In memory and celebration of the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination last week, I decided to present two of my (many) favorite saints... one of whom is the patron of African Americans, and the other is a former slave.
Here we go!
St. Martin de Porres
Patronage: African Americans, Barbers, Innkeepers, Hairdressers, Racial relations and Social Justice.
St Martin de Porres was a young man of mixed race, born in Peru in 1579. His mother was a African slave, his father a rich Spanish official. His father rejected him from birth because of his dark skin, and for most of his life he lived a destitute life with the poorest of the poor. He experience rejection both from the Spanish and from Africans, because he was neither black enough or white enough.
When he was 12, he was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon, who taught him both how to cut hair and how to preform minor surgery and other health care.
Soon after, he applied to the Dominican order as a lay helper, feeling that he wasn't worthy to become a full brother.
After nine years, he was accepted as a fully vowed lay brother, even though Peruvian law didn't allow mixed race man to take monastic vows. As a brother, he quickly became the head monk over the infirmary.
He often got himself in trouble with his superiors for treating people who were poor or of darker skin.
As the supply man for both the monastery and the chapel, he regularly ordered extra supplies to give out to the poor, becoming know as someone who would give out anything with reckless abandon.
Word went out on the streets that Brother Martin would give out "Blankets, candles, medicine, shirts, candy, miracles or prayers!"
His compassion extended even to the animals, where he permanently angered the cook by sheltering the mice and rats, saying that they were hungry too. His Abbot finally gave up and provided him with shelter for a motley assortment of stray cats and dogs.
Once, when he monastery was suffering financially, he offered to be sold as a slave to provide income for his brothers, saying, "I am only a poor little brown brother. I am the property of this order, so sell me!"
He is most famous for saying that all work is sacred, no matter how lowly or menial, and for selflessly serving all people, regardless of gender, race, creed, or wealth.
St Josephine Bakhita
Born in the Sudan, Bakhita was kidnapped by slavers at the age of 7.
She was owned by several slave masters, some of whom were pleasant to her, part of whom were unspeakably cruel.
In 1883, she was sold to the Italian consul, who took her back to Italy when his term ended.
Not long after her arrival, she was sold to a family friend, and became a nanny to his daughter.
When her charge entered confirmation, she too felt draw to the Catholic church, and in 1890, she was baptized and confirmed, taking the name Josephine.
When her family returned to Africa, she refused to go with them, and thanks to the efforts of the Nuns who catechized her, she won the court battle, and her freedom.
In 1893, she entered the convent of St Magdalene of Canossa, professing vows 3 years later.
She became her convent's cook and seamstress, dearly beloved by all her saw her beautiful smile or beheld her happy personality.
She became the de facto guardian of all the children in the town, providing all who needed it with food, clothes, school supplies, hugs, prayers, rosaries and big smiles.
Visitors to the Convent remembered her for her warm, charismatic personality and her sheepish embarrassment towards her struggling Italian.
Her unofficial title among the villagers was the "Little Brown Sister" and the "Black Mother."