Peter Claver

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Peter Claver

Petrus Claver, Aethiopum Servus (Peter Claver, Slave of the Africans)
Born26 June 1580
Verdú, Kingdom of Aragon, Spanish Empire
Died8 September 1654(1654-09-08) (aged 74)[1]
Cartagena, New Kingdom of Granada, Spanish Empire
Venerated inCatholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Beatified20 July 1850, Rome by Pope Pius IX
Canonized15 January 1888, Rome by Pope Leo XIII
Major shrineChurch of Saint Peter Claver
Cartagena, Colombia
Feast9 September
PatronageSlaves, Colombia, race relations, ministry to African-Americans, seafarers

Peter Claver SJ (Spanish: Pedro Claver y Corberó; 26 June 1580 – 8 September 1654) was a Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary born in Verdú (Spain) who, due to his life and work, became the patron saint of enslaved people, the Republic of Colombia, and ministry to Africans.

During the 40 years of his ministry in the New Kingdom of Granada, it is estimated he personally baptized around 300,000 people and heard the confessions of over 5,000 people 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[edit]

Claver was born in 1580 into a devoutly Catholic and prosperous farming family in the Spanish village of Verdú,[3] Urgell, located in the Province of Lleida, Spain 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 enslaved people 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 enslaved person."[4]

In the New World[edit]

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

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 enslaved people who were brought from Africa.

By this time, the slave trade had been established in the Americas for about a century. Local Native Americans 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 enslaved people 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 enslaved[edit]

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 miserable conditions. It was difficult to move around on the ships, because those trafficking in slaves 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 enslaved people 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]

Once baptized, Claver saw the slaves as fellow Christians, and encouraged others to treat them as such. During the season when slavers were not accustomed to arrive, he traveled 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 the 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 same quarters as the slaves.[4]

Claver's work on behalf of the enslaved 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[edit]

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 news of his death spread throughout Cartagena many came to his room to pay their last respects. Such was his reputation for holiness that the room was stripped bare of anything that might serve as a relic.[1]

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

He was canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII, along with the 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 Knights of Peter Claver, Inc., is the largest African-American Catholic fraternal organization in the United States. In 2006, a unit was established in San Andres, Colombia. The Order was founded in Mobile, Alabama, and is presently headquartered in New Orleans.[7]
  • Claver's mission continues today in the work of the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS)[12] and his inspiration remains among port chaplains and those who visit ships in the name of the church, through the AoS.[13]
  • The Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver are a religious congregation of women dedicated to serving the spiritual and social needs of the poor around the world, particularly in Africa. They were founded in Austria by the Blessed Mary Theresa Ledóchowska in 1894.[14]
  • Among the many parishes dedicated to St. Peter Claver are those in Lexington, Kentucky,[15] West Hartford, Connecticut,[16] Macon, Georgia,[17] New Orleans, Louisiana,[18] Simi Valley, California,[19] St. Paul, Minnesota,[20] Sheboygan, Wisconsin,[21] Montclair, New Jersey,[22] Baltimore, Maryland,[23] Huntington, West Virginia,[24] and Nairobi, Kenya.[25]
  • Among the many schools dedicated to St. Peter Claver are those in Decatur, Georgia,[26] and Pimville, South Africa.[27] The oldest African American school in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and the oldest African American school still functioning in the State of Florida, is the St. Peter Claver Catholic School.[28]

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 angst among some due to his own slaveholding and treatment of enslaved people (including corporal punishment), and it is alleged that these matters may have initially stalled his canonization. Dr. Katie Grimes of Villanova has gone so far as to call Claver a "White Supremacist" and has accused the Catholic Church of "White supremacism" for championing him.[31]

That said, the sources cited by Grimes' in her criticism stated that Claver allowed uncommon freedom for the enslaved people he purchased (using them in his ministry rather than for hard labor), and resorted to physical punishment solely to prevent what he saw as immoral behavior.[32][33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "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. ^ a b c d "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Peter Claver". Archived from the original on 27 October 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c "Saint Peter Claver". Franciscan Media. 9 September 2016. Archived from the original on 22 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "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. JSTOR 44194944.
  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.

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