Saint of the Day – 18 September – St Juan Macias O.P. (1585-1645) – vowed Dominican Lay Friar, Mystic, Apostle of Charity and Prayer, MiracleWorker – St Juan was born on 2 March 1585 Ribera del Fresno in Extremadura, Spain and died on 16 September 1645 in Lima, Peru. He was Beatified in 1837 together with his close friend, St Martin de Porres, by Pope Gregory XVI and Canonised in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. His main image is located at the main altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Lima and is venerated by the local laity in Peru. A church was built in his honour in 1970 in San Luis, Lima, Peru.
St Juan Macias is a saint dear to the heart of Dominicans. To the chorus of Dominican saints, this humble lay brother adds his characteristic notes of contemplation and spiritual friendship, a living example of the Dominican motto, “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of our contemplation.”
Juan Macias was born on 2 March 1585 in a small village in southwestern Spain. His parents were poor farmers – both died when Juan and his sister Agnes were young. The two children were raised by their uncle whose last name, “Macias,” they took as their own.
When he was sixteen, Juan met a Dominican priest while attending Mass in a neighbouring village. Like most young people, Juan was full of wonder about what his future would hold. This experience made a new impression on Juan and opened his heart to the possibility of a Dominican vocation. Unlike most young people, Juan received another special grace – it is said that as he began to seek God’s will for his life, he was frequently visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary and by his patron, St John the Evangelist.
At the age of 35, Juan still felt drawn to the Dominican Order. St John told him that it was not to be in Spain that he would become a Dominican, but in Lima, Peru. In 1622, Juan Macias entered the Dominican convent of St Mary Magdalene in Lima, Peru. H e entered as a lay brother, a non-ordained friar who, instead of preaching, would do the manual labour necessary in the monastery. Juan was the assistant Porter (doorkeeper) until his death in 1646. Although he was uneducated, Juan Macias exemplified the Dominican charism. Like St Dominic, he learned the most sublime theology by studying the “book of charity,” the Cross. Juan Macias’ entire life preached the Word of God to those he met.
One of Juan Macias’ chief duties was to meet the poor who came to the convent seeking material or spiritual assistance, often over two hundred people every day. Besides his cheerful disposition and encouraging manner, Juan Macias became known for the sometimes miraculous nature of his service to the poor. Everyone knew that Juan worked extremely hard to collect alms for distribution. Still, he would often return empty handed. Yet, somehow Juan never turned anyone away. From what he had been able to collect, he would have enough to feed all who came to him for help.
Juan Macias knew that he must help meet the physical needs of those who came to him, but he also knew that their spiritual hunger was much greater. Juan was an instrument of conversion for many.
Juan Macias is well known for his close friendship with another Dominican saint, Martin de Porres (1579–1639). The two saints often met on their daily rounds of the city and became close spiritual friends as well. They were a constant source of encouragement and ideas for one another. The two were beatified together in a single ceremony by Pope Gregory XVI in 1837.
John Macias was well known mainly for two things during his life. First, he was known to love the rosary, which he began to pray as a child in Spain while he shepherded his uncle’s flock of sheep. Secondly, he was known for his generosity to the poor, 200 of whom he fed every day. He was greatly aided in this by a little donkey that he sent through Lima. He had a small sign put on it asking for donations for the poor. The donkey, knowing his route perfectly, would travel through the streets and come back with benefactions for the city’s poor. Often the donkey would stop at certain locations and make loud noises so that the people inside would come out to make their donations.
At the priory, Macías’s life was filled with fervent prayer, frequent penance and charity. As a result of his austerity, he quickly fell ill and had to have a risky surgery. Nevertheless, he continued to care for other sick and needy as they waited at the friary gates. Beggars, disabled people and other disadvantaged people were commonplace throughout Lima where they flocked to him at the monastery gates for counsel and comfort. The poor came for food and the rich for advice.
Macias, however, expressed a greater desire to spend more time in contemplative solitude rather than engage in conversational activities with others. He confessed this to Father Abbot Ramírez who said, “If he were to never follow his vow of obedience, nobody would have ever seen his face.” But his official position as the priory’s porter, which he held for over 20 years and went against his natural inclinations of solitude, served to continue disciplining his vow of obedience. This filled him with a joyful sense of fulfillment. He died of natural causes in 1645.