15. St. Peter Claver, Loyola University Chicago

St. Peter Claver
Loyola University of Chicago, 1870
Chicago, Illinois

Saint Peter Claver (1580-1654) was a native of Verdu, a farming community in Catalonia, Spain. As a young teenager, he knew that he wanted to become a priest. When he went on to college studies in Barcelona at age 16, Peter got to know the Jesuits who had a small college there and asked to join them. He was accepted, and made his vows as a Jesuit when he was 24.

When he was sent to study at the Jesuit college of Montesión in Palma on the Island of Majorca, he became friends with Brother Alphonsus Rodriguez, who at 72 years of age was well-known as an excellent spiritual guide. At the Brother’s suggestion, Peter considered the possibility, and then decided to ask, that his superiors send him as a missionary to the New World. His request was accepted, and he went to Bogatá in what is now Columbia, to complete his theological studies.

Peter was ordained in Cartagena, where he devoted himself for the rest of his life to helping the thousands of African slaves who arrived there each year destined for servitude throughout the Americas. The slaves’ conditions on the ships were so terrible that many died in transit. As soon as he heard that a slave ship was arriving, Father Claver went through the wealthy port town of Cartegena begging for food, especially fruit and sweets that he would give to the slaves even before they were taken off the ships. He would embrace each slave, and with an interpreter for the particular dialect of each arriving group, he greeted them with kindness. He gave special attention to the sick and to the dying who were still in the holds of the ships, cleansing and bandaging their wounds.

Once the slaves were taken ashore, but before they were sent elsewhere, the saint won their confidence, speaking to them of God with the help of his interpreters, who had once been slaves themselves. Even when the slaves were taken to farms and ranches in the area, Peter would visit them and continue to teach them. Though their instruction time was relatively brief, many chose to be baptized. Peter Claver estimated that in the course of his years of service with the slaves he had baptized more than 300,000.

After 35 years of not only caring for the slaves, but also for any who were in the hospitals in Cartegena, while ministering to plague victims the saint himself contracted the illness. He was a patient for three years before dying in 1654.

Saint Peter is depicted wearing an old and faded cassock that contrasts with the bright attire of the young slave boy to whom he is giving a drink from a crystal water bottle. There is a fire at the saint’s head, representing one of his ministrations of warming the nearly-dead slaves just off a ship. The sun rising from a sea flanked by palm trees represents his assignment to the tropics.

The shield of Loyola University of Chicago is divided into quarters. The first and fourth quadrants bear the Oñaz arms of seven red stripes on a gold field, the second and third quadrants show the coat of arms of Loyola: silver wolves grasping the chains of a black cauldron. The inscription reads: Loyola University, Chicago; the date of foundation is 1870. The school colors are crimson and gold.