Black (And Catholic) Like Me 4: St. Martin de Porres – Slave Descent, But Always Free (Black Catholic History Month 2019)
Here’s the first Black saint featured for Black Catholic History Month and the 4th installment of my article-series Black (And Catholic) Like Me. And it is entirely appropriate for it to be the saint whose feast day is today: St. Martin de Porres!
Article-series synopsis: Black (And Catholic) Like Me is article-series that features a Black Catholic saint from history (or soon to be one) and tells a little about him/her and what I believe we can all learn from this godly one about holiness. The idea is simple. Here’s someone who was Black and Catholic, like me. For more info on this article-series and others, visit here. Black/African saints covered in Black (And Catholic) Like Me article-series are placed in the list of Black Saints and Holy Ones.
Martin de Porres Velázquez, O.P.: Slave Descent, But Always Free
“When his priory was in debt, he said, “I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me.” (Franciscan Media)
Born: December 9, 1579
Died: November 3, 1639
Canonized: May 6, 1962 by Pope St. John XXIII
Patronage: black people, mixed-raced people, Peru, barbers, public health
The following is a mix of two articles about St. Martin by Catholic.org (CO) and Franciscan Media (FM).
– Born in Lima, Peru on December 9, 1579.
– “Was the illegitimate son to a Spanish gentlemen and a freed slave (CO)
Panama, of African or possibly Native American descent.”(CO)
– “Parents never married each other.” (FM)
– “Inherited the features and dark complexion of his mother, which irked
his father, who finally acknowledged his son after eight years.” (FM)
– “After the birth of a sister, the father abandoned the family.” (FM)
– “reared in poverty, locked into a low level of Lima’s society.” (FM)
– Age 12, “his mother apprenticed him to a barber-surgeon. (CO)
A Life of Persecution for His Race.
– “Experienced a great deal of ridicule for being of mixed-race.” (CO)
– “In Peru, by law, all descendants of African or Indians were not allowed to
become full members of religious orders (CO)
– Admitted as servant boy for Dominican order and advanced duties, and
after 8 years “was granted the privilege to take his vows as a member of
the Third Order of Saint Dominic by the prior Juan de Lorenzana who
decided to disregard the law restricting Martin based on race. (CO)
– Mocked/ridiculed by other members for his race and background. (CO)
A Holy and Brave Life For Others in the Ordinary and Extraordinary
– “his nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices. (FM)
– cared for poor and sick and African slaves (FM)
– “Treated all people regardless of their color, race, or status.” (FM)
– “founded orphanage, and managed the daily alms.”
– “daily work in the kitchen, laundry, and infirmary.” (FM)
– “became a formidable fundraiser, obtaining thousands of dollars for
dowries for poor girls so that they could marry or enter a convent.” (FM)
– Spiritual director for fellow religious. (FM)
– “aerial flights, bilocation, instant cures, miraculous knowledge, spiritual
knowledge and an excellent relationship with animals.” (CO)
– “During an epidemic in Lima . . . on more than one occasion, Martin
passed through the locked doors to care for the sick [in his order].”
– Friends of St. Juan Macias and St. Rose of Lima.
– In January 1639, at 60-years-old, became very ill with “chills, fevers and
tremors causing him agonizing pain. He would experience almost a year
full of illness until he passed away on November 3, 1639.” (CO)
* * *
My personal thoughts on St. Martin:
Learning about St. Martin’s life I see so much about it that parallels the black experience. He checks a number of boxes of issues that we as Black people have faced in the past and some still face today. Let’s see from the facts I pulled about his life on my previous post:
– born out of wedlock, parents never married
– father left home after the birth of a child (his sister after him)
– single parent household, raised by mother (true for me too)
– encountered racist laws
– encountered racial discrimination
– not allowed to join something as a full member on
account of race
– Mocked/ridiculed by other for his race and
– poor family and life growing up
– assigned the most menial of tasks
I couldn’t help but think “man, he lived a life not too different from us.”
But as he had a life that showcased a bit of Black struggle, he also had a life that showcased a bounty of Black triumph. Even when life tried to keep him out of his calling he persevered and fought the devil’s lie of racism with God’s truth of love. Even though he was racial discriminated against he never returned it with hatred, but followed his Lord’s call to bless his persecutors.
He shows us a life of strength and holiness that can be found in ordinary life with ordinary tasks as he worked the most basic jobs while later advancing from them. He has a quote which reminds me of another great Black leader:
St. Martin de Porres said: “Everything, even sweeping, scraping vegetables, weeding a garden and waiting on the sick could be a prayer, if it were offered to God.”
Martin Luther King Jr. said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
St. Martin de Porres, pray for us!
His entry on is in the list of Black Saints list.
Header Painting: “Portrait of St. Martin de Porres, c. 17th century, Monastery of Rosa of Santa Maria in Lima. This portrait was painted during his lifetime or very soon after his death, hence it is probably the most true to his appearance.” (Wikipedia); Public Domain.