Today is the feast day of Saint Peter Claver. Ora pro nobis.
Peter was born to a distinguished family in Verdu (Catalonia), Spain. He lost his mother and older brother while still a child, and as a teenager joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
He obtained his first degrees at the University of Barcelona. At the age of twenty he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona. While he was studying philosophy at Majorca in 1605, Alphonsus Rodriguez, the saintly door-keeper of the college, learned from God the future mission of his young associate. Saint Alphonsus, when he saw the novice for the first time, was inspired to kiss his feet; and the novice embraced his spiritual father with a tenderness which would increase with time. Saint Alphonsus was graced with a divine vision some years later, and learned that this novice was destined to save a multitude of souls in the New World. He is reported to have said to Peter: “How many peoples go astray for lack of ministers! The fatigue of going to seek them out is dreaded, but not the danger and crime which it is to abandon them!”
After eight years of study and apostolic preparation in Spain, Father Peter asked to go to the Jesuit missions of the Western Indies. He was sent to Carthagena in Colombia, South America, when he was thirty years old. He was assigned to accompany an elderly priest who had undertaken a ministry of service to the poor Africans brought to be sold in the market of that city.
These poor strangers spoke several languages but shared a common misery, which Father Peter soon saw clearly. When the holds of the boats were opened, all one beheld was a confused mass of men, women, children and old men, sick persons mingled with healthy ones, and often, alas! living beings next to cadavers, for the crossing made victims. The elderly forerunner of Peter, when about to retire, asked that the objects of his care be definitively confided to Father Peter, a petition willingly granted.
Thus began forty-four years of unceasing dedication to their spiritual and material betterment by Father Peter. He watched for the arrival of the slave ships, which brought from ten to twelve thousand souls each year. Father Peter never failed to be the first to go aboard, accompanied by his interpreters and carrying the provisions he had been able to beg. He greeted the living, arranged for the burial of the dead and the transport of the sick to hospitals. Having won their sympathy, he went to them regularly with his interpreters and taught them, during several hours’ time, the elements of doctrine, aided by pictures.
Before Father Peter died, it is said he had baptized between 300-400,000. He put around the necks of each newly baptized child of God, a medal which would thereafter distinguish the Christians from the yet untaught.
Father Peter was accused of indiscreet zeal. Fashionable women of Cartagena refused to enter the churches where Father Peter assembled his flock. Those who resisted him did not do so indefinitely. One man insulted him for twenty-two years, but at the end of that time fell on his knees and begged his pardon. Most biographers who have tried to document his life have found it difficult to use mere words to described his divinely-inspired heart of charity.
Father Peter contracted the plague in his late sixties, and valiantly continued his work for four years while ill. Near the end, he was left infirm and partially paralyzed, but lashed himself to a donkey so he could continue begging and distributing provisions to those more in need.
Saint Peter Claver died at the age of 75, having lived and ministered to the wretched of Cartagena for over 40 years. Two years after his death, his body was found intact, despite the humidity of the burial site and the live caustic covering it. Numerous miracles were reported at his intercession.
He was beatified 16 July, 1850, by Pius IX, and canonized 15 January, 1888, by Leo XIII. When he and his old friend, Br Alphonsus were canonised on the same day in 1888, Pope Leo XIII said, ‘No life, except the life of Christ, has so moved me as that of St Peter Claver.
Image: Stained glass window in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Andrew in Dormagen in Rhein-Kreis Neuss (Nordrhein-Westfalen) photo by GFreihalter (7)
Research by REGINA Staff