Saint Peter Canisius; Doctor of the Church and the second Apostle of Germany

Saint Peter Canisius; Doctor of the Church and the second Apostle of Germany

Peter Canisius SJ was a Dutch Jesuit Catholic priest. He became known for his strong support for the Catholic faith during the Protestant Reformation in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland and the British Isles. 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.

He was born in 1521 in Nijmegen in the Duchy of Guelders. His father was a wealthy Burgermeister, Jacob Kanis. His mother, Ægidia van Houweningen, died shortly after Peter's birth. He earned a master's degree in 1540, at the age of 19, from the University of Cologne.

Peter Canisius met Peter Faber, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, in the University. Through him, Canisius became the first Dutchman to join the newly founded Society of Jesus in 1543. Through his preaching and writings, Peter Canisius became one of the most influential Catholics of his time. Due to his frequent travels between the colleges, a tedious and dangerous occupation at the time, he became known as the Second Apostle of Germany.

In 1547, Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent. Canisius was an influential teacher and preacher, especially through his "German Catechism", a book which defined the basic principles of Catholicism in the German language. He was offered the post of Bishop of Vienna in 1554 but declined in order to continue his traveling and teachings. He did, however, serve as administrator of the Diocese of Vienna for one year, until a new bishop was appointed for it.

Protestantism had made much headway in Germany because many intellectuals had adopted it, making Catholicism appear to be the religion of the ignorant. By his debates, his writing and his teachings, Peter showed that Catholicism was thoroughly rational, that the Protestant arguments were not convincing.

By his efforts, Peter won Bavaria (southern Germany) and the Rhineland (central Germany) back to the Catholic Church. He also won converts in Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Poland. Poland had become largely Protestant, but thanks to the efforts of Peter and other Jesuits, it returned to the Church and is still Catholic today despite Communist persecution.

By the time he left Germany, the Society of Jesus in Germany had evolved from a small band of priests into a powerful tool of the Counter-Reformation. Canisius spent the last twenty years of his life in Fribourg, where he founded the Jesuit Collège Saint-Michel, which trained generations of young men for careers and future university studies.

In 1591, at the age of 70, Canisius suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in Fribourg.

Canisius taught that, while there are many roads leading to Jesus Christ, for him the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the best. His sermons and letters document a clear preoccupation with Marian veneration.[11] Under the heading "prayer" he explains the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) as the basis for Catholic Marian piety.[12] Less known are his Marian books, in which he published prayers and contemplative texts. To the Hail Mary he added the sentence: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. Eleven years later it was included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566.

Canisius was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1864, and later canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church on 21 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

Other Saints of the Day
1. Saint Anastasius XII
2. Saint Andrew Dung Lac
3. Saint Honoratus of Toulouse
4. Saint John Vincent
5. Saint Severinus


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