Most major movements have their heroes. The Reformation had Luther, Melanchthon, Tyndale, Calvin and many others. The Catholic counter-reformation also had its notables. Among them were Ignatius of Loyola, Xavier--and Peter Canisius.
After the Reformation began, the Roman Church often tried to hold its own with heavy-handed tactics: excommunication, ridicule, armed force. Some churchmen recognized that these methods were doomed to failure. What was need was persuasion. The northern church needed honorable, well-trained priests, able to answer the rhetoric of the reformers and shine by example before the common people. Canisius became such a priest himself and set out to recruit and train others. Hundreds of them. To do it, he founded colleges. Seven of them.
Peter was born at Nijmegen in the Netherlands. His father was a wealthy magistrate who picked out a wealthy girl for Peter to marry; but Peter wasn't playing ball. He vowed himself to chastity. A few years later, he placed himself under the instruction of a Jesuit, Peter Faber. Faber guided him through Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. These are a deep course of meditation, prayer, and self-examination with the intent of determining and following God's will for one's life.
"Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me..." *
On May 5, 1543, Peter Canisius was admitted into the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Mainz. This day was also his twenty-second birthday--and a first step in his efforts to restore the Catholic Church in northern Europe.
Canisius believed that to defend Catholic truths with the pen was just as important as to convert Hindus. People listened to him because he wrote and spoke without the bitterness and ridicule that was so common among other writers on both sides in those days. He taught at major Catholic universities. Most men would consider their life fulfilled if they founded a single college. Canisius founded colleges at Augsburg, Dillingen, Freiburg, Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna and Wurzburg. Thanks to his efforts, priests, teachers and other Catholic workers got the grounding they needed to rebuild their church.
Canisius had the ear of the emperor. He also had the ear of the common people, who flocked to hear him as he preached in German towns. But his greatest influence came through the catechism he wrote. It was well-organized and easy to understand that a special version was printed to teach children in Catholic schools.
- Braunsberger, Otto. "Blessed Peter Canisius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Canisius, St. Peter." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- The Oxford encyclopedia of the Reformation. Editor in chief Hans J. Hillerbrand. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
- *Loyola, Ignatius. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, translated by Anthony Mottola. Image Books.