by: Catherine Goldberg ’20 A&E Staff
Providence College and the Dominican community celebrated the feast day of the beloved Saint Martin de Porres, Dominican friar and the patron saint of interracial harmony on Nov. 3. Saint Martin de Porres has been celebrated, in particular, at PC in the Center for Catholic & Dominican Studies, where Father Thomas McGlynn, O.P.’s, artwork and sculptures depicting St. Martin have been on display since July and will continue to be displayed until December.
St. Martin de Porres was a revered healer during the 17th century in Peru. While living in the El Rosaria priory in Lima, he healed ill Dominicans. Later on, he would travel throughout Peru to heal the sick and poor.
The birth of St. Martin was a scandal, as his father was a Spaniard and his mother a freed woman from Africa. He was raised by his mother and was expected to exceed as a child because of his mixed race. Eventually, he found a home in the El Rosaria priory as a donado, a position allowing him to live with the Dominicans in return for performing simple tasks.
The friars of the community noticed the patience, steady temperament, and solicitude that Martin showed toward the sick. Despite some prejudiced friars, the Dominican community disregarded Peruvian laws restricting those of African descent to become members of the religious community. Martin, therefore, professed his vows to become a religious lay-brother in the Dominican priory.
He was assigned to the infirmary where he cared for the ill, gaining a reputation for having incredible patience and also miraculously healing the sick. St. Martin would later go on to travel throughout Lima to care for the sick who could not afford medical care.
Among one of the many people touched by the life of St. Martin de Porres was Dominican friar and sculptor Fr. McGlynn. Fr. Thomas More Garrett, O.P., custodian of the St. Martin de Porres collection at PC, says, “The story of St. Martin de Porres’ life sparked a healing at the level of the soul, which then bore fruit in creativity. Their meeting illustrates the coming together of race and grace.”
Fr. McGlynn grew up in a generation which was incredibly prejudiced towards African Americans. However, Fr. McGlynn’s meeting with St. Martin changed his perspective on African Americans, inspiring him to sculpt and produce images of the beloved saint.
In a sculpture displayed on campus, St. Martin is depicted as a saintly combination of “physical strength and saintly disposition,” says Fr. Garrett. The crucifix and broom represent his deep love for God and service to the community. The first version of the sculpture includes a mouse, symbolizing St. Martin’s affection with simple creatures. There are two different versions of the sculpture on PC grounds, one in front of St. Martin Hall and another at the koi pond on lower campus.
The PC community has been blessed with Providence College Galleries staging St. Martin de Porres: An Inspiration to Priest & Sculptor Thomas McGlynn. St. Martin has left an “indelible stamp on the aesthetics of the Dominican tradition and, by extension, the Providence College community” says Jamilee Lacy, director & chief curator of Providence College Galleries and Collection.
It is through the art that McGlynn has created that the works of St. Martin can continue to be remembered—especially on the PC campus.