St. Martin de Porres was a freed slave from Panama. His father abandoned his family, and they grew up in deep poverty. After spending just two years in primary school, Martin was placed with a barber/surgeon where he would learn to cut hair and the medical arts.
As Martin grew older, he experienced a great deal of ridicule for being of mixed-race. In Peru, by law, all descendants of African or Indians were not allowed to become full members of religious orders. However, Martin spent long hours in prayer. He asked the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima to accept him as a volunteer. He performed the most menial tasks in the monastery. In return, he would be allowed to wear the habit and live within the religious community.
During his time in the Convent, Martin took on his old trades of barbering and healing. He also worked in the kitchen, did laundry, and cleaned. After eight more years with the Holy Rosary, Martin was granted the privilege to take his vows as a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic by the prior Juan de Lorenzana who decided to disregard the law restricting Martin based on race.
Martin grew to become a Dominican lay brother in 1603 at the age of 24. He became known for encompassing the virtues need to care for the sick carefully and patiently.
Martin was praised for his unconditional care of all people, regardless of race or wealth. He didn’t care if the person was diseased or dirty, he would welcome them into his own home.
Martin’s life reflected his great love for God and all of God’s gifts. He founded an orphanage for abandoned children and slaves.
By the time he died, he was widely known and accepted. Talks of his miracles in medicine and caring for the sick were everywhere.
St. Martin de Porres was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI on October 29, 1837 and canonized by Pope John XXIII on May 6, 1962.
He has become the patron saint of people of mixed race, innkeepers, barbers, public health workers and more. His feast day is November 3.