St. Martin de Porres
BORN: December 9, 1579 - Lima, Peru
DIED: November 3, 1639 - Lima Peru
BEATIFIED: October 29, 1839 - Pope Gregory XVI
CANONIZED: May 6, 1962 - Pope John XXIII
PATRON: Declared patron Social Justice in the Republic of Peru on January 10, 1945 by Pope Pius XII.
Martin de Porres was born on December 9, 1579, in Lima, Peru, the first of two children. He was born the illegitimate son of John de Porres, a Spanish knight, and Anna Velazques, a freed...slave woman from Panama. Martin's sister, Juana was born two years later in 1581.
John de Porres was ashamed of the dark complexion of his children (who took after their mother's skin color) and consequently refused to acknowledge them as his own. He soon abandoned Anna and the children, and though very wealthy, left them to fend for themselves by refusing financial support.
Anna was left to take care of Martin and Juana by doing laundry. They lived in extreme poverty and hardship. Anna would sometimes send Martin to the store to purchase supplies for the family in which Martin would come home empty handed. Anna would be furious with him and Martin would begin to cry for causing her grief. He would tell his mother that he could not refuse to help those poor and hungry people that he would meet and that is why he would give away the money. Martin also would not return from errands for many hours because he could not resist visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He just could not pass a Catholic church without going in to pray.
People began to notice this young "mulatto" (one white and one black parent) boy with the remarkable piety and charity. Who was this young man?
John de Porres was later to repent of his sins and assume responsibility for his children and their mother. He provided financial support for Anna and took the two children to live with him in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he held a prominent government position in the service of the King of Spain.
Martin's father paid for his children's education and after four years Martin returned home to live with his mother, Anna.
Around the age of twelve, Martin decided that he wanted to study to be a "barber". At this time in history, to be a barber involved more than just cutting hair and trimming beards. It also entailed some medical practice such as binding wounds and fractures, blood letting, and even prescribing medication to patients. A barber was essentially a surgeon, doctor and pharmacist.
Martin had a keen intellect and quickly excelled at his studies and would soon become well known all throughout Peru.
Martin loved his new profession as a barber because it enabled him to perform works of mercy to the poor and suffering. He never charged anyone for his services, though he could have been a very wealthy man.
After working all day in service of the poor he would spend his evenings in prayer and spiritual reading. Around the age of sixteen, Martin retired from his profession as a barber to join the Dominicans.
He entered The Monastery of the Holy Rosary initially as an associate (lay) member. By offering to perform the most lowly tasks, such as sweeping floors and cleaning the latrine, he was given food and a small room to live in.
The law in Peru at this time barred Africans and Indians from becoming full members of religious orders. Martin, however, was very happy to be abject and lowly.
Brother Martin was soon asked to resume his former profession as a barber in service to the three hundred monks at the monastery. He exhibited such high levels of virtue that his superiors often "tested" him through severe treatment and constant rebukes. Some of his fellow monks would refer to him as a "mulatto dog". Brother Martin never took offense, he was just happy to suffer insults and mistreatment for the love of God and souls.
He was often seen by many in the monastery to levitate in front of the crucifix during deep prayer. To Brother Martin, every day was a day of fast and penance. He only ate bread and water with the exception of some vegetables on high feast days.
Brother Martin once witnessed the Prior (superior) selling off valuable items from the monastery to pay off debts incurred. Brother Martin begged the Prior to sell him as a slave instead because he was worthless to the monastery and of little consequence. With tears in his eyes, the Prior who was literally dumbfounded by what type of man uttered these words to him, said: "Go back to the monastery, brother. You are not for sale."
While only a mere lay brother, all the priests asked Brother Martin to adopt them as spiritual sons. He was to serve as the model for them all.
Brother Martin spent most of his life working in the infirmary of the monastery. He worked countless miracles, even once healing the Archbishop of Mexico City. He would be extremely embarrassed when others witnessed the miracles God performed through him. He would immediately go pick up a broom and start sweeping the floor or go clean the latrine. He has been often called the "saint of the broom" because a broom seemed to always be in his hands.
At the age of sixty, Brother Martin contracted quartan fever (malaria) and very calmly and peacefully died Thursday night, at 9:00 p.m, on November 3, 1639.
The Archbishop of Mexico City was in the room when Brother Martin breathed his last breath. He told the monks that Martin demonstrated how one is to live and die.
"Compassion is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create." ~ Saint Martin de Porres
St. Martin de Porres is the first black person in the Western Hemisphere to be formally canonized by the Catholic Church. St. Martin is beloved and sought out by many as the patron of mixed-race people, race relations and social justice.