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SAINT PETER CANISIUS

Confessor and Doctor of the Church, 1521-1597

Doctor of the Church, second apostle of Germany, one of the founders of the Catholic press, first of a long line of literary Jesuits, Saint Peter Canisius ought to be called the patron saint of "getting things done." The official list of his writings, in all their editions, takes thirty-eight pages, and that list is incomplete. Yet writing was only one of his occupations.

Peter was a teacher, a preacher, an arbitrator, a confessor, an advisor to kings and princes, court preacher, a writer, a reformer, and a founder of schools and universities. To those who said a thing was impossible, he would reply, "If you have too much to do, with God's help you will find time to do it all. "

Born on May 8, 1521, at Nijmegen, Holland (then a city of the Hanseatic League), Peter was the son of a wealthy burgomaster. He was educated as a lawyer, but gave up his lucrative practice and an opportunity for a wealthy marriage in order to join the Jesuits, a new and exciting order headed by Ignatius Loyola. He was admitted on May 8, 1543.

Saint Ignatius was not long in discovering in this new member piety, leadership, talent, and above all an extraordinary understanding of people of the Protestant faith. In an age of violence, when heretics and "witches" were still occasionally burned, Peter was outstanding as a proponent of moderation and gentleness who did more to restore the Catholic faith in south and west Germany than any other man. He had an ability to write truthfully without ever antagonizing the reader. In his Catechism (undoubtedly his most important work) he never mentioned the name of Luther or Melanchthon.

Ignatius made good use of his powers, sending Peter wherever-one should say everywhere-he was needed. He went to and from in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Tyrol, Poland, and Bohemia. Wherever he stayed any length of time, he left some enduring souvenir of his sojourn-a college or seminary, for instance. He opened Jesuit colleges at Prague, Strasbourg, Munich, Ingolstadt, Innsbruck, Dillingen, Vienna, and Fribourg, to say nothing of the many schools he rescued from financial collapse or heretical infiltration.

Peter established seminaries (and filled them), raised funds for schools and scholarships, preached and taught, arbitrated at meetings between Protestant and Catholic leaders, advised at legislative assemblies, worked reforms among laity and clergy alike, and was occasionally allowed a "rest" to write a book or two. To the Jesuits belong most of the credit for saving part of Germany from Protestant innovations. In this work Canisius was the leader.

Peter died in Fribourg in Switzerland, on December 21, 1597, the city where he had founded one of his finest colleges, St. Michael's. Soon after his death reports of miracles spread and pilgrims began to visit his tomb. He was canonized in 1925 and was declared a Doctor of the Church at the same time, the first saint to be so honored. Peter's body was transferred from Saint Nicholas Cathedral to the Church of Saint Michael in 1604, where it has been the object of veneration not only for the people of Fribourg but for pilgrims from all over the world.

 

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