Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
My adopted twins are of Peruvian stock, so I have a special place in my heart for St. Rose of Lima (the first saint of the Americas). However, as we have seen in this series on saints, they tend to grow in clusters. And in Peru during the 16th and early 17th centuries, there was a nearly an explosion of holy men and women.
St. Turibius (Feast Day March 23)
It more or less begins with St. Turibius (1538-1606). A Spaniard by birth, and a genius in the field of law, he was shocked to hear that he’d been named the Archbishop of Lima, Peru, though (1) he was then living in Granada, Spain, and (2) even more remarkably, was still a layman. No matter. He was quickly run through all the minor and major orders and consecrated bishop, and shipped off to the New World which (at least in the southern hemisphere) was under Spanish domination.
The reason St. Turibius is of such import is that, in addition to setting Lima in particular and Peru in general in order, he confirmed three saints (and personally dealt with a fourth) who went on to form Peru into a Catholic stronghold, namely...
St. Rose of Lima (Feast Day August 23)
Born in Lima in 1586 she died when she was only 31 in 1617, but in that short period of time, St. Rose lived a life of austerities that seem almost incredible. As mentioned above, she was confirmed by Archbishop St. Turibius. Due to the fact that she was beautiful, she was accustomed to rub her face with pepper, which produced unsightly blotches. When someone remarked on the fine skin of her hands, she covered them in lime which not only disfigured them, but rendered her unable to dress herself for a month.
There is a line, of course, between asceticism for the sake of God and self-mutilation, and the above examples were merely means to an end. Rose wanted nothing more than to be a saint, and this, she felt, could most quickly be obtained by suffering in union with the Wounds of Christ. Rose became a tertiary of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and lived out the end of her days (which were spent in suffering) with the refrain, “Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Thy Love in my heart.”
There was no question that she was a saint, and upon her death in 1617, the entire city of Lima lamented the loss of their beloved Rose. Canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671, she is the first native-born American saint.
St. Martin de Porres (Feast Day November 3)
We examined, briefly, the life of Saint Martin de Porres, O.P. here along with other “doctor saints”, or saints who practiced medicine. Like St. Rose, he was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, and, like Rose, was a lay member of the Dominican Order. Along with St. Rose, he too was confirmed in the faith by Lima’s archbishop, St. Turibius.
Though he was a professed member of the Order of Preachers, there seems to have been a Franciscan streak in St. Martin: he not only cared for sick people, but sick animals as well—cats and dogs, mainly, but also mice and rats, all of which he put up in a house donated by his sister.
He was tireless in his care of the sick and poor throughout Lima, and also established a children’s hospital — a true novelty at the time — as well as an orphanage. Of African descent himself, St. Martin attended to the slaves who had been brought to Spanish Peru from Africa.
In addition to his works of mercy, St. Martin was also a miracle worker who could increase the amount of food to be distributed among the poor.
Along with St. Rose, St. Martin was friends with St. John Massias.
When he died in 1639, the noblemen of Peru and high-ranking clerics carried the body of this Dominican lay brother to the grave. He was canonized just before the opening of the Second Vatican Council by Pope St. John XXIII in 1962.
St. John Massias (Feast Day September 18)
Unlike Sts. Rose and Martin, St. John Massias was not born in Lima. Like St. Turibius (the same saint who would confirm him), he was born and raised in Spain.
Orphaned at the age of four, St. John was attracted to the Order of Preachers, which he later joined as a professed lay-brother. He set sail for Peru from Spain at the age of 25 and was made “porter” of the Dominican Priory of St. Mary Magdalene in 1623, a position he fulfilled with humility for the rest of his life, but which flew in the face of his desire for solitude.
He was a friend and confrere of Saint Martin de Porres—indeed, they both shared the same love of and service toward the poor of Lima. And though he ministered to the poor, even the rich came to seek his counsel due to his wisdom.
St. John died in 1645 and was buried with nearly the same amount of reverence and solemnity that his fellow Peruvian Dominicans shared: Rose and Martin, who predeceased him.
St. Francis Solano, O.F.M. (Feast Day July 14)
St. Francis Solano was born in Montilla, Spain in 1549 and from an early age showed a proclivity for the Religious life. Though educated by the Jesuits (an order that, like the Dominicans, was born and based in Spain), he joined the Franciscans with one goal in mind: to die a martyr for the faith. This he did not do, but he did nearly destroy his health with austerities that included always going barefoot, continually wearing a hair shirt, and practically starving himself.
He traveled extensively in the New World before finally settling in Lima in 1601. Here he remained until his death nine years later.
St. Francis Solano was one of those indefatigable missionaries who, unlike the contemplatives St. Rose and St. John Massias, and even for that matter St. Martin de Porres, was an unstoppable converter of souls. He had already preached in Argentina and Paraguay before his arrival in Peru, where his terrifying hellfire-and-brimstone sermons were so disturbing that the viceroy called upon the Archbishop St. Turibius to have St. Francis Solanus tone it down a bit. This he did but he was still credited with predicting the devastating earthquake in Trujillo, Peru, which occurred a decade after his death.
Though St. Francis was not friends with St. Martin, he shared that saint’s concern for slaves and ministered to them in a special way.
In a final irony: Of all the saints here mentioned, St. Francis Solano is perhaps the least well-known outside of Peru itself. However it is this Franciscan saint who is the Patron of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, his native town of Montilla, Spain — and, of course, Peru.