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Porres, Martin de, St.


Peruvian Dominican; b. Lima, Dec. 9, 1579; d. there, Nov. 4, 1639; canonized May 6, 1962. His baptismal record states, "Martin, son of an unknown father," but eight years after Martin's birth John de Porres, a noble Spanish gentleman and knight of the Order of Alcantara, acknowledged him as his son and provided for his education. The illegitimate son of a Spanish grandee and of Anna Velasquez, a free black woman, might have grown into an embittered boy and a violent man, for the Spanish were still the proud conquerors of his country. Instead, even as a child, Martin gave his heart and whatever few possessions he had to the poor and the despised. At 12 he apprenticed himself to a cirujano, who in those days was a barber, pharmacist, doctor, and surgeon. After a few years of medical apostolate among the poor, he applied to the Dominicans of the monastery of the Most Holy Rosary, asking to be admitted as a lay helper, since in his humility he did not even aspire to the rank of lay brother. He was accepted, but after nine years his superiors and the entire community were so impressed by his life of prayer, penance, humility, and charity that they asked him to make full profession as a religious. The remaining years of his monastic life after religious profession were spent exactly as the preceding ones. The extraordinary was ordinary in Martin de Porres's life: visions, ecstasies, terrifying penances, bilocation, infused theological knowledge, miraculous cures, and astonishing control over animals. He was judged to be a saint because of his perfect obedience, profound humility, and unbounded love of all God's creatures. This half-Spanish, half-black Peruvian loved all people without regard to race, color, or station, and he served Christ in all people without measuring the cost. In long nights spent in prayer and penance, he slaked his thirst for God, and in long days spent in unremitting nursing of the sick, caring for the poor, and laboring for his monastery, he slaked his thirst for the souls of humankind. Martin's sanctity was so clearly recognized by his own brethren that the religious of his monastery took him as their spiritual director, yet his humility was so great that he called himself only "a poor slave" or a "mulatto dog." His contemporaries called him "father of charity, father of the poor." Today he would be called a far-seeing social worker as well, and a champion of the rights of those denied full freedom because of their race or color.

Bibliography: g. cavallini, St. Martin de Porres: Apostle of Charity, tr. c. c. holland (St. Louis 1963).

[c. c. holland]

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