16. St. Peter Canisius, St. Peter's College

St. Peter Canisius
St. Peter's College, 1872
Jersey City, New Jersey

Saint Peter Canisius (1521-1597) was born in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. When he was 17 years of age he began his college studies at the University of Cologne in Germany. Within 5 years he had earned a Master’s degree and began to think of becoming a priest. When he heard about a new religious order, the Jesuits, Peter went to Mainz, where he not only learned about the Society of Jesus but decided to become a Jesuit himself.

Within a year of his ordination to the priesthood in 1546, Father Canisius had become so well known for his wise understanding of theology that he was taken to the Council of Trent as an advisor for Cardinal Otto Truchsess of Augsburg. Afterwards, he went to Rome, where the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, assigned Peter to teach in the Jesuits’ first college, in Messina. A year later, he was sent to Germany at the request of the Pope to counteract the widespread lack of knowledge, and appreciation for their faith, of the Catholics there.

Once was back in Germany, Peter began teaching in the University at Ingolstat but soon found that his preaching was much more effective than classroom teaching. That did not diminish at all his appreciation for the need of quality higher education, and over the course of about 30 years he established 18 new colleges. Peter become most well-known for the books he wrote called “catechism” first for college students, then for younger persons. These books went through 200 printings during his lifetime and were popular for hundreds of years afterwards.

During almost 50 years of preaching and teaching, administration and fund-raising, St. Peter still found that his favorite and most effective work was in speaking directly to people about their faith. Even after suffering a stroke, which prevented any further public preaching, he continued to put his pastoral thoughts into print, publishing 37 books before he died.

Saint Peter Canisius is pictured in a cassock, surplice and purple stole, which represent his priestly ministry. Also, he holds two maces of office, one tipped with the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, the other with the papal cross of three cross bars. An open book, the symbol of learning, is at his feet. All these elements refer to the many Jesuit universities he founded in Germany.

The shield of Saint Peter’s College features a peacock in front of two crossed keys. The Dutch East India Company ceded Jersey City and its environs to Michael Pauw of Amsterdam, from whose name the region came to be known as Pavonia, the land of the peacock. The keys represent the College’s patron Saint Peter the Apostle, who was given “the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.” The IHS and the three nails at the top of the shield are from the seal of the Society of Jesus. The inscription reads: Saint Peter’s college, Jersey City; the date of foundation is 1872. The school colors are white and blue.