December 20, 2017

St. Peter Canisius, Patron of the Catholic Press

Saint Peter Canisius,

Optional Memorial - December 21st 

Saint Peter Canisius was the 16th century Dutch Jesuit priest and Doctor of the Church whose brilliant theology renewed Catholicism. He was a major figure in both the Council of Trent and the Counter Reformation. His extensive catechetical treatises and powerful preaching in defense of orthodoxy won him great renown, and the Church innumerable souls. He wrote three definitive Catechisms in the span of four years explicating the Faith. These were tremendously influential, especially to those in Austria, Bavaria, and Bohemia where Catholicism was most under siege. Although claimed by both the Dutch and German Churches, Canisius is designated as the second Apostle of Germany (after Saint Boniface of Mainz).

He was born at Nijmegen, Holland, in 1521 into a devout family. His father was an instructor to princes in the court of the duke of Lorraine. Peter was part of a movement for religious reform as a very young man and in 1543, after attending a retreat given by Blessed Peter Favre, he joined the Jesuits, becoming the eighth professed member of the new Society of Jesus, founded to defend the Church.

As a newly professed Jesuit, he worked first in the city of Cologne, becoming a spokesman for the Catholic party. He then became a consultor to the cardinal of Augsburg at the Council of Trent and in 1547 was called by St. Ignatius to Rome. He was sent to Sicily to teach, then, after his solemn profession in Rome, was sent back to Germany as the first superior of the German province of the Jesuits.

Peter next began to restore and found colleges, first in Vienna and Prague, and then in Munich, Innsbruck, and throughout northern Germany. He attracted vocations to the Jesuits, and the society began to flourish in Central Europe. He organized the Jesuits into a compact unit and made the society a leading force in the Counter-Reformation. He was in contact with all the Catholic leaders in Germany, and wrote fourteen hundred letters giving support to those laboring for reform. He was the adviser of the emperor and the confidante of three popes. He was consulted frequently by papal legates and nunciatures and was an outspoken critic (for orthodoxy) of religious and clerical life in post-Reformation Germany.

His recommended far-reaching reforms would have a profound effect upon the education and spiritual life of the clergy. Through his efforts, seminaries were founded, and the popes sent him on important diplomatic missions. In the midst of his many labors, he edited and published editions of the Fathers of the Church, catechisms, spiritual manuals, and textbooks that went into countless editions even in his own lifetime. The advent of the printing press had made this possible.

St. Peter Canisius died on December 21, 1597, at Fribourg, Switzerland. He was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church on May 21, 1925 by Pope Pius XI. His remains rest in the church of the Jesuit College, in front of the main alter. O God, who for the defense of the Catholic faith made the Priest St. Peter Canisius strong in virtue and in learning, grant, through his intercession, that those who seek truth may find you and that your faithful may persevere in confessing you.

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