Juan Martin de Porres was born in the city of Lima, in Peru, on December 9, 1579. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a black former slave who was born in Panama. His mother couldn’t support him and he grew up in poverty. Martin was placed with a surgeon-barber to learn the medical arts. He spent hours in evening prayer. At the age of 15 he asked for admission to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima and was received first as a servant boy, and as his duties grew he was promoted to almoner. This means he gave alms (money or food) to the poor. Martin did not eat meat. He begged for alms to get the necessities the convent didn’t have. In normal times Martin did well with his alms and made enough to feed 160 poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to the needy. Martin spent his whole life as a lay brother at the Dominican Friary.
Along with his daily work in Martin’s life reflected God’s extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and an amazing bond with animals. St. Martin’s showed love equally to humans and animals, including vermin. He excused the raids of mice and rats on the grounds that they were underfed. He kept a cats and dogs hospital at his sister’s house. His spiritual wisdom was demonstrated in his solving his sister’s marriage problems. He raised a dowry for his niece inside of three day’s time and resolved theological problems for his order and bishops.
This holy man died on November 3, 1639 and was canonized on May 6, 1962. His feast day is November 3. Because of his love of all things, Martin is the patron saint of African-Americans, barbers, hairdressers, race relations, and Social justice.