Seasonal Reflection: St. Martin de Porres

Paul Williams, OFM Features

In commemoration of the recent feast of St. Martin de Porres on Nov. 3, the pastor of the Columbia, S.C., parish named after the saint wrote a reflection on the saint and his parish.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — This year, the parish where I’ve been the pastor for the past eight years, with the assistance of Henry Fulmer, OFM, for four years, and where Steven Pavignano, OFM, ministered before me, is celebrating its 75th anniversary.Parish History
This parish was founded by Dominican friars in 1935, at the invitation of then Bishop Emmet M. Walsh of Charleston, S.C., who also invited Holy Name Province to form St. Anthony of Padua mission four years later in Greenville, S.C. In the beginning, St. Martin de Porres was officially known as a mission church, which — like the St. Anthony of Padua mission — would be a one building ministry. The Dominican friars lived on the top floor, the school met on the middle floor and the church on the ground level.

With the opening of the Blessed Martin de Porres mission, black Catholics no longer had to sit in the balcony or in the rear seats of nearby St. Peter’s Church. Additionally, black Catholics who attended Mass at St. Peter’s could not receive holy Communion until all the whites had the chance to receive the sacrament. However, once St. Martin de Porres Mission was opened, black Catholics could now worship God with dignity in their own church building.

Williams, PaulSaint from Peru

This parish was named in honor of a Dominican brother who was known as Martin de Porres of Lima. Br. Martin was born in 1579 to an African slave mother and a white Spaniard father. As a young man, he studied medicine that he used to help the poor in Lima, Peru. Although Br. Martin could have chosen a decent middle class life, he instead chose a humble life by joining the Dominican Order, and he felt a call to care for others regardless of race or wealth.

Br. Martin led a humble and disciplined life and was devoted to the holy Eucharist. He died in 1639 and was buried in Lima.

Following A Legacy

We at St. Martin de Porres Parish are trying to live out the saint’s noble legacy by ministering to the needy — providing funds for utilities, rent, medical needs — and we have a soup and sandwich ministry, youth ministry and care and outreach to the elderly.

As a parish, we have evolved from Blessed Martin de Porres Mission for Colored Catholics to St. Martin de Porres Parish; thus, from a dependent mission to an independent, self-supporting parish church.

Pope John XXXIII canonized Blessed Martin in 1962, and in that same year, this parish changed its name to St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church. We celebrate this son of St. Dominic each Nov. 3.

— Paul Williams, OFM, has been based at St. Martin de Porres Parish since August 2002.