Today is the optional memorial of St. Martin de Porres, the first black American Saint. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a young freed slave woman from Panama, who may have been black or of Indian blood. His father was repelled by the darkness of his son's skin at birth and abandoned him, leaving the child-raising to his mother.
At age 12, Martin was apprenticed to a "surgeon," at that time a combination of barber, druggist, physician and surgeon. Once trained, he began to use his skills to serve the poor. At fifteen, he became a lay brother at the Dominican Friary in Lima, where he worked as a barber, a farm laborer, a clothier, and a care-giver for the sick. Each day Martin distributed food to the hungry, he was doctor to the sick, and he helped to establish an orphanage and a hospice for abandoned babies.
Martin devoted himself to severe penances. In turn, God endowed him with many graces and an abundance of spiritual gifts: visions, ecstasies, bi-location (being two places at the same time), healing, and supernatural understanding.
Martin's kindness and his love of prayer and humility helped him become friends with many people from all social classes, which enabled him to alleviate the sufferings of many. His popularity allowed him to use all of his extraordinary gifts to serve the poor and to work diligently to promote their cause. Thus, he was nicknamed 'Martin of Charity'.
St. Martin's love was shown equally to humans and to animals, including mice. Like St. Francis, Martin treated animals as brothers and sisters and they did whatever he told them to do. He maintained a hospital for cats and dogs at his sister's house. A close friend of St. Rose of Lima, Martin died in 1639 and was canonized in 1962.
Patronage: African Americans, barbers; bi-racial people; hair stylists; hairdressers; hotel-keepers; innkeepers; inter-racial justice; mixed-race people; paupers; Peru; poor people; public education; public health; public schools; race relations; racial harmony; social justice; state schools; television.
Prayer to St. Martin de Porres
To you Saint Martin de Porres we prayerfully lift up our hearts filled with serene confidence and devotion. Mindful of your unbounded and helpful charity to all levels of society and also of your meekness and humility of heart, we offer our petitions to you. Pour out upon our families the precious gifts of your solicitous and generous intercession; show to the people of every race and every color the paths of unity and of justice; implore from our Father in heaven the coming of his kingdom, so that through mutual benevolence in God men may increase the fruits of grace and merit the rewards of eternal life. Amen.