St. Martin de Porres, Belize City, Belize
Pastor: Fr. Anthony Borrow, SJ
St. Martin de Porres Parish in Belize City, Belize, is more than a spiritual home for the Catholics of the area. It provides care and assistance for neighbors from cradle to grave, becoming such an essential part of its community that the locals refer to the neighborhood to as “Martin’s.”
Belize City is beset by poverty and gang violence, and St. Martin de Porres Parish is located squarely in the center of gang territory. The parish works together to respond to the problems of poverty and unemployment and the resulting crime. They are aided by others who have fallen in love with the beautiful city and the resilient people of Belize.
Belize 2020 is a non-profit volunteer organization focused on improving the quality of life in Belize by supporting the Jesuit ministries in Belize, including St. Martin de Porres Parish. Belize 2020 helps to fund Project HEAL which offers a variety of programs including school counseling, literacy training, tutoring and social emotional learning to help ensure that the students beat the odds.
The story of St. Martin de Porres Parish began in 1966, when Fr. Frank Stobie, SJ, decided to open a school in an area of Belize City experiencing rapid population growth. At that time, the area where the parish is now located was a swamp known as Prisoners’ Creek, named for the practice of using the labor of prisoners to clear the mangrove swamp to make room for the city’s westward expansion. The families of the existing Loyola School took on the construction of the new school themselves, using garbage to stabilize the marshy ground. They completed the first building in 1968, using it for both school and church.
St. Martin de Porres was officially founded as an independent parish and school in 1969. The name St. Martin de Porres was chosen because he is the patron saint of social justice, and the parishioners wanted the care for the marginalized to be a guiding principle of their new parish. Father Thomas Thro, SJ, was the first pastor and Br. Karl Swift, SJ, assisted with pastoral care.
Since this grassroots beginning, two more school buildings were added to accommodate the population growth of the area. A new church building was constructed in 1994-1995, and the church became parish offices. The school now serves more than 550 children, from preschool through middle school. The school would like to continue to grow to serve more children. Plans are underway to construct another school building; however, funding for the project has prevented further progress.
In addition to the school, St. Martin’s has several programs that serve the community. Hand-to-Hand Ministries of Belize builds new homes for those in need. The parish’s St. Vincent De Paul program has a Drop-In Center for seniors and an Outreach Center to feed the hungry and serve the youth of the south side of Belize City.
St. Martin de Porres Parish is a community of faith. Their prayer together is spirit-filled. St. Martin de Porres Parish is a community of hope as they labor with Jesus to bring about the social transformation needed to help ease the effects of poverty on the neighborhood. St. Martin de Porres Parish is a community of love.