We’re no stranger to saint names around St. Augustine; many streets, landmarks, and even our city bears the name of a Catholic saint. Did you know that the Catholic Church has a long and rich history of Black Catholics, and has a number of Black saints? This history is relatively unknown; today we’re highlighting a few of the most recognizable Black saints that you may have never realized were Black.
St. Augustine of Hippo is best known around the First Coast as the namesake of the city of St. Augustine. Pedro Menendez de Aviles chose this name after first sighting the land that would become St. Augustine on August 28th, St. Augustine’s feast day. St. Augustine was born in Hippo, North Africa in the 350s AD (modern day Algeria). After converting back to Christianity as an adult, he became a theologian and scholar, authoring thousands of letters and over 200 books. He is considered one of the fathers of the latin Catholic Church and served in many leadership roles in the early church.
St. Augustine died on August 28th, which later became his feast day. He is the patron saint of brewers, theologians, and printers. Besides St. Augustine, Florida, he is the namesake of the Augustinian religious order, as well as a number of other cities worldwide. Though St. Augustine was likely Black, he is often misrepresented in iconography and other imagery as Caucasian, as this image of Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, show.
St. Monica is probably best known as the mother of St. Augustine. St. Monica and her family lived in North Africa, present day Algeria, in the 300s AD. She was a devout Christian, and is remembered for her strong values and devotion to the religion. She suffered greatly when her son, later St. Augustine, walked away from his faith for several years and followed him around the Mediterranean trying and eventually succeeding in bringing him back to faith.
The city of Santa Monica in California is named for her, and she is the patron saint of alcoholics, conversion, mothers, and wives. St. Monica’s feast day is August 27th, the day before her son’s. Though St. Monica was North African, and likely Black, she is often misrepresented in iconography as light-skinned or Caucasian. It is difficult to find imagery of St. Monica and St. Augustine that represents them as Black Africans.
St. Benedict the Moor was born to enslaved parents of African-descent in Sicily, Italy in 1526. His parents were later freed, but the family lived in poverty. Benedict grew up with no education and was illiterate into adulthood. He experienced discrimination as a young man for his darker skin color. In his 20s, he joined an order of monks who subscribed to a hermit lifestyle and later became their leader. He greatly enjoyed cooking and feeding others as a method of ministry, and also was known for his abilities to heal the sick.
St. Benedict died at the age of 65, and was canonized as a saint in 1807. Due to his experiences with racism and prejudice, St. Benedict is the patron saint of African Americans and Black people. He is the namesake of many historically Black Catholic churches throughout the United States, including one here in St. Augustine. St. Benedict’s feast day is April 3rd.
St. Martin de Porres was born as Juan Martin de Porres Velazquez in Lima, Peru in 1579. He was born as an illegitimate child of a Spanish nobleman and an emancipated parent of African-descent. His father abandoned the family when Martin was a toddler, and he grew up in poverty. He was able to attend some schooling and learned to be a barber and surgeon. Martin was unable to become a member of Peruvian religious orders due to his mixed race background, but served as a volunteer for eight years before finally being allowed to be a member of the Dominican order.
St. Martin served in the order’s infirmary and was known for his ability and devotion to caring for the sick and poor. St. Martin was canonized as a saint in 1962, and is known as the patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health employees, and those seeking racial harmony. Many modern hospitals in North and Central America bear his name in honor of his medical work. St. Martin’s feast day is November 3rd.