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Saint Peter Canisius

Saint Peter Canisius
  • Century: 16th Century
  • Patronage: Catholic Press, Germany
  • Feast Day: December 21st

St. Peter Canisius was born in 1521, in the Netherlands.  His father was the wealthy burgermeister, Jacob Kanis, and his mother died shortly after his birth.  He was sent to study at the University of Cologne, and earned a Master’s degree in 1540, at the age of 19.  While there, he met Peter Faber, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus.  It was through this friendship that Peter joined the newly found Society of Jesus in 1543. 

Through his preaching and writings, Peter became one of the most influential Catholics of his time.  He supervised the founding and maintenance of the first German speaking Jesuit College, a tedious and dangerous occupation at the time.  He became known as the “second Apostle of Germany”.  He had a strong influence on the Emperor Ferdinand I, and continually reminded him of the imminent danger to his soul, should he concede more rights to the Protestants in return for their military support.  When Peter perceived a real danger to Ferdinand’s son and heir, Maximilian, openly declaring himself a Protestant, Peter threatened Maximilian with disinheritance should he desert the Catholic Faith. 

Peter was an influential teacher and preacher, especially through his “German Catechism”, a book that defined the basic principles of Catholicism in the German language and made them more accessible to readers in German-speaking countries.  He was offered the post of Bishop of Vienna in 1554, but declined so he could continue his traveling and teachings.  He did, however, serve as administrator of the diocese of Vienna for one year, until a new bishop was appointed.  He moved to Germany where he was one of the main Catholic theologians at the Colloquy of Worms in 1557, and later served as the main preacher in the Cathedral of Augsburg.  He strongly witnessed to his faith on three or four occasions each week.  His preaching was said to have been so convincing that it attracted hundreds of Protestants back to Catholicism. 

By the time he left Germany, the Society of Jesus in Germany had evolved from a small band of priests into a powerful tool of the Counter Reformation.  Peter spent the last twenty years of his life in Switzerland, where he founded the Jesuit Preparatory School, the College of Saint Michael, which trained generations of young men for careers and future university studies.  In 1591, at the age of 70, he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralysed, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in Switzerland.  He initially was buried at the Church of St. Nicholas.  His remains were later transferred to the Church of the Jesuit College, which he had founded and where he spent the last years of his life.  They were interred in front of the main altar of the Church, and the room he occupied during those last months.  It is now a chapel, which is open to veneration of the faithful. 

Practical Take Away

St. Peter Canisius was born in the Netherlands, and spent his life in service of the Church.  While away at college he befriended one of the founders of the Jesuit Order and became a priest, joining them.  He spent a lot of his younger years in Germany, and became famous for his preaching, teaching, and work in the Counter Reform period.  He wrote a Catechesis in the German language and made it readily available to many in his time.  He worked hard to convert Protestants back to the Catholic Faith.