St. Martin de Porres, 1579-1639, Patron of Hairdressers and Race Relations

St. Martin de Porres, 1579-1639, Patron of Hairdressers and Race Relations December 9, 2019
Martin de Porres pictured with a broom.
Martin de Porres performed menial tasks for the priory.

Around August every year migrant workers of Mexican descent find work in Wisconsin cherry orchards. As I did mission work among these workers’ families, I noticed a great devotion to St. Martin de Porres. Here’s what Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals says about Martin de Porres in the December 9 entry:

Martin de Porres was a Dominican brother who is often celebrated by mixed-race people and those committed to ending racism and segregation. He was born in Lima, Peru, the son of a Spaniard nobleman and a former slave from Panama. Having grown up familiar with poverty and prejudice, he became a passionate advocate for those on the margins, establishing an orphanage and hospital for children, and becoming well-known for his compassion. Martin is often depicted with a broom because he considered all work to be sacred and was committed to service and sacrifice.

This is the third in Ordinary Radicals series. Find other entries by searching archives/categories for Ordinary Radicals.

The “nobleman” father to Martin de Porres never married his mother and only acknowledged his son when he was eight years old. Shortly after that he abandoned mother, son, and a newborn sister. Martin grew up with poverty and the ridicule that meets people of color or mixed race in almost any age.

That prejudice extended to the laws of late sixteenth century Peru. These forbade descendants of African or indigenous people from joining a religious order. With a custom of spending long hours in prayer and longing to join a Dominican priory in Lima. Martin volunteered his services. He performed the monastery’s most menial tasks like kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. In return, received the right to live within the community.

Martin de Porres receives recognition

Martin used skills he had learned as apprentice to a local barber/surgeon. While in charge of the community’s infirmary, he cared equally for anyone who came, regardless of color, wealth, or station. Apparently his success there and elsewhere was remarkable. Catholic Online reports:

It is said he had many extraordinary abilities, including aerial flights, bilocation, instant cures, miraculous knowledge, spiritual knowledge and an excellent relationship with animals.”

One of Martin’s first duties was as church officer responsible for distributing money to the deserving poor. Franciscan media says he “managed the daily alms of the priory with practicality, as well as generosity. Soon he became the procurator for the city as well as the priory. He would deal in “blankets, shirts, candles, candy, miracles or prayers!” Martin took care of slaves from Africa and helped found an orphanage. Martin was a fundraiser. He raised thousands of dollars for dowries for poor girls who wished to marry or enter a convent.

The Franciscan Media page on St. Martin de Porres concludes:

Racism is a sin almost nobody confesses. Like pollution, it is a “sin of the world” that is everybody’s responsibility but apparently nobody’s fault. One could hardly imagine a more fitting patron of Christian forgiveness–on the part of those discriminated against—and Christian justice—on the part of reformed racists—than Martin de Porres.

Today’s news overflows with racism and other forms of discrimination such as I have not seen in a long time. St. Martin de Porres, pray for us!

Image credit: Pinterest


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