St. Martin de Porres was the unwanted child of a Spanish grandee and a freed African slave. He was born in Lima, Peru. He raised himself, for the most part, and became an apprentice to a barber-surgeon. At fifteen he began his long relationship with the Dominican Order and later took his vows as a brother.
His painful childhood taught him compassion and generosity. As a Dominican he doctored Lima's sick. While surgery was primitive in his day, he had a vast knowledge of herbal medicines. In addition to his free services as a doctor, he distributed thousands of dollars worth of food and clothing to the poor each week. He founded an orphanage for abandoned children and staffed it with the best teachers, nurses and guardians he could hire. On the hills near Lima, he planted fruit orchards for the poor. He is also remembered for his love of animals.
Many of his fellow religious took Martin as their spiritual director, but he continued to refer to himself as a "poor slave". He was a good friend of another Dominican saint of Peru, Rose of Lima. Pope John XXIII remarked at Martin's canonization on May 6, 1962, that Martin excused the faults of others and forgave the bitterest injuries. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly comforting the sick and providing food, clothing and medicine for the poor.