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Catholic Heroes… St. Peter Faber

August 29, 2019 saints No Comments


In the hagiography of the saints in the Catholic Church, there are persons from all walks of life and all ages. A person does not have to live many years to make great accomplishments and leave a legacy worthy of emulation. Such was the life of St. Peter Faber who was called to eternity before he reached the age of forty.
High in the pastures of the French Alps, on April 14, 1506, a peasant family welcomed a remarkable child into their lives. This was in the village of Villaret. They gave him the name Peter.
Two of Peter’s uncles were Carthusian priors, showing that he came from a devout Catholic family. His early years were spent caring for his father’s sheep in the French Alps. Although he received little instruction, he had an amazing memory and could repeat word for word the sermon that he had heard that morning.
His grasp of the teachings of the Church were also exemplary, as he taught catechism on Sundays, having worked in the fields during the week.
His parents entrusted their special son first to a priest at Thones, and then to a school in La Roche-sur-Foron, a nearby village. Having done well academically, Peter received his parents’ blessing to go to Paris and study at the College Sainte-Barbe, a school founded in 1460 as a college of the University of Paris. This would set the direction of his life as he shared lodgings with St. Francis Xavier, who had just arrived from Navarre.
Under the influence of this great saint, Peter’s spiritual life developed quickly. He advanced in his devotions, medieval scholasticism, and Christian humanism. The two spent much time studying together and in October 1529 a third man joined them in their housing, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
In 1530 Francis Xavier and Peter Faber received their Master of Arts degrees on the same day. Also at this university, Peter began tutoring St. Ignatius of Loyola who was having difficulties with Greek. As Peter helped Ignatius with Aristotle’s philosophy, Ignatius helped Peter, giving him spiritual direction. As a result they became very close associates.
Peter — still in his mid-twenties — had uncertainties about his future. He considered a variety of occupations — such as teacher, lawyer, priest, and monk. While Peter lived with St. Ignatius, who had already decided to give his life to Christ, he received his spiritual advice. And Ignatius continued to guide Peter as he prepared for Ordination.
Perhaps Peter was the first person to go through the Thirty-Day Spiritual Exercises. (The weekend Ignatian retreats are a greatly condensed form of the Thirty-Day Spiritual Exercises.) Following the exercises, Peter was ordained on May 30, 1534.
Fr. Faber has long been considered one of the founders of the Jesuits and was the first one to be ordained to the priesthood. One day six men gathered in the crypt of the Chapel of St. Denis on Montmartre, which was on the northern outskirts of Paris at the time. Since Fr. Faber was the only priest among them when the six companions assembled for Mass on August 15, 1534 (the Feast of the Assumption), Fr. Faber said the Mass and the men pronounced their first vows.
After the ceremony, St. Ignatius returned to Paris to convalesce. He left Fr. Faber with the responsibility of leading the other men to Venice where he would meet them.
The men, with Fr. Faber in charge, left Paris on November 15, 1536 and met St. Ignatius in January 1537. They planned to sail for the Holy Land, but they had to wait for the right time to set sail. While they waited, they worked in two of the hospitals in Venice.
In March, St. Ignatius sent Fr. Faber to Rome, seeking the Pope’s approval for their pilgrimage. Although the Holy Father gave them his assent to the trip, he warned Fr. Faber that they might not be able to go because Venice and the Turks were on the verge of war. And so it happened and the trip was canceled.
Instead, the men went to Rome and placed themselves at the service of the Pope. At first, Fr. Faber taught theology and Scripture at Sapienza University — until May 1539. Then he was sent to the Diet of Worms and later to the Diet of Ratisbon in 1541.
While in Germany, he found two trends profoundly disturbing. First of all, he deplored the decadence of the clergy and realized that reform of the clergy was desperately needed. He also noticed the deep unrest in Germany provoked by the Protestants.
His approach to this reform was not fire and brimstone, but an uncommon understanding of the need for the clergy to aspire after loftier ideals, beyond the pleasures of this temporal existence. As Johann Cochlaeus said, “Fr. Faber was a master of the life of the affections.”
While there, Fr. Faber wrote to St. Ignatius, informing him of the events and also telling him that there was enough work to keep ten more Jesuits busy.
The talks of the Diet progressed until the discussion of the Real Presence came up on the agenda. The Protestants would not change their erroneous position as the talks fell apart.
At the request of King John III of Portugal, Fr. Faber was sent to Portugal in July 1544. For two years, he spent his time traveling by foot throughout Portugal and Spain, even though he had frequent bouts of fever.
In 1546 Pope Paul III called Fr. Faber to Rome to be a papal theologian at the Council of Trent. Even though his constitution was ravaged by sickness, he obediently prepared to leave. After he embarked at Barcelona, he went to northern Italy to see St. Ignatius, where the two embraced warmly.
However, before Fr. Faber could leave for Trent, he came down with another fever. Knowing that this would be his last sickness, he prepared for death and waited for it with a holy and serene docility. On July 31, 1546 he made his final Confession and assisted at Mass the following day. While reposing in the arms of St. Ignatius, he received the last sacraments and died on August 1, 1546 — the same day St. Alphonsus Liguori died 241 years later. St. Peter Faber’s feast day is celebrated on August 2.
Fr. Peter’s body was originally interred at Our Lady of the Way church, which was the home of the Jesuit community in Rome. Some years later, when that church was destroyed, it was replaced by the Church of the Gesù. Along with the remains of some other Jesuits, his remains were placed in the crypt of the new church with those of St. Ignatius. St. Francis Xavier’s remains are in Goa, India.
Although both St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier were canonized on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, St. Peter Faber, who was also considered a cofounder of the Jesuits, was not beatified until September 5, 1872 by Pope Pius IX — 250 years after his fellow Jesuits were canonized. He was canonized close to four centuries after them: Pope Francis announced St. Peter’s sainthood on December 17, 2013.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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