A seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit, Peter Claver was for 40 years a missionary among the Negro slaves of South America. He was born in Verdu, in Catalonia, Spain, in 1581, and he died in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1654. After Peter graduated from the University of Barcelona, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Tarragona in 1601. He was later sent to the college of Montesione in Palma, in Majorca. There he came under the influence of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, who encouraged him to work as a missionary in the New World.
In 1610 Peter was assigned to Cartagena, Colombia, where he was ordained in 1615. This port city was a major point of entry for Negro slaves imported from Africa to work in the mines, since the native Indians were not physically fit for the task. Although one-third of the Negroes perished during the voyage, about 10,000 slaves passed through the port each year. Peter devoted his life to helping these unfortunate victims, who lived under indescribable conditions of disease and hardship. He tried to better their condition by providing them with medicine, food, and clothing. He preached missions with great success and is said to have baptized more than 300,000 people during his 40-year ministry. Pope Leo XIII canonized him in 1888 and in 1896 declared him to be the patron of all Catholic missionary activity among Negroes.
(Adapted from Fr. Butler’s Lives of the Saints)