Saints of the Society of Jesus: Saint Peter Claver

9 September, Confessor

On the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, 1888, the year of the Sacerdotal Jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, that Pontiff canonized the three Jesuit saints, John Berchmans, Alphonsus Rodriguez, and Peter Claver. A great lesson is taught our generation in the canonization of each of these servants of God. Saint John Berchmans teaches that we need not go back to the ways of the middle ages to serve God; that His perfect service consists in the faithful accomplishment of the duties of our state of life with loving hearts, that by doing this we may become real saints. Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez teaches the same lesson in another form. He teaches that a man may belong to the people, that he may have engaged in business, that he may begin late in life, and that he too, with the help of that God Who is no respecter of persons, before Whom high and low are equally little, and Who wills to be served as well in this age of democracy and trade as in the days of absolute or feudal power, that he too may carry off a prize in the glorious rivalry of Christian heroism. Saint Peter Claver preaches his lesson also to this age which professes so great a love for all humanity and a desire to level up all classes to as much equality as the social condition of mankind in this life will permit. These aspirations are good. Only Our Lord taught them two millenniums ago. They were planted in us by nature’s God; they are inculcated more explicitly by the law of charity, a much better word than altruism.

“The slave of the slaves” – that was what Saint Peter Claver signed himself. What Las Casas was to the Indian, that, and more, was Claver to the negro. Was there ever greater brotherly love than his?

Saint Peter was born in Catalonia, in Spain. While still a young religious he was sent to the college where Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez was porter. Their hearts were drawn together immediately. God revealed the future sanctity of this young professor to the venerable Brother, who encouraged him in every way to cooperate with the extraordinary graces he received. In 1620 Claver was sent to Carthagena, in what are now the States of Colombia. This was a great port for the reception of slaves. To these, the most miserable of the miserable, he devoted the rest of his lifetime. He lived only for them; in the holds of the ships, on the plantations, he hunted them up, the physician of both their bodies and their souls. Once a ship came which, in addition to all the usual horrors, was infected with smallpox. Claver plunged into it and remained there for hours. A favorite resort of his was the hospital for lepers, a race of outcasts that has always had a great attraction for Catholic charity. We are not surprised to know that this man, who made himself love all that is most offensive to the fastidiousness of our cultivated nature, was in every other respect a man of great mortification also. For let us not be mistaken: the saints were not saints by nature; they became saints by mortifying themselves, their flesh, and their spirit. So it was that they grew to love their neighbor as themselves, indeed their neighbor’s soul more than their own flesh.

Worn out by his labors and austerities, Saint Peter Claver died in the year 1654, the blacks vyeing with the whites, at his obsequies, which should show the most veneration for his memory. He was beatified by Pius IX. and canonized by Leo XIII., the necessary two additional miracles, which were approved by the Sacred Congregation, having been wrought through his intercession in the United States of America.