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December 21

St Peter Canisius - December 21

Saint Peter Canisius

Priest, Doctor of the Church

(1521- 1597)

“If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all.

Saint Peter Canisius

Saint’s Life Story

His Youth

Peter was born on May 8, 1521, in Niemguen, Netherlands. He was the eldest son of Jacob Canisius, a wealthy burgomeister, and Ægidia van Houweningen. His mother died shortly after Peter’s birth.

Master’s Degree at Age 19

Peter studied theology at the University of Cologne in Germany, where he earned a master’s degree in 1540, at the age of 19. He went on to study canon law at  Lovain in Belgium. Although he went to the University of Cologne and then to Louvain with the intention of becoming a canon lawyer, he grew more and more entranced by the study of theology. Peter realized that a legal career and marriage would not satisfy him, so he took a vow of celibacy, and returned to Cologne to continue his theological studies.

Joined Jesuits

After attending a retreat in Mainz conducted by Saint Peter Faber, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits, Peter joined the Jesuits on May 8, 1543. Peter was the the first Dutchman to join the newly founded Jesuits. Peter gave his inheritance to the poor, became a novice, and lived a community life in Cologne, where he engaged in visiting the sick and giving religious instruction. He also found time to write editions on the works of Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Saint Leo the Great.

Ordained And Taught in Rome

After his ordination in 1546, Peter earned a reputation as a preacher. He attended two sessions of the Council of Trent as a delegate. Saint Ignatius Loyola summoned him to Rome to assist him for five months. Peter then went to Messina to teach in the first Jesuit school, but returned shortly to Rome. At the request of Duke William IV of Bavaria, Peter went to Bavaria as a professor to counteract heresy in the schools. Peter reformed the university at Ingolstadt and was named rector and then vice chancellor.

Called to Vienna

In 1552, Peter was called to Vienna by King Ferdinand to fulfill a similar function. The churches were poorly attended when he arrived. But Peter earned the trust and following of the people by his efforts to relieve the sick and dying during an outbreak of the plague. The king and the papal nuncio wanted him to become archbishop of Vienna. Instead, Peter consented to administer the see for only one year, without episcopal orders, title, or benefits.

Summa Doctrinae Christianae

The parishes were virtually without clergy, the monasteries deserted, and there had been no ordinations for 20 years (and we think we have a vocational crisis!). During this period, Peter began work on his finest work, Summary of Christian Doctrine (Summa Doctrinae Christianae), a catechism of 211 questions and answers written in Latin and German. Published in 1555, it went through 200 editions before his death and was translated into 15 European languages.

Founded a College in Prague

In 1556, Peter next went to Prague to found a college and was made provincial, against his will, of a new province that encompassed southern Germany, Austria, and Bohemia. The college gained such a reputation that Protestants sent their children to it, and in two years, Peter brought most of the city back to the faith.

On to Germany

Peter moved to Augsburg, Germany, in 1559, at the request of King Ferdinand, and induced there a similar revival of the faith. He also influenced the Reichstag to restore public schools. Throughout his life, Peter insisted upon the importance of schools and writing for publication. In fact, he is one of the founders of the Catholic press.

At the end of his term as provincial, Peter moved to Dillingen, Bavaria, where he directed the university. He taught, acted as a confessor, and composed a stream of works in defense of the Catholic faith.

Debated Protestant Reformers

While many felt that the Protestant Reformers were by far the most learned and intelligent of the controversialists, in Peter Canisius, they met their equal. He used some of their weapons. The Bible, Peter believed, could be used in support of the ancient faith as well as enlisted on the side of Protestantism. Where Peter thought his opponents were right, he courteously said so. But Peter believed that his own statement of the Catholic faith could hold its own in any Christian debate. He preferred to concentrate on basic Christian doctrines rather than controversial matters, such as indulgences and purgatory. In dealing with Lutherans, Peter always distinguished between those who had deliberately propagated heresy and those who had been brought up in it, or had drifted into it, whose errors, as he thought, came from ignorance rather than malice.

Other Works

In addition to apologetics, his written work includes theological, ascetical, and historical treatises. Among his compositions are A Manual for Catholics, a martyrology, a revision of the Augsburg Breviary, and the General Prayer, which is still recited in Germany.

Court Chaplain

Peter acted as a court chaplain for several years at Innsbruck, Austria, and helped to resolve a rift between the emperor and Pope Pius IV. In 1577, he was relieved of the task of finishing a series of books because of his ill health. Nevertheless, Peter continued to preach, make visitations as vice provincial, and give missions.

Built University of Fribourg

In 1580, he went to Fribourg, Switzerland, to build a college, which became the University of Fribourg. His regular preaching for more than eight years is credited with holding Fribourg to the faith during an uneasy time in history.

His Death

His health deteriorated further. In 1591, he suffered a stroke. He recovered enough to write, with the help of a secretary. Peter died on December 21, 1597 at the age of 76 in Fribourg, Switzerland. His body was interred before the high altar of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Fribourg and his relics were translated to the Church of Saint Michael at the Jesuit College in Fribourg in 1625. 

Travelled 20,000 Miles

As you can see, Peter was constantly engaged in teaching, preaching, instructing, advising, and arbitrating in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Bohemia, and Poland. It is estimated that he travelled 20,000 miles on foot and horseback in 30 years. For this work, he is rightly called the Second Apostle of Germany (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Brodrick, Delaney, Farmer, White).

In art, Saint Peter can be identified as an elderly (sometimes bearded) Jesuit with “charitas” and IHS in glory above his head as he kneels before the Blessed Virgin with a book near him (Roeder).

Doctor of the Church

Through his preaching and writings, Peter became one of the most influential Catholics of his time. In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed Peter as a Doctor of the Church.

Beatified:            November 20, 1864 by Pope Pius IX

Canonized:         May 21, 1925 by Pope Pius XI

Feast Day:          December 21

Patron Saint:     Catholic Press; Germany



Saint Peter Canisius’ untiring efforts are an apt example for those involved in the renewal of the Church or the growth of moral consciousness in business or government. He is regarded as one of the creators of the Catholic press. Saint Peter Canisius can easily be a model for the Christian author or journalist. Teachers can see in his life a passion for the transmission of truth. Whether we have much to give, as Peter Canisius did, or whether we have only a little to give, as did the poor widow in the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 21:1–4), the important thing is to give our all. 

How will you give it your all today, in the way that only you can, to be a model for others in your actions and words?

Source: Adapted from Saint Peter Canisius | Franciscan Media


Saint Peter Canisius, God raised you up at the right time to save the faith in Central Europe. Your even temper, broad knowledge, life of prayer, and personal virtue brought lost sheep back into the fold. From heaven, help all priests, deacons, and teachers to do the same. May you also intercede for us to help us in our life of prayer and grow in personal virtue so we can become witnesses to others by the example of our life.

Saint Peter Canisius, Pray for us.  Amen.

Source: Saint Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor – My Catholic Life!

Saint Links 

Aleteia – This 16th-century saint teaches how to disagree and still get along

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 21 December – St Peter Canisius S.J. (1521-1397) – Doctor of the Church

Catholic Culture – Saint Peter Canisius

Catholic Exchange – Saint Peter Canisius

Catholic Fire – St. Peter Canisius, priest and doctor

Catholic Ireland – Dec 21 – St Peter Canisius (1521-97)

Catholic News Agency – St. Peter Canisius a model for how to spread the Gospel, Pope says

Catholic Online – St. Peter Canisius

CatholicSaint.Info – Saint Peter Canisius

Franciscan Media – Saint Peter Canisius

Loyola Press – Saint Peter Canisius Feast Day December 21

My Catholic Life – Saint Peter Canisius, Priest and Doctor

Newman Ministry – Saint Peter Canisius

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Peter Canisius’ Story

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint Peter Canisius (1521-1597)

Saint of the Day – December 21 St. Peter Canisius

uCatholic – Saint Peter Canisius


Video Link

St. Peter Canisius, S.J. – YouTube (Catholic Online)