Saint Studies: St. Martin de Porres Lessons and Activities

Here’s a saint study about St. Martin de Porres, complete with lesson ideas and activities.

By Kate Daneluk

Martin de Porres is an inspiration not only in his saintly accomplishments, but in what he overcame to get there.  A mixed race child growing up in the late 17th century in Peru, Martin was often ridiculed and suffered injustice each day. 

About St. Martin de Porres

His father abandoned them, leaving his mother to raise him and his sister with very limited opportunity as a black freed-slave single mother.  His father did formally acknowledge him before he left, which enabled him to apprentice as a barber. 

At this time, barbers provided many medical services.  Martin found a passion in caring for the sick, and began working in lay ministry with the Dominicans at age fifteen.  He was unable to become a brother because of the racist policies of the time, but an exception was made because of Martin’s capability and holiness and he was allowed to take vows at age 24 and given a habit by age 34.

Despite being poor all his life, Martin chose a life of extreme voluntary poverty.  He was clever and frugal with monastery resources to find funds and supplies for the care of the sick.  He wore his robes until they literally disintegrated off of his body.  Martin was so deeply in love with God, all he could do is give.  In a world that gave him little, and that continued to treat him with contempt, Martin gave. 

By Areyes108 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Areyes108 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin’s experience with poverty, abandonment and social injustice led him to continually rescue orphans from the streets.  He established both an orphanage and a children’s hospital.  He personally begged for alms which he distributed among the poor.  It is said he fed 160 people per day through this effort.  He became a leader in social justice by example, caring equally for the poorest of the poor as for the nobility and the religious, even offering his own bed on occasion.

When faced with bigotry, Martin responded only with love.  He was so in awe of the greatness of God, he was filled with a healthy humility and drew on this when ridiculed.  Even some of the brothers and priests would insult him. 

He would sacrifice all hurt and offense to God.  In addition to this involuntary mortification, he was known to do intense penance throughout each day.  When Martin was given honor and respect for his holiness, he shied from the attention, only allowing himself any kind of fame because it could serve the Kingdom by providing needed spiritual direction for others.  He reluctantly accepted this as he discerned it to be God’s will.

There is much more to learn and know about St. Martin.  He had numerous spiritual gifts, supernatural and more typical charisms.  He was a gifted medic but worked tireless hours as both a healer and in menial work.  He suffered terribly for almost a year with a severe illness at the age of sixty, but continued with his prayer life and ministry when his health would allow.  Once again, he offered this mortification as a sacrifice to God. 

As we teach and guide our students, they will inevitably face hardships.  How many young people today face the same challenges as Martin:  abandonment, bigotry, poverty, illness?  Martin de Porres is a saint they must have in their posse. 

As we teach the children to rely on their Heavenly friends, introduce them to Martin.  He is a perfect friend to call on in times of deep trial, pain, hurt or humiliation.  Not only is Martin an exceptional model in overcoming all hardships in faith and love, but he is an ally to pray for our young people.  Who better to pray them to sainthood?

Fun facts about St. Martin de Porres

St Martin de Porres is the patron saint of:

  • Social Justice
  • People of Mixed-Race
  • Barbers
  • Innkeepers
  • Public Health Workers
  • Civil Rights Workers
  • The Poor
  • Racial Harmony

The Miraculous Experiences in St. Martin’s Life

  • levitation
  • bilocation
  • miraculous knowledge
  • instantaneous cures
  • communicating with animals
  • shining with a holy light
  • moving through locked doors

St. Martin’s Titles

  • Saint of the Broom
  • Saint Martin of Charity
  • Apostle of Charity

St. Martin in your classroom:

Some content and activities of St. Martin can be utilized to help provide a Catholic perspective with several topics across the curriculum:

  • History/Social Studies – civil rights, slavery, early modern period, social activism
  • Geography – Peru/South America
  • Literature – topics of social justice, poverty, forgiveness, charity, orphans, plagues, historical medicine, revenge and bitterness of character
  • Science – physics (how levitation and bilocation defy the laws of physics which is why they are miraculous or supernatural gifts), human anatomy, nutrition (vegetarianism, fasting)
  • Math – budgeting
  • Religion – Good works, penance, mortification, sacrifice, miracles, hard work, on his feast day (November 3)

Here are some activities you can use in your classroom relating to St. Martin de Porres:

  1. Reading and discussion (grades 3 and up):  Either read aloud or have the class read an age-appropriate biography of St. Martin.  Follow up with discussion questions (Adapt as needed for comprehension and vocabulary.  These questions are designed for older students.):
    1. How do you think young Martin felt struggling to survive, knowing his father left him and his family to fend for themselves? 
    2. Often we expect a person to easily fall on the wrong path with such a difficult childhood.  How did Martin manage to be so unselfish and charitable despite this upbringing?
    3. Even though Martin was a trained and gifted medic, he spent many years doing menial work.  Many immigrants to the United States must forgo their professional training in order to find work.  Imagine being a doctor who must spend his days doing laundry or driving a taxi.  How would you feel about this work?  Would you be able to do it well?  Would you be able to do it cheerfully?  Do you do hard work and chores with a good attitude?
    4. Martin offered his sufferings up to God and took on extra suffering in fasting and abstaining from meat, even refusing a new robe when his was old and tattered.  What benefit can be had by these sacrifices?  Do you think taking on voluntary sacrifices help us with involuntary ones?  What does it mean to “offer something up”?
    5. Martin was celebrated by some near the end of his life.  Important people would travel to get advice and spiritual direction from the holy man who had many miracles attributed to him.  After a life of poverty and mortification, he was buried in a new robe which he reserved for his burial and had a funeral befitting a nobleman attended by some of the most important people of his time.  What is the significance of this honor befalling him upon death?  Why do you think he reserved the new robe for his burial?
    6. Think of a hardship you’ve experienced.  How did you respond?  If you followed St. Martin’s example in his hardships, what would have been different?
    7. When we look at St. Martin’s acceptance of social ridicule and bigotry, it seems as if he did nothing to correct the injustices of his time.  Why is St. Martin the patron of Social Justice?  How did he make an impact in social justice in his time?
  2. Creative Writing (grades 5 and up) – Have students write a choose-your-own-adventure story in which someone encounters evil or hardship and responds in a typical way or in a way as modeled by St. Martin.
  3. Storytime/Drama (grades K – 3) – Read the children the story of St. Martin and the mice.  Discuss with the children that Martin saved the mice because they followed him to their new home.  We are meant to follow St. Martin and holy saints who will help us get to Heaven with their example.  This lovely story also can be adapted to a wonderful skit with a part for everyone as there were many mice in the wardrobe!  This can make a wonderful presentation for a school assembly or parent event and is especially adaptable to All Saints Day, or other November event.

Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.

Image credit: By Areyes108 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons