St. Peter Claver: 9 September

Br. Columba Maria

Peter was born in a village in Catalonia in 1581, to pious and noble parents. His mother Anna wished to imitate her two biblical patrons, the mothers of Samuel and Mary, and consecrate her son to God.


From a notably pious childhood, Peter continued to university while still a youngster and worked very hard, while living austerely, before being awarded a first class degree in the sciences.

The bishop of Barcelona recognised his piety and conferred on him minor Orders. He became acquainted with the Jesuits in Barcelona and after considerable prayer he asked them to receive him. They said they would if his parents consented, and they, though they had hoped that Peter would be their consolation in old age, readily consented and wished him all the graces necessary to become the Saint he at length became.

Priestly formation

Sent to the novitiate in nearby Tarragona, Peter was, from the first, assiduous in prayer, diligent at work, obedient, hard on himself, affable to others; and having pronounced his first vows, he was sent to the house of studies in Majorca, a Balearic island south of Barcelona. He was about twenty years old at this point. There he met his kindred spirit. St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532–1617), who laboured for forty years as the porter of the house in Majorca, was favoured with many special gifts of grace. The two became like father and son in the spiritual life. Alphonsus pressed Peter on the rich harvest waiting to be gathered in America: "How many have such scant success in Europe, who in America would be Apostles. Ah! If you knew the treasure of merits awaiting you, and which can only be gathered there!" His Superiors gave him hope, but returned him to Barcelona to commence his theology.

Two more years went by before he got the permission he so ardently prayed for, and in 1610, he said goodbye to his family and homeland for ever. It would be five more years before he would be ordained Priest, an elevation he was reluctant to accept.

Missionary in Columbia

On his arrival in Carthagena, a very busy Columbian port, he went to help a Father de Sandoval, himself thirty years there and with 30,000 baptisms to his credit. Father Peter soon had a routine. When someone arrived to tell him of the arrival of another boatload of negro slaves from Africa (a favour he would repay with several Masses), he would hurry to meet the boat with foodstuffs, medicines, and tobacco and distribute them tenderly amongst these homesick, starving, naked, and often ill unfortunates. Newly born babes and the very sick were baptised. On debarkation, Father Peter would, in company with slaves of the same tribe to interpret, meet his charges again, and accompany them to their lodgings, and arrange a time to begin catechism. After several crowded lessons, the day would be assigned for them to become sons of God and heirs to kingdom of heaven: the great good drawn from the happy fault of their transportation from the idolatry of their homeland.

Slave of slaves

As time went on, Father Peter was able to buy slaves to help the apostolate, especially to assist the interpretation when his own learning fell short. When he visited the plantations, he always insisted on sleeping in the negro quarters. Christian marriage especially was preached, often even to the chagrin of the masters, and Father often had to remind them, despite the cultural deficiencies of the time which allowed slavery, that their dominion did not extend beyond their slaves' bodily labours. God blessed him a thousandfold. Many times he received miraculous knowledge of a dying soul in need of the sacraments, or about to end it all in despair. In 1622, his Superiors invited him to make final profession in the Society of Jesus. Reluctantly, for he thought himself unworthy, he made the vows and signed it, "Peter, slave of the negroes forever."

The town's two hospitals were where he especially exercised his abundant charity. He could never do enough for the miserable inmates. The more afflicted they were, leprous or otherwise, the greater was their entitlement to his help. Sweeping wards, making beds, washing wounds, as well as giving the sacraments, all these were his daily bread when he wasn't visiting the plantations.

For all his success, he maintained a genuine poor opinion of himself. For all the evil things people said of him—racist, or envious, or critical in origin—he used to say: "I should be miserable, for not being able to do any good without doing greater evil; it's only to be expected from an ignorant, indiscreet sinner like me." Notwithstanding, he would do penance for these poor judges. The Archdeacon of London, seeking the truth, and happening to be in Carthagena, had the good fortune to meet Saint Peter, and shortly after, entered the old religion, followed by all his entourage. 30 years and 22 years of prayers and good works respectively he invested two muslims, and saw them converted before their end. To all of these dying members of Christ he would say: "Remember me when you are in the presence of God."

Death and feast day

In 1650, the pestilence arrived in Carthagena. Predictably, Peter and his confrères spent their time bringing solace to the poor populace, until he was struck with it himself, and after an extended period of illness, when his daily consolation was to assist at Mass, exhausting his little strength, he was consoled especially by the arrival of a Life of Brother Alphonsus Rodriguez, and of Father Diego de Farigna to continue his work among the negroes. He died on the morning of 8 September, Our Blessed Lady's birthday, and his feast day, although not in the universal calendar, is the day following. Countless miracles, both during his life and after his death, attest his holiness.

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