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Born 442 years ago, St Martin de Porres is a man for our times

The life and witness of the first Black saint from the Americas continues to inspire the world. His fellow Dominican, Fr Jeffery Ott, reflects.

(St Martin Apostolate)

Happy feast of St Martin de Porres!

Martin was and is a wonderful gift to the church. As the patron saint of racial and social justice, he lived a life worthy of honor and praise. He was a man truly gifted by God to bring healing, order, care, justice, and mercy to everyone he encountered.

The poor and marginalized of 16th- and 17th-century Lima, Perú knew Martin as one who cared for them. He was also a contemporary of (and friends with) Dominican saints Rose of Lima and Juan Macías.

Though he lived more than 400 years ago, Martin is truly a man for our times.

His sanctity and healing powers were recognized widely in Lima. He lived as a Dominican lay brother serving the friars of the community in a house where they numbered more than 200. He was in charge of the infirmary and was the doorkeeper. He was also an all-around fix-it guy.

Though his sanctity was renowned, Brother Martin was not canonized until 1962, in the crucible of the Civil Rights era and the related upheavals taking place. It was also a time of great change in the Church, as the Second Vatican Council was nearing its completion.

I love the fact that, although Martin was marginalized in his own community because he was an “illegitimate” person of mixed race—his father a Spanish nobleman and his mother an Afro-Peruvian—he knew the power of Jesus and heard the calling to serve and to love everyone.

It’s fitting that Martin is honored and venerated in many communities, including those of the Vietnamese, African Americans, Peruvians, the Irish, mixed-race peoples, and so on. So many of them have felt the sting of indifference, exclusion, and various forms of caste-based injustice.

Martin did not allow racism, oppression, and the other isms of his time to constrict or limit his service to those in need. Today, we live in a time where fear of one another and divisions of every kind keep so many of us impoverished in spirit and in heart.

We need more than ever that spirit of St Martin de Porres to help us creatively address the needs of so many. We need the spirit of St Martin de Porres to recall and remember our strength as a community founded by Jesus Christ.

As such, we call on St Martin de Porres to pray for us, and to help us by those prayers to live from hearts of love with fidelity only to Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

St Martin DePorres, pray for us!

Fr. Jeffery Ott, OP, is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Martin de Porres and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

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