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The Catholic Defender: Saint Peter Canisius Doctor of the Church


Saint Peter Canisius was a Jesuit priest at the height of the many Protestant reformations in 16th century Europe. He is known as a prolific Catholic theologian, preacher, teacher and evangelizer.


Renowned as a popular preacher, Canisius packed churches and was said to have been so eloquent and convincing that he attracted hundreds of Protestants back to the Catholic faith.


The energetic life of Peter Canisius should demolish any stereotypes we may have of 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 sake of the Lord’s work.


Peter was one of the most important figures in the Catholic Reformation in Germany. He played such a key role that he has often been called the “second apostle of Germany,” in that his life parallels the earlier work of Boniface.


They chose Peter Canisius. At 43 he was a well-known Jesuit who had founded colleges that even Protestants respected. They gave him a cover as official "visitor" of Jesuit foundations. But Peter couldn't hide the decrees like our modern fictional spies with their microfilmed messages in collar buttons or cans of shaving cream.

Saint Peter became very angry to see such greedy behaviour of the lady and called her too selfish to live as a human and have food, shelter and a fire to keep her warm. He punished her by changing her into a woodpecker that would have to build a nest to live in and get its food by boring the hard dry trunks of trees.


Saint Peter became angry at her greed because she did not give a piece of cake to Saint Peter to satiate his hunger. When he cursed the lady, she turned into a bird. She flew through the chimney.


Although Peter once accused himself of idleness in his youth, he could not have been idle too long, for at the age of 19 he received a master’s degree from the university at Cologne. Soon afterwards he met Peter Faber, the first disciple of Ignatius of Loyola, who influenced Peter so much that he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus.

At this early age Peter had already taken up a practice he continued throughout his life—a process of study, reflection, prayer, and writing.


After his ordination in 1546, he became widely known for his editions of the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Leo the Great. Besides this reflective literary bent, Peter had a zeal for the apostolate. He could often be found visiting the sick or imprisoned, even when his assigned duties in other areas were more than enough to keep most people fully occupied.


Canisius was influential with Emperor Ferdinand I, and participated in the Council of Trent. Devoted to the Virgin Mary, he is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. When asked if he felt overworked, the energetic Canisius replied with a stewardship quote: “If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all.”


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.

Through his teaching, preaching and writing, he led an historic renewal of the Catholic faith in southern Germany and Austria. Canisius wrote a number of books, preached retreats, founded the first German-speaking Jesuit colleges, and cared for the sick, reputedly traveling more than twenty thousand miles on foot or horseback.


Because of these frequent travels, tedious and dangerous at the time, he became known as the Second Apostle of Germany after Saint Boniface.


Canisius declined an appointment to become Archbishop of Vienna in order to continue his evangelizing ministry.


Renowned as a popular preacher, Canisius packed churches and was said to have been so eloquent and convincing that he attracted hundreds of Protestants back to the Catholic faith.


He taught in several universities and was instrumental in establishing many colleges and seminaries. He wrote a catechism that explained the Catholic faith in a way that common people could understand—a great need of that age.

Renowned as a popular preacher, Peter packed churches with those eager to hear his eloquent proclamation of the gospel. He had great diplomatic ability, often serving as a reconciler between disputing factions. In his letters—filling eight volumes—one finds words of 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.


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


He did important work in southern Germany and Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland, where in 1580 he settled in Fribourg and founded a Jesuit college (now the University of Fribourg). His major work was the Triple Catechism (1555–58), containing a lucid exposition of Roman Catholic dogma.


Canisius died on December 21, 1597 at age 76. Canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1925, he is the patron saint of Germany. His feast day is December 21.


The restoration of the Catholic Church in Germany after the Protestant Reformation is largely attributed to the work there of the Society of Jesus, which he led. He is venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint and as a Doctor of the Church.


Canisius died on December 21, 1597 at age 76. Canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1925, he is the patron saint of Germany. His feast day is December 21.


These ceremonies which are used in the administration of the Sacraments, each of which we receive as delivered and entrusted to us through the hands of the fathers, must especially be retained and observed with great devotion.


It behooves us unanimously and inviolably to observe the ecclesiastical traditions, whether codified or simply retained by the customary practice of the Church.

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