On November 3rd, we celebrate the Feast of St. Martin de Porres, the patron of cooperator brothers (and of barbers, innkeepers, public health workers, and people of mixed race). Cooperator brothers are Dominican brothers called to religious life but not to the priesthood. Historically, they were also known as conversi and lay brothers. They take the same vows as Dominican priests and live in the same community, contributing in many ways inside and outside the community.
About a year ago, I made up my mind that my calling was to be a cooperator brother rather than a priest. Part of my discernment involved learning about the history of the cooperator brothers and the cooperator brother saints. I found out that St. Martin de Porres, the patron saint of cooperator brothers, was not himself a cooperator brother. He was a donatus, a type of Third Order Dominican that lived in the same community as priests and conversi, though he did not make the same vows.
As a donatus, he had more freedom to come and go from the Dominican community and was not obliged to join the friars for Divine Office. St. Martin made use of this autonomy to pursue his calling within a calling, to be a healer. He used his training as a barber-surgeon to offer medical assistance both to the poor and the aristocrats of Lima, Peru. This sometimes involved a miracle. He was also known for miraculously communicating with and healing animals.
Today there is still a variety in the kinds of Dominicans you might meet. The Dominican family is made up of friars (priests and cooperator brothers), cloistered nuns, active sisters, lay Dominicans, members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic, and members of secular institutes affiliated with the Order. I know that for those outside the Order this variety of categories and distinctions can be rather confusing, but I think it shows the diversity of vocations both in the Dominican Order and in the Church. If everyone had the same vocation, the Church as a whole would not function. St. Paul makes this point, using the body as an analogy:
“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose… As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” (1 Cor 12:17-21)
Through all their vocations, the members of the Mystical Body of Christ work together for the good of the whole Church, as well as for the mission of the Church in the world.
Through the intercession of St. Martin de Porres, may we all live our own vocations well, for the benefit and healing of the Church and the world.