example in this life
as to merit to be exalted with him in heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Photo credit: Cicero Moraes via Wikimedia