Stories of the Saints
St. Martin de Porres
A poor man, the son of a former slave, died in a large city nearly four hundred years ago. It doesn’t seem likely that anyone would remember him. Yet every third Sunday of November, thousands of Peruvians turn out to venerate an image of this poor man as it is carried through the streets of Lima.
Martin de Porres had nothing that would lead anyone to expect great things from him. He was born on December 9, 1579 to a rich Spaniard Juan de Porres and a poor former slave Ana Velasquez. His father abandoned Ana, Martin and Martin’s sister Juana leaving them in extreme poverty. Ana was bitter and took out all her anger on Martin.
Martin did not retaliate but was kind and helpful to his mother. He was good to everyone especially the poor and the abandoned.
After many years, Juan returned and decided to take responsibility for his children. When Martin was twelve, he became an apprentice to Marcel de Rivero, a barber. But Martin did not only learn how to cut hair. In those days, barbers were also surgeons. Martin excelled so much in his care for the sick that he soon had large numbers of people coming to him for care.
In Lima, there is a Dominican monastery called Holy Rosary Priory. Martin felt that God was calling him to enter into the Dominican way of life. At first, he was not even a lay brother but only a helper. He performed all the most difficult tasks, often taking over from others so that they could rest.
In addition to all this work, he also took care of the sick both in the monastery and in the city. He had a healing touch and cured many. Sometimes even a cup of water from Martin’s healing hands was enough to cure the sick. If there was no other bed, he would give his own bed to someone in need.
He found abandoned children and gave them to his sister. (He also sent sick people to her house so it seems that Martin’s sister was also a saint.) But when more and more children needed care, he started the Orphanage and School of the Holy Cross. The boys and girls were cared for and taught skills that would help them have a better life.
Martin’s kindness extended to animals who seemed to love and understand him. He would heal them and feed them.
For himself, he wanted nothing except God. He wore old clothing and would have nothing to do with luxuries. And since he only wanted God, he was rewarded. When he died on the third of November 1639 surrounded by his Dominican brothers, he also saw St. Dominic and St. Vincent Ferrer coming to escort him to Heaven.
His funeral was attended by thousands of Peruvians and their devotion continues and has spread all over the world. This meek poor man truly has inherited the earth.
Photo of the Convento Santo Domingo by Ingo Mehling, CC BY-SA 3.0