Friday, April 27, 2007

Notes on the Memorial of St. Peter Canisius.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers our brother Jesuit Peter Canisius, a great 16th century theologian whose remarkable contribution to apologetics and catechesis helped preserve the Catholic faith in Germany during the time of the Protestant Reformation. Canisius' life and career bear witness to the international character that the Society of Jesus had even in its earliest days. A native of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, Canisius was educated in Cologne and chose to enter the Society of Jesus after making the Spiritual Exercises under the direction of one of the First Companions, the Frenchman Pierre Favre. After serving as a peritus at the Council of Trent and teaching at the Jesuit college in Messina, Canisius embarked on his great career as a Catholic apologist in the German-speaking lands of Central Europe. Though Canisius taught and preached in Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Switzerland and wrote scores of books, his greatest contribution came in the form of the short catechisms he wrote for students and children. Presenting the Catholic faith in clear, straightforward terms and answering criticisms commonly offered by Protestants, Canisius' catechisms became very popular and remained in print well into the 20th century. For his efforts, Canisius would be remembered as "the second Apostle of Germany" (the first being St. Boniface) and would be declared a Doctor of the Church at the time of his canonization in 1925.

Given the success of his apostolic labors and the international scope of his ministry, it should come as no surprise that Peter Canisius has given his name to Jesuit institutions in various countries. Canisius College in the saint's hometown of Nijmegen counts Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach among its alumni. The German Jesuits sponsor Canisius-Kolleg and St. Canisius Church, both in Berlin. The parish has an attractive website and a strikingly modern sanctuary, which I hope to examine in person if I have the chance to visit Berlin. The Austrian Jesuits also staff a church named for Canisius in Vienna, the traditional architecture of which offers a vivid contrast with its counterpart in Berlin. The missionary endeavors of the European Jesuits have brought the name of Peter Canisius to places he never visited and probably never even thought of. The Congolese capital of Kinshasa is home to the Institut de Philosophie Saint-Pierre Canisius, where many African Jesuits complete their studies in philosophy. Jakarta, Indonesia has its own Canisius College, founded by Dutch Jesuits in the 1920's. Buffalo, New York is home to Canisius College and Canisius High School, two reminders of the 19th century German Jesuits whose missionary territory in the United States extended from Boston to Toledo. In short, the name of Peter Canisius has gotten around. Today, I pray that this great Doctor of the Church will intercede for all who work, study or worship in institutions bearing his name. AMDG.


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