Patron Saint of the Catholic Press

Saint Peter Canisius
1521 – 1597

ISt Peter Canisius is the Doctor of Catechetical Studies (Feast December 21st). Our saint founded and opened many schools and universities and was one of the creators of the Catholic press and of the Catholic periodical. Anyone who has ever read a catechism, prayed the rosary or pledged devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus and Mary might thank Peter Canisius for his major contributions in safeguarding these powerful devotions. They are instruments of holiness and sources of consolations. More important, they have contributed to the growth of our Catholic faith. Anyone who has prayed the rosary might remember Peter not because he started this devotion but rather because he revived it in an effort to renew Marian devotion. This was during the Counter Reformation period which caused separation and division in the Church. Peter united the church and its members by modeling holy devotion to both Jesus and Mary.            

Peter received a master’s degree from the university at Cologne at the age of 19. Soon after he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus and was ordained in 1546. Peter was brilliant, talented and an indefatigable worker for the church, teaching, writing and establishing schools and colleges. In 1547 Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent whose decrees he was later assigned to implement. After a brief teaching assignment at the Jesuit College at Messina, Peter was entrusted with the mission to Germany—from that point on his life’s work. He taught in several universities and was instrumental in establishing many colleges and seminaries.            

Peter Canisius was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation in Germany. He had a strong literary bent and wrote a catechism that explained the Catholic faith in a way common people could understand—a greatly needed in that age. It was translated into many languages. He wrote clear information about our faith by explaining it in a way anyone could grasp. This happened at a time when the church was in most need of this service.            

In addition to founding colleges and seminaries, teaching in universities, and addressing a major Council of the Church, he was renowned as a popular preacher. He packed churches with those eager to hear his eloquent proclamation of the gospel. In his letters which fill eight volumes are contained wisdom and counsel to people in all walks of life. At times he wrote unprecedented letters of criticism to leaders of the Church—yet always in the context of a loving, sympathetic concern.            

Besides this reflective literary bent, Peter had a zeal for the apostolate. He could often be found visiting the sick or prisoners, even when his assigned duties in other areas were more than enough to keep most people fully occupied. Peter, above all, set a marvelous example by his humble and charitable demeanor and by seeking holiness through kindness.            

Peter was a great reconciler between disputing parties. His agile, quick-witted mind and sensitive heart endowed him with superior diplomatic skills. Peter's zeal and unflagging interest in the defense and spread of the Faith enabled him to preach and write until his death at about age seventy-seven. The courage Peter received from Catholic devotions to Jesus and Mary was exemplary.            

He preached extensively and as a result was under constant pressure and criticism from friends and foes alike. Even the Pope, the emperor and the king censured him for speaking truths they did not wish to hear or believed to be exaggerated. Being scolded by the Holy Father would normally destroy one's morale and motivation. Not so with the humble and feisty St Peter. Challenges and criticism inspired him all the more because he knew the Spirit guided and enlightened him. He was supremely obedient, and his great confidence and resilience allowed him to deflect mortal opinion and overcome his trials.            

He consistently exceeded his own expectations and remained as the Provincial of the Jesuits (the highest position of the Order) for thirteen years--an unusually long time. He acted as confessor to the Queen of France and advisor to the Pope. He was unafraid of correcting the faults of the clergy, attempting to set good example. He always found time to assist those in need of help or charity. He asked at one time to be relieved of certain of his duties when he felt these duties entered the realm of political espionage and required an arrogance he could not summon. Peter had great discernment. He was often accused of usurping parochial rights because he was involved in so many important church missions and assignments. This was a period of time when thousands were leaving the Church for Protestantism.            

At 70 Peter suffered a paralytic seizure but continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in his hometown, Nijmegen, Netherlands, on December 21, 1597.            

The energetic life of Peter Canisius should demolish any stereotypes depicting the life of a saint as dull or routine. Peter lived his 76 years at a pace which must be considered heroic, even in our time of rapid change. A man blessed with many talents, Peter is an excellent example of the scriptural man who develops his talents for the purpose of doing the Lord’s work. When asked if he felt overworked, Peter replied, "If you have too much to do, with God's help you will find time to do it all."            

Peter’s untiring efforts are an example for those involved in the renewal of the Church or the growth of moral consciousness in business or government. He is regarded as one of the creators of the Catholic press, and can easily be a model for the Christian author or journalist. Teachers can see in his life a passion for the transmission of truth. Whether we have much to give, as Peter Canisius did, or whether we have only a little, the important thing is to give our all. It is in this way that Peter’s life is exemplary for Christians in this age of rapid change when we are called to be in the world but not of the world.            

Doctors of the church such as Peter Canisius and all those teachers and spiritual guides and directors who have helped others gain knowledge of their faith are to be appreciated, cherished and treasured. Where would we be without a moral compass in life, with no Christian values or with little or no ethical standards? Peter’s Catechism is this standard.            

Jim Fritz

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