Saint Martín de Porres, 1579-1639

Feast day November 3

Saints Stories for All Ages

Patron saint of social justice and race relations

“Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru, to parents of mixed race. Raised primarily by his mother, a freed slave, Martin experienced the effects of racism and poverty early in his life. He became the apprentice of a barber, learning not only how to cut hair, but to perform basic medical treatments. Feeling called to give his life to God in service of the lowly, Martin entered the Dominicans, who accepted him as a lay helper and later as a brother. He spent his days caring for the those who were sick and poor, as well as performing menial tasks within the monastery. His nights were spent in prayer, penance, and adoration. Martin treated everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of their race or social status. He was instrumental in founding an orphanage to care for Lima’s many street children.

At his canonization ceremony in 1962, Pope John XXIII said of Saint Martin: “He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin of Charity.’”

Saint Martin experienced the exclusion, derision, and discrimination of racism. Instead of growing bitter, he used his experience to reach out and comfort others. Martin’s unwavering love of God and devotion to the Passion sustained him in his charitable works that often went unacknowledged.

Who are the people that you exclude from your life or keep at a distance? Reflect on the subtle, or not so subtle, ways you discriminate against people who are different from you. Listen for how God might be calling you to a greater inclusion of others.

Next Steps

  • Learn more about the life of Saint Martin de Porres and the people of Peru.
  • Where do those who are poor or uninsured in your community go to obtain healthcare? Find out how you can help.
  • Rent a movie or documentary that treats the topic of discrimination in our society. Gather a small group of family or friends to watch the movie and host a discussion.

Image credit: Saint Martin de Porres by unknown artist, unknown date. Public Domain via Wikimedia.