Martin de Porres Velázquez was born in Lima, Peru on December 9, 1579. The son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave from Panama, Martin would grow up to become one of the most revered members of the Order of Preachers.
When he was very young, Martin took up an apprenticeship as a barber/surgeon. Although the work allowed him to support his family after his father abandoned them, Martin felt called to something more. At the time, the law in Peru prohibited descendants of Africans and Indians from joining religious orders, but after witnessing his skills as a barber and in medicine, the prior of the Dominican Convent of the Holy Rosary in Lima allowed Martin to join the community as a tertiary.
Then, in 1603, Martin was allowed to profess vows as a Dominican lay brother, what is today referred to as a cooperator brother. Eventually he was assigned to the infirmary, where he cared for the ill and elderly friars. In his spare time, he also cared for the sick outside of the priory, ministering without distinction to nobles and slaves alike.
A story is told of his finding a poor man on the street, bleeding to death. Martin took the man to the priory, and to his own room, in order to care for him. The prior chastised Martin, but he humbly replied: “Please forgive me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” Impressed by his response, the prior gave Martin permission to care for this sick and the poor in whatever way he thought best.
After his death in 1639, word of Martin’s charity spread far and wide. The Christian faithful began to ask for his intercession, and a number of miracles were soon attributed to his prayers. When his body was exhumed 25 years later, it was found to be intact, and giving off a sweet fragrance.
Pope Gregory XVI beatified Martin in 1837, and Pope Saint John XXIII canonized him in Rome on May 6, 1962. His feast is celebrated on November 3, and he is the patron saint of innkeepers, barbers, and public health workers.