On All Saints Day, we celebrate all the men and women (canonized and uncanonized
saints) who reside in heaven. I’d like to draw special attention to one of the saints on
the rear wall of our church: St. Martin de Porres. Please read below about his life and
his healing ministry. We should make this patron saint of African Americans the
patron saint of our healing Masses (next one is Nov. 7), too!
From Lima, Peru he was often called Saint Martin of Charity; and the Saint of the
Broom (for his devotion to his work, no matter how menial). De Porres was the
(illegitimate) son of a Spanish nobleman and a young freed Black slave, he grew up in
poverty. De Porres spent part of his youth with a surgeon-barber where he learned
some medicine and how to care for the sick. At age 11 he became a servant in the
Promoted to almoner, he solicited (begged) more than $2,000 a week from the rich to
support the poor and sick of Lima. He was put in charge of the Dominican’s infirmary;
and was known for his care of the sick and for his spectacular cures. His superiors
dropped the stipulation that “no black person may be received to the holy habit or
profession of our order.” De Porres also took vows as a Dominican brother;
established an orphanage and children’s hospital for the poor children of the areas
slums. He even set up a shelter for the stray cats and dogs and nursed them back to
health. Martin de Porres lived in self-imposed austerity, never ate meat, fasted
continuously, and spent much time in prayer and meditation.
He had great devotion to the Eucharist and was venerated from the day of his death.
The first Black saint in the Americas, Martin de Porres died of fever in 1639.
Many other stories of Martín’s goodness pertained to his unwavering efforts to help
Lima’s poor and ill, often against the wishes of his superiors at the monastery. A sick,
aged street person, almost naked and covered with open sores, was taken by Martín to
his own bed at the monastery. A fellow monk was horrified, but Martín responded
(according to the Lives of the Saints reported on the website of Canada’s Monastery of
the Magnificat), “Compassion, my dear Brother, 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
He treated victims of bubonic plague without regard to whether they were white,
black, or Native American. During one plague outbreak, he brought a wounded Native
American man into the monastery for treatment even though the Superior
administrator of the province had forbidden the admission of the sick owing to fears
of contagion. Given a reprimand for disobedience, Martín replied (according to the
Monastery of the Magnificat site), “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did
not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.
–Sincerely in Christ,