January 1 - 30, 2016
St. Martin de Porres was born out of wedlock in Lima, Peru, on December 9, 1579 to Don Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and adventurer, and Ana Velasquez, a freed daughter of slaves from Panama. His father abandoned the family when Martin and his sister, Juana, were very young. Ana Velasquez supported her children by taking in laundry. Martin’s childhood poverty did not embitter him but made him sensitive to the plight of the poor, and especially the orphans to whom he would devote much of his time and resources. Even as a child, Martin would give the family’s scarce resources to the beggars whom he saw as less fortunate than himself.
When Martin turned eight, his father had a change of heart and decided to claim his two mulatto children in spite of the gossip to which it subjected him. He made sure that both were afforded a good education and had enough money for the family not to suffer privation.
At the age of twelve, Martin began an apprenticeship with a barber/surgeon named Marcel de Rivero. He proved extremely skillful at this trade and soon customers, who at first were skeptical of the young black lad, came to prefer and ask for him.
After leaving home, Martin took a room in the house of Ventura de Luna. Always a devoted Catholic who spent much time in church, Martin begged his landlady for some candle stubs. She was curious about his activities and one night spied on him through a keyhole and witnessed Martin in a vigil of ecstatic prayer — a practice he would continue throughout his life.
Martin de Porres joined the Dominican Order of Preachers as a donado (lay helper or tertiary). The donados were the lowest-ranking Dominicans, performing the heaviest chores in the Order. He was eventually elevated to brother but never did become a full priest.
Martin continued to practice his old trades of barbering and healing and performed many, many miraculous cures. He also took on kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. His relationship with his brothers was tinged by their curiosity and occasional pranks. For example, just before the meal was to be served, they would hide the potholders and Martin would have to lift the scalding pots with his bare hands. Yet never once did his fingers get burned!
Martin often challenged his brothers on their racial attitudes. In one story, Martin came upon a group of Indians sweeping the floor under the watchful eye of one of the Dominican brothers. When told that they were cleaning to repay a meal they had received, Martin pointed out that the brother had fed some white people the previous day without forcing them to clean. After Martin’s firm but gentle challenge, the brother took up the broom himself.