Saint Peter Canisius

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Saint Peter Canisius

St. Peter Canisius (b. 1521; died 1597) was one of the most important figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation period, often called the “second apostle of Germany.” Peter was a Jesuit renowned as a popular preacher. He had great wisdom, a diplomatic ability and he was able to counsel people in all walks of life. Peter's devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had contributed to the significant growth of the Catholic faith. He set a marvelous example by acting humble, charitable and always strove for holiness by his kindness. Peter was a teacher, wrote Catechisms and established numerous schools and colleges. Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

Early life

Born in Holland to father Jacob Canisius and mother Egidia van Houweningen, who died shortly after Peter's birth. He was sent to Cologne for schooling, where he studied arts, civil law, and theology at the University of Louvain. Peter received his master's degree at age 19. He met Peter Faber, the first disciple of Ignatius Loyola, who influenced Peter so much that he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus. He was admitted into the Society of Jesus at Mainz on May 8, 1543. Was partly responsible for establishing the first German Jesuit house. In 1546, he was ordained a priest. He was often accused of usurping parochial rights because he was involved in so many important church missions and assignments. Peter could often be found visiting the sick and prisoners.[1]


In 1547, Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent as papal theologian and addressed the Council on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He was later assigned to implement those decrees. Peter was entrusted with the mission to Germany, from that point on his life’s work. It was a dangerous assignment in the sixteenth century because German Protestants were hostile to Catholic teachings. Peter was responsible for a strengthening of Catholicism in Germany.


King Ferdinand ordered Peter and his companions to write a catechism. Peter approached Christian doctrine in two parts: Wisdom and Justice. The first issue of the Catechism appeared in 1555 and was an immediate success. Peter produced two more versions; one for middle school students and the other for young children. During his life, his Catechism went through 200 editions and was translated into 12 languages. He begged Pope Pius V to send yearly subsidies to the Catholic printers of Germany, and to permit German scholars to edit Roman manuscripts. Peter was responsible for the creation of the Catholic Press.[2] The people, the king, and the Pope all wanted to make Peter bishop of Vienna, but Peter declined vigorously.


At age 70, Peter suffered a paralytic seizure, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in his hometown on December 21, 1597. Soon after his death reports spread of the miraculous help obtained by invoking his name. His tomb was visited by pilgrims. The Society of Jesus decided to urge his beatification. Beatified 1864 by Pope Pius IX, he was Canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.


  1. St. Peter Canisius American Catholic
  2. Blessed Peter Canisius Catholic Encyclopedia