Peter Claver

Last updated

Peter Claver

Petrus Claver, Aethiopum Servus (Peter Claver, Slave of the Africans)
Religious, priest and confessor, Patron of the missions to African people and human rights defender.
Born26 June 1580
Verdú, Urgell, Lleida,
Died8 September 1654(1654-09-08) (aged 74) [1]
Cartagena, New Kingdom of Granada, Spanish Empire
Venerated in Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Beatified 20 July 1850, Rome, Papal States by Pope Pius IX
Canonized 15 January 1888, Rome, Italy by Pope Leo XIII
Major shrine Church of Saint Peter Claver
Cartagena, Colombia
Feast 9 September
Patronage Slaves, Colombia, race relations, ministry to African-Americans, seafarers

Peter Claver (Spanish : Pedro Claver y Corberó; Catalan : Pere Claver i Corberó; 26 June 1580 – 8 September 1654) was a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary born in Verdú (Catalonia, Spain) who, due to his life and work, became the patron saint of slaves, the Republic of Colombia, and ministry to African Americans. During the 40 years of his ministry in the New Kingdom of Granada, it is estimated he personally baptized around 300,000 people (in groups of 10) and heard the confessions of over 5,000 slaves per year. He is also patron saint for seafarers. He is considered a heroic example of what should be the Christian praxis of love and of the exercise of human rights. [2] The Congress of the Republic of Colombia declared September 9 as the Human Rights national Day in his honor.


Early life

Claver was born in 1580 into a devoutly Catholic and prosperous farming family in the Catalan village of Verdú, [3] Urgell, located in the Province of Lleida, about 54 miles (87 km) from Barcelona. He was born 70 years after King Ferdinand of Spain set the colonial slavery culture into motion by authorizing the purchase of 250 African slaves in Lisbon for his territories in New Spain.

Later, as a student at the University of Barcelona, [3] Claver was noted for his intelligence and piety. After two years of study there, Claver wrote these words in the notebook he kept throughout his life: "I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave." [4]

In the New World

After he had completed his studies, Claver entered the Society of Jesus in Tarragona at the age of 20. When he had completed the novitiate, he was sent to study philosophy at Palma, Mallorca. While there, he came to know the porter of the college, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a laybrother known for his holiness and gift of prophecy. [5] Rodriguez felt that he had been told by God that Claver was to spend his life in service in the colonies of New Spain, and he frequently urged the young student to accept that calling. [3]

Portrait of St. Peter Claver in the museum Palace of Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia Peter Claver.jpg
Portrait of St. Peter Claver in the museum Palace of Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Claver volunteered for the Spanish colonies and was sent to the New Kingdom of Granada, where he arrived in the port city of Cartagena in 1610. [6] Required to spend six years studying theology before being ordained a priest, he lived in Jesuit houses at Tunja and Bogotá. During those preparatory years, he was deeply disturbed by the harsh treatment and living conditions of the black slaves who were brought from Africa.

By this time, the slave trade had been established in the Americas for about a century. Local natives were considered physically ill-suited to work in the gold and silver mines. Mine owners met their labor requirements by importing blacks from Angola and Congo, whom they purchased in West Africa for four crowns a head or bartered for goods and sold in America for an average two hundred crowns apiece. Others were captured at random, especially able-bodied males and females deemed suitable for labor. [7]

Cartagena was a slave-trading hub and 10,000 slaves poured into the port yearly, crossing the Atlantic from West Africa under conditions so foul that an estimated one-third died in transit. Although the slave trade was condemned by Pope Paul III and Urban VIII had issued a papal decree prohibiting slavery, [7] (later called "supreme villainy" by Pope Pius IX), it was a lucrative business and continued to flourish. [6]

Claver's predecessor in his eventual lifelong mission, Alonso de Sandoval, was his mentor and inspiration. [6] Sandoval devoted himself to serving the slaves for 40 years before Claver arrived to continue his work. Sandoval attempted to learn about their customs and languages; he was so successful that, when he returned to Seville, he wrote a book in 1627 about the nature, customs, rites and beliefs of the Africans. Sandoval found Claver an apt pupil. When he was solemnly professed in 1622, Claver signed his final profession document in Latin as: Petrus Claver, aethiopum semper servus (Peter Claver, servant of the Ethiopians [i.e. Africans] forever).

Ministry to the slaves

Church of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena, Colombia, where Claver lived and ministered 131 Cathedral San Pedro Claver Dome Cartagena.JPG
Church of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena, Colombia, where Claver lived and ministered

Whereas Sandoval had visited the slaves where they worked, Claver preferred to head for the wharf as soon as a slave ship entered the port. Boarding the ship, he entered the filthy and diseased holds to treat and minister to their badly treated, terrified human cargo, who had survived a voyage of several months under horrible conditions. It was difficult to move around on the ships, because the slave traffickers filled them to capacity. The slaves were often told they were being taken to a land where they would be eaten. Claver wore a cloak, which he would lend to anyone in need. A legend arose that whoever wore the cloak received lifetime health and was cured of all disease. After the slaves were herded from the ship and penned in nearby yards to be scrutinized by crowds of buyers, Claver joined them with medicine, food, bread, lemons. With the help of interpreters and pictures which he carried with him, he gave basic instructions. [8]

Claver saw the slaves as fellow Christians, encouraging others to do so as well. During the season when slavers were not accustomed to arrive, he traversed the country, visiting plantation after plantation, to give spiritual consolation to the slaves. [9] During his 40 years of ministry it is estimated that he personally catechized and baptized 300,000 slaves. He would then follow up on them to ensure that as Christians they received their Christian and civil rights. His mission extended beyond caring for slaves, however. He preached in the city square, to sailors and traders and conducted country missions, returning every spring to visit those he had baptized, ensuring that they were treated humanely. During these missions, whenever possible he avoided the hospitality of planters and overseers; instead, he would lodge in the slave quarters. [4]

Claver's work on behalf of slaves did not prevent him from ministering to the souls of well-to-do members of society, traders and visitors to Cartagena (including Muslims and English Protestants) and condemned criminals, many of whom he spiritually prepared for death; he was also a frequent visitor at the city's hospitals. Through years of unremitting toil and the force of his own unique personality, the slaves' situation slowly improved. In time he became a moral force, the Apostle of Cartagena. [4]

Illness, and death

The bones of Claver under an altar at the Church of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena 038 Bones of San Pedro Claver in Cathedral.JPG
The bones of Claver under an altar at the Church of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena

In the last years of his life Peter was too ill to leave his room. He lingered for four years, largely forgotten and neglected, physically abused and starved by an ex-slave who had been hired by the Superior of the house to care for him. He never complained about his treatment, accepting it as a just punishment for his sins. [1] He died on 8 September 1654.

When the people of the city heard of his death, many forced their way into his room to pay their last respects. Such was his reputation for holiness that they stripped away anything to serve as a relic. [1]

The city magistrates, who had previously considered him a nuisance for his persistent advocacy on behalf of the slaves, ordered a public funeral and he was buried with pomp and ceremony. The extent of Claver's ministry, which was prodigious even before considering the astronomical number of people he baptized, came to be realized only after his death.

He was canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII, along with the holy Jesuit porter, Alphonsus Rodriguez. In 1896 Pope Leo also declared Claver the patron of missionary work among all African peoples. [3] His body is preserved and venerated in the church of the Jesuit residence, now renamed in his honor. [10]


"No life, except the life of Christ, has moved me so deeply as that of Peter Claver". [11]

Pope Leo XIII, on the occasion of the canonization of Peter Claver

Many organizations, missions, parishes, religious congregations, schools and hospitals bear the name of St. Peter Claver and also claim to continue the Mission of Claver as the following:

The Congress of the Republic of Colombia declared September 9 as the Human Rights national Day in his honor. [29] [30]


His canonization has caused controversy among some groups due to his own slaveholding and treatment of slaves, and it is said by some that these matters initially stalled the sainthood process. Dr. Katie Grimes of Villanova has emphasized this point in various scholarly articles and in her book "Fugitive Saints", released in 2017. She has gone so far as to call St Claver a "White Supremacist" and has accused the Catholic Church of the same for championing him. [31]

That said, the sources used for this criticism also note that St Claver allowed uncommon freedom for the slaves he purchased (intending to use them for ministry rather than hard labor), and used physical punishment not to enforce labor but to prevent what he viewed as immoral behavior. [32] [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

Society of Jesus Male religious congregation of the Catholic Church

The Society of Jesus is a religious order of the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome. It was founded by Ignatius of Loyola and six companions with the approval of Pope Paul III in 1540. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.

Cartagena, Colombia City in Bolívar, Colombia

Cartagena, known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias, is a city and major port on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region. Founded in 1533, the city's strategic location between the Magdalena and Sinú Rivers gave it easy access to the interior of New Granada and made it a main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, establishing its importance by the early 1540s. During the colonial era it was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for the import of enslaved Africans under the asiento system. It was defensible against pirate attacks in the Caribbean.

Catholic Church in Nigeria

The Catholic Church in Nigeria is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, the curia in Rome, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). The present president of the CBCN as of 2020 is Augustine Obiora Akubeze, Archbishop of Benin city, who was preceded by the Archbishop of Jos Catholic Diocese, Ignatius Kaigama.

Pope Francis 266th pope of the Catholic Church

Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State. Francis is the first pope to be a member of the Society of Jesus, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since Gregory III, a Syrian who reigned in the 8th century.

Timeline of the Catholic Church

The history of the Catholic Church is integral to the history of Christianity as a whole. It is also, according to church historian, Mark A. Noll, the "world's oldest continuously functioning international institution." This article covers a period of just under two thousand years

Wlodimir Ledóchowski

Very Rev. Włodzimierz Halka Ledóchowski, S.J. was a Polish nobleman who was the twenty-sixth Superior-General of the Society of Jesus from 11 February 1914 until his death. Prior to taking holy orders, he was briefly a page in the Habsburg Court.

Mary Theresa Ledóchowska Polish Roman Catholic sister

Mary Theresa Ledóchowska, was a Polish Roman Catholic Religious Sister and missionary, who founded the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, dedicated to service in Africa. She has been beatified by the Catholic Church.

Catholic Church in South Korea Overview of the role of the Catholic Church in South Korea

The Catholic Church in South Korea is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. At the end of 2017, it had 5,813,770 members with 5,360 priests and 1,734 parishes.

Popes Worldwide Prayer Network

The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network is a Pontifical Society of the Catholic Church which encourages Catholics to prayer and action as part of the church's universal mission. The Network provides monthly prayer intentions determined by the Pope. It is particularly inspired by devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and its compassion for the world.

Knights of Peter Claver Largest and oldest-continually existent predominantly African-American lay Catholic organization

The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. and Ladies Auxiliary is an international Black Catholic fraternal service order. It is also the largest and oldest extant Black Catholic lay-led organization overall. They are currently led by their Supreme Knight, James K. Ellis.

Institute of the Good Shepherd

The Institute of the Good Shepherd is a Catholic society of apostolic life of traditionalist Catholic priests in full communion with the Holy See.

Louis Bertrand (saint)

Louis Bertrand was a Spanish Dominican friar who preached in South America during the 16th century, and is known as the "Apostle to the Americas". He is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church.

Catholic Church in Africa

The Catholic Church in Africa is part of the worldwide Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See in Rome.

Loosdorf Place in Lower Austria, Austria

Loosdorf is a little town in the district of Melk in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. One of its historical buildings is the Hohe Schule founded in 1574 or a few years earlier by the Austrian nobleman Hans Wilhelm von Losenstein, the lord of the nearby castle Schallaburg. It served as a Lutheran grammar school (gymnasium) from about 1574 until 1627.

St Peter Claver College is a Roman Catholic co-educational secondary school located in the suburb of Riverview in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. It was founded in 1976, on the traditional lands of the Ugarapul clan of the Yuggera Nation, and was named in honour of St Peter Claver, the Spanish Jesuit priest and patron saint of the slaves.

St. Peter Claver Cathedral, Bangassou Church in Bangassou, Central African Republic

The St. Peter Claver Cathedral or just Bangassou Cathedral, is a religious building belonging to the Catholic Church and is located in the town of Bangassou part of Mbomou prefecture, south of the Central African Republic.

Antonio Sanz Lozano was a Spanish-born prelate of the Catholic Church in the Viceroyalty of Peru in what is now Colombia. From 1661 to 1680, he served as bishop of Cartagena, and from 1680 until his death in 1688, as archbishop of Santafé en Nueva Granada.

Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, Cartagena

The Iglesia de San Pedro Claver is a church located in Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia. This church and its convent are located in the Plaza de San Pedro Claver.

Alonso de Sandoval was a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary in Colombia. He devoted most of his life to the evangelization of Black slaves arriving in the Colombian port city of Cartagena, and was the mentor of Saint Peter Claver. He is also known for his treatise De Instauranda Æthiopum Salute, a major contribution to the study of the slave trade and the condition of Black slaves in Cartagena.


  1. 1 2 3 "St. Peter Claver, SJ (1581-1654)". Ignatian Spirituality. LoyolaPress. Archived from the original on 13 August 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  2. "La virtud heroica del "esclavo de los esclavos" en Claver, de Oswaldo Díaz Díaz". Más allá del héroe. Antología crítica de teatro histórico hispanoamericano. Editorial Universidad de Antioquía. 2008. p. 60. ISBN   978-958-714-172-6.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Peter Claver". Archived from the original on 27 October 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 Sladxy, Joseph F.X. (8 September 2014). "St. Peter Claver: Slave of the Slaves Forever". Crisis Magazine. Archived from the original on 23 April 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  5. Catholic News Agency (7 September 2017). "Who was St. Peter Claver, whose tomb the Pope will visit this week?". Crux. Archived from the original on 5 February 2020. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  6. 1 2 3 "Saint Peter Claver". Franciscan Media. 9 September 2016. Archived from the original on 22 January 2019.
  7. 1 2 3 "St. Peter Claver". Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  8. "EWTN's Saints and other Holy People Home". EWTN's Saints and Other Holy People. Archived from the original on 26 February 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  9. "The Saints and Beatified Servants of God Who Have Flourished in America". The Metropolitan. June 1854. Archived from the original on 22 August 2018 via Eternal World Television Network.
  10. "Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver". Lonely Planet. Archived from the original on 10 December 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  11. Conti, Servilio (2006). El santo del día (4° ed.). Bonum. p. 388. ISBN   978-950-507-593-5.
  12. "Apostleship of the Sea Welcomes You | AoS". Archived from the original on 14 November 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  13. "St Peter Claver - Patron Saint of Seafarers". Alive Publishing. 11 July 2011. Archived from the original on 10 September 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  14. "Foundress Blessed Mary Theresa Ledóchowska". Missionary Sisters of St Peter Claver of North America. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  15. "St. Peter Claver Parish". Catholic Diocese of Lexington. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  16. "Parish Home - St Peter Claver". Catholic Church of St. Peter Claver. Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  17. "St. Peter Claver". St Peter Claver Catholic Church. Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  18. "Home | St Peter Claver". Archived from the original on 10 June 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  19. "St. Peter Claver Catholic Church". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  20. "Church of St Peter Claver, a Catholic Church in St. Paul". St Peter Claver Church. Archived from the original on 3 September 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  21. "St. Peter Claver, Hmong Catholic Ministries". Sheboygan South Side Catholic Parishes. Archived from the original on 5 July 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  22. "Saint Peter Claver". Saint Peter Claver Church. Archived from the original on 8 December 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  23. "St. Peter Claver". Archdiocese of Baltimore. Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  24. "Home". St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. Archived from the original on 10 July 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  25. "St. Peter Claver Parish". The Catholic Directory. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  26. "St. Peter Claver Regional Catholic School - Decatur, GA". St. Peter Claver Regional Catholic School. Archived from the original on 5 June 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  27. "St Peter Claver Primary School". Catholic Schools in Soweto. Catholic Schools Office. Archived from the original on 1 August 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  28. "History". St. Peter Claver Catholic School. 19 June 2013. Archived from the original on 19 June 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  29. El Congreso de Colombia (18 November 1985). "LEY 95 DE 1985 (NOVIEMBRE 8)" [Law 95 of 1985 (November 8)](PDF). Defensoria del Pueblo (in Spanish). Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  30. Pullella, Philip; Torres, Noe (11 September 2017). "Pope's Sense Of Humor Intact After Minor Popemobile Accident In Colombia". HuffPost Canada. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  31. Dulle, Colleen (8 September 2017). "Who is St. Peter Claver?". America Magazine. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  32. von Germeten, Nicole (2005). "A Century of Promoting Saint Peter Claver and Catholicism to African Americans: Claverian Historiography from 1868-1965". American Catholic Studies. 116 (3): 23–38. ISSN   2161-8542.
  33. Slattery, J. R. (John Richard); Fleuriau, Bertrand Gabriel (1893). The life of St. Peter Claver, S.J. : the apostle of the Negroes. Philadelphia :, H.L. Kilner.