Saint of the Day – 19 October – St Peter of Alcantara OFM (1499-1562) – Franciscan Friar and Priest, Mystic, Ecstatic, Writer, Preacher, Reformer, Hermit, Apostle of Prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, the Passion and Charity, Miracle-worker – born in 1499 at Alcantara, Estremadura, Spain and died on 18 October 1562 at Estremadura, Spain of natural causes. Patronages – Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Brazil (named by Pope Blessed Pius IX in 1862), Estremadura Spain (named in 1962), night watchmen, watchmen.
His father, Peter Garavita, was the governor of Alcantara and his mother was of the noble family of Sanabia. After a course of grammar and philosophy in his native town, he was sent, at the age of fourteen, to the University of Salamanca. Returning home, he became a Franciscan in the convent of the Stricter Observance at Manxaretes in 1515. At the age of twenty-two he was sent to found a new community of the Stricter Observance at Badajoz. He was ordained priest in 1524 and the following year made guardian of the convent of St Mary of the Angels at Robredillo. A few years later he began preaching with much success. He preferred to preach to the poor and his sermons, taken largely from the Prophets and Sapiential Books, breathe the tenderest human sympathy.
Having been elected minister of St Gabriel’s province in 1538, Peter set to work at once. At the chapter of Plasencia in 1540 he drew up the Constitutions of the Stricter Observants but his severe ideas met with such opposition that he renounced the office of provincial and retired with St John of Avila into the mountains of Arabida, Portugal, where he joined Father Martin a Santa Maria in his life of eremitical solitude. Soon, however, other friars came to join him and several little communities were established. Peter being chosen guardian and master of novices at the convent of Pallais. In 1560 these communities were erected into the Province of Arabida. Returning to Spain in 1553 he spent two more years in solitude and then journeyed barefoot to Rome and obtained permission of Pope Julius III to found some poor convents in Spain under the jurisdiction of the general of the Conventuals. Convents were established at Pedrosa, Plasencia, and elsewhere; in 1556 they were made a commissariat, with Peter as superior, and in 1561, a province under the title of St Joseph. The reform spread rapidly into other provinces of Spain and Portugal.
In 1562 the province of St Joseph was put under the jurisdiction of the general of the Observants and two new custodies were formed. Besides the above-named associates of Peter may be mentioned St Francis Borgia SJ, St John of Avila (Doctor of the Church) and Blessed Louis of Granada O.P. In St Teresa of Avila OCD (Doctor of the Church), Peter perceived a soul chosen of God for a great work and her success in the reform of Carmel was in great measure due to his counsel, encouragement and defence. It was a letter from St Peter (14 April 1562) that encouraged her to found her first monastery at Avila. St Teresa’s autobiography is the source of much of our information regarding Peter’s life, work and gifts of miracles and prophecy. According to St Teresa of Ávila, it was a very common thing for him to take food only once in three days and that sometimes he would go a week without eating.
Perhaps the most remarkable of Peter’s graces were his gift of contemplation and the virtue of penance. Hardly less remarkable was his love of God, which was at times so ardent as to cause him, as it did St Philip Neri, sensible pain and frequently rapt him into ecstasy. The poverty he practised and enforced was as cheerful as it was real and often let the want of even the necessaries of life be felt. In confirmation of his virtues and mission of reformation God worked numerous miracles through his intercession and by his very presence. Besides the Constitutions of the Stricter Observants and many letters on spiritual subjects, especially to St Teresa, he composed a short treatise on prayer, which has been translated into all the languages of Europe.
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He was a man of remarkable austerity and poverty who travelled throughout Spain preaching the Gospel to the poor. He wrote a Treatise on Prayer and Meditation, which was considered a masterpiece by St Teresa, St Francis de Sales (Doctor of the Church) and Louis of Granada.
While in prayer and contemplation, he was often seen in ecstasies and levitation. On his deathbed, he was offered a glass of water which he refused, saying that “Even my Lord Jesus Christ thirsted on the Cross…” He died while on his knees in prayer on 18 October 1562 in a monastery at Arenas.
He was Beatified on 18 April 1622 by Pope Gregory XV and Canonised on 28 April 1669 by Pope Clement IX.