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Saint Peter Claver

Saint Peter Claver
  • Century: 16th & 17th Century
  • Patronage: Slaves, Race Relations, Parkinson Disease
  • Feast Day: September 9th

St. Peter Claver was born in 1581, into a prosperous farming family in the village of Catalan, about 50 miles from Barcelona.  He was born seventy years after King Ferdinand of Spain set colonial slavery culture into motion, by purchasing 150 African slaves in Lisbon.  This event would shape the life of Peter Claver.  His parents were devout Catholics, teaching Peter from early childhood to let nothing come between him and the love of God.  

Peter went on to study at the University of Barcelona, and was noted for his intelligence and piety.  After two years of studying there, he wrote these words in his notebook, and kept them throughout his life, “I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave”. 

After his studies were completed he entered the Society of Jesus in Tarrogona, at the age of 20.  When he completed his novitiate, he went to Palma, to study philosophy.  While there, he met the porter of the college, St. Alphonsus Rodriquez, a lay brother known for his holiness and prophecy.  Alphonsus told him that God wanted him to spend his life in service to the colonies of the New Spain, where they now had slaves.  He eventually went to Granada, where he studied theological studies and was deeply troubled by the harsh treatment and living conditions of the black slaves who were brought from Africa. 

Peter went on to be Ordained a Priest, and would replace his mentor Fr. Alonao de Sandoval, S.J.  Sandoval had visited the slaves where they worked, but Peter preferred to head for the wharf as soon as the ships would come in.  He would enter the ships and was discusted by the horrible conditions and disease ridden quarters.  He would treat and minister to those most in need on that ship.  Peter would loan his cloak to anyone in need, and legend has it that whoever wore the cloak received lifetime health and was cured of all disease.  

Peter would have conflicts with some of his Jesuit brothers who accepted slavery.  He saw the slaves as fellow Christians, encouraging others to do so as well.  During his forty years of ministry he catechized and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves, always following up on them to ensure that as Christians, they received their Christian and Civil rights.  His mission also extended to sailors, traders, and conducted spring missions, returning to those he baptized to ensure they were treated humanely.  He refused to stay in nice places, always chosing the slave quarters instead.  

Parkinson desease claimed St. Peter Claver and confined him to his room for the last years of his life.  He lingered on for four years, and was forgotten and neglected, pysically abused and starved by an ex-slave who had been hired by the Superior of the house to care for him.  He never complained about his ill treatment, accepting it as a just punishment for his sins.  He died in September, 1654.  When the people of the city heard of his death, they forced their way into his room and stripped it of everything, to serve as a relic of a saint.   

Practical Take Away 

St. Peter Claver was called to work with the slaves in Spain, to ensure that they would be catechized and baptized.  He even would follow up with them, to make sure they were being treated humanly.  In his forty years of ministry, he was said to have catechized and baptized over 300,000 slaves.  He eventually died of Parkinson Disease, and suffered abuse the last four years of his life.  He was willing to lay it all on the line to teach the faith to others.  How far are we willing to go to catechize those around us in need?  Anyone with Parkinson Disease should venerate him.