The Miracle of the Mice
Saint Martin de Porres
Martin was born in 1579, in Lima, Peru. It was only 83 years after Columbus placed a small Spanish flag on the island of San Salvador, claiming it and the entire new world for the Catholic Queen, Isabella, as it was she who had financed this expedition in thanksgiving to God for deliverance of Spain from the Moors. In 1535, the city of Lima was founded, and in 1551, the Dominicans Saint Martin de Porres began a university there. [An aside, the Dominicans were the first order of religious to preach the gospel in Peru.]
Martin was born of John de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and Knight of the Order of Alcantara, and a black free woman, Anna Velazquez. Martin’s father was not very happy to find his child was black. He did not want to be connected with the child in any way. As a matter of fact, on the baptismal record there was no mention of the father at all. The Baptismal certificates read only “Martin, son of an unknown father.” But some years later, he officially acknowledged Martin as being his son. We’re not sure if John ever married Anna Velazquez. If he did, he didn’t treat her very well. He spent most of his time in other countries, leaving Anna and the children, Martin and his sister Joan to fend for themselves. Though Martin was not from a poor background, you would not have known it by the way he and his family lived. They were always at least borderline poverty, and sometimes full-blown poverty.
But none of this had any detrimental effect on Martin. If anything, it gave him an understanding and empathy for his poor brothers and sisters. From his earliest days, he focused completely on his Lord present in the tabernacle of all the churches of Lima and in helping out the poor. His mother became furious with him in the early days. She would send Martin shopping for food, entrusting to him the meager pennies the family had, just enough to get some bread and a few necessities to see them through their meals. Martin inevitably took the money and gave it to the poor. When he returned home with nothing in his basket, his mother would let him have it. “How can you give to the poor? We are the poor! It’s bad enough that you will not eat today, but what of your sister and me? We didn’t volunteer to starve!”
Saint Martin de Porres and the Mice
St. Martin de Porres and the mice remind us of St. Francis of Assisi9 and Lupo, the Wolf. The farmers in the town of Gubbio were going to kill a wolf who was attacking their chickens and cows, and eating all their crops. Francis asked to speak to the wolf. He met him in the forest and pleaded with him to stop his vandalism immediately. Francis said he realized that the wolf, whom we now call Lupo, was hungry. He said he would make a deal with Lupo. If he would stop vandalizing the farmers’ crops and animals, Francis would guarantee that the farmers would feed him. Lupo stopped vandalizing the farms; the farmers took turns feeding him, and Lupo not only became their friend, he also became their greatest defender against invaders. To this day, there is a statue of Lupo in the center of the town of Gubbio.
When you look at a prayer card, or the canonization painting of St. Martin, you see him wielding the broom, as we said before. Then you see the dog. But to his right, on the floor, there is a dish, with a cat and a mouse and a dove all eating from it at the same time. The mouse is a very important symbol of the ministry of St. Martin de Porres. It began with a problem.-St. Martin's wardrobe room. After all his work, getting new clothing, shirts, sheets and such, one day he found that there were mice in the room. They were nibbling on the shirts and sheets, making holes, and doing their business there, making a terrible smell. Martin didn’t know what to do. His Superior suggested spreading poison to kill the mice. That would do it. But Martin wasn’t having any of that. He waited and watched until, one day he was able to catch one of the little enemies. He held him in his hands. The mouse was sure this was his end. His little heart was beating so fast.
But then Martin spoke to the mouse, softly and gently. In a short period of time, the mouse relaxed. He had no fear of Martin. Martin explained the problem. They couldn’t have the mouse and his friends chewing up all the supplies needed for the Monastery and the infirmary. He realized it was because they were hungry and were not getting enough food. Martin worked out a deal with the mouse. If he led his friends to the far end of the garden, where they would find a new place to live (which Martin would show them), Martin promised that he would be sure they received more than adequate food every day.
We’re not going to say the mouse actually answered “Okay” but in effect it seemed like he agreed with his eyes. When Martin put his little newfound friend down, the mouse scurried away. Within minutes, from all over the wardrobe room, the heads of hundreds of little mice appeared from every nook and cranny. Martin led them out of the wardrobe room, out to the garden where there was a whole area which would be suitable for them. They immediately began nuzzling into the dirt, making holes where they could set up their living quarters.
Martin was good to his word, as the mice knew he would be. Every day, after he finished feeding everyone else-the shut-ins, the workers in the Monastery and the street people, he would go out to the garden with food for the mice. For their part, they never came back to the wardrobe room or disturbed the Monastery in any way.
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”