Portrait of St. Martin de Porres, c. 17th century, Monastery of Rosa of Santa Maria in Lima. This portrait was painted during his lifetime or very soon after his death, hence it is probably the most true to his appearance (photo from wikipedia)

St. Martin de Porres was born December 9, 1579 in Lima, Peru. He was the son of a nobleman and a slave. After his father abandoned Martin, his mother and younger sister, St. Martin’s mother sent him to a barber, who was also a surgeon, to learn hair cutting and medicine.

Martin, having spent long hours in prayer, heard the call of God for him to enter a religious order. This would be a hard task. Since he was of mixed race, he was not allowed to become a full member of any religious order by law. However, he found a way into the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory by volunteering to do menial tasks at the age of 15.

Eight years after he volunteered, St. Martin was “granted the privilege to take vows as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic” and was allowed to wear the habit of the order. And in 1607, he became a Dominican lay brother and was put in charge of the infirmary, where he would remain until the end of his life.

During Martin’s time as a Dominican lay brother, an epidemic spread through the convent and made many of the brothers ill. Those who were found sick were locked into one part of the convent where no one was allowed to visit them. St. Martin, however, “passed through the locked doors to care for the sick.” For his disobedience, he was punished. But after Martin responded to his superiors, “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity,” he was allowed to do as he wished.

In 1639, Martin de Porres became very ill. And, after almost a year of sickness, Martin died on November 3rd. About 25 years after his death, St. Martin was exhumed and his body “gave off a splendid fragrance” and “was still intact.”

During his life, St. Martin de Porres was friends with St. Juan Macias and St. Rose of Lima. Today, he is recognized as a patron of people of mixed race, innkeepers, barbers, and public health workers.

He was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI in 1837 and was canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1962.