On May 16, 1962, Pope John XXIII, in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, made Martin de Porres the first black American saint. Martin was born on December 9, 1579, in Lima, Peru, the illegitimate son of Don Juan de Porres of Burgos, a Spanish nobleman, and Ana Velasquez, a young, freed, Negro slave-girl.
From early childhood Martin showed great piety, a deep love for all God’s creatures and a passionate devotion to Our Lady. At the age of eleven he took a job as a servant in the Dominican priory and performed the work with such devotion that he was called “the Saint of the broom.” He was promoted to the job of almoner and soon was begging more than $2,000 a week from the rich. All that was begged was given to the poor and sick of Lima in the form of food, clothing, or medicine.
Martin was placed in charge of the Dominican’s infirmary where he became known for his tender care of the sick and for his spectacular cures. In recognition of his fame and his deep devotion, his superiors dropped the stipulation that “no black person may be received to the holy habit or profession of our order” and Martin was vested in the full habit and took the solemn vows as a Dominican brother.
As a Dominican brother he became more devout and more desirous to be of service. He established an orphanage and a children’s hospital for the poor children of the slums. He set up a shelter for stray cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.
Martin lived a life of self-imposed austerity. He never ate meat. He fasted continuously and spent much time in prayer and meditation. He was venerated from the day of his death.
Many miraculous cures — including the raising of the dead — were attributed to Brother Martin. Today, throughout South America, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean, people tell of the miraculous powers of St. Martin de Porres.
A close friend of St. Rose of Lima, this saintly man died on November 3, 1639.
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. . . . If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.
— Pope John XXIII at the canonization of St. Martin de Porres
What do my example and my conversation with others speak about me?
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Malachy O’More (1148), Primate of Armagh, Ireland
Blessed Ida of Toggenburg (1226), Matron