Saints of the Society of Jesus: Blessed Peter Canisius

27 April; Confessor

If we are filled with wonder and awe at the harm done to the Church by Luther, what must we think of the man who was the principal instrument of God in checking, in its own fatherland, the torrent of Protestant rebellion? This was the greatness of Blessed Peter Canisius. Saint Ignatius and the Jesuits are said to have been raised up to oppose Protestantism, to repair the harm done by it, and to compensate for that harm by the glorification of the Church all over the world. Blessed Peter Canisius was the general who, under Saint Ignatius, stood at the head of the Jesuits in the forefront of the battle against heresy in the heart of Germany itself. He turned back the tide of Protestantism which threatened to overflow Poland, Austria, and western Germany like an inundation, and it has never passed the limits which he imposed to it. This was the beginning of what is called the great Catholic reaction. Canisius deserves to be named the saviour of Europe.

He was born at Nimeguen in Holland, May 8, 1521, the year in which Saint Ignatius was wounded at Pampeluna. Having been received into the Society by Blessed Peter Favre, his career may be said to have begun at once; for he was a prodigy of learning, zeal, and labor. It would be impossible to give even a sketch of his toils. Honors, such as the mitre and the cardinal’s hat, he shunned. But journeyings, commissions of every kind, the founding of colleges, preaching at councils, conferences with princes, the writing of books, work of all sorts – this he embraced with open arms. At the age of seventy-seven he died at the College of Freiburg, in Switzerland, where he had spent the last seventeen years of his life, exclaiming, with a radiant look, before he expired: “See, see! Ave Maria, Ave Maria!” There is throughout all Germany, as well as in Switzerland, among Catholics, a great devotion to Blessed Peter Canisius.