16 Petrus Canisius (En)

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Period: 
Explorers and reformers
Petrus Canisius (Peter Kanis) became famous throughout Europe as a defender of the Catholic religion. His name is closely linked to Nijmegen even though he only lived there for the first fifteen years of his life.

Petrus Canisius, son of the Nijmegen mayor Jacob Kanis was born in Broerstraat in 1521. After a university education in Cologne and Leuven he was the first Dutch person to join the newly founded order of Jesuits. This was during the Counter-Reformation, the movement within the Catholic Church that resisted the Reformation. Petrus Canisius travelled through Europe as a Jesuit working on strengthening the Catholic Church. He took part in the Council of Trent, where the Catholic faith was re-established as the response to the Reformation. He also founded Jesuit houses and colleges in several German speaking countries. Even though he was one of the leaders of the Counter-Reformation, Canisius was very tolerant towards people with opinions that differed from his own. He died in 1597 aged 76 in Fribourg (Switzerland).

Petrus Canisius was famous for his catechism, which was written in Latin and published in Vienna in 1555. The book, based on the Bible, oral tradition and the teachings of the Church Fathers counters Luther’s catechism of 1529. The catechism deals with the entire Catholic faith in a question and answer style. In addition to the full version, Canisius wrote a short catechism for students and an even shorter version for young children. Over a thousand copies of the shorter version were published and it was translated into at least 25 different languages.

Petrus Canisius regularly stayed in touch with his Nijmegen relatives throughout his life, but he rarely visited the city of his birth. The times he is known to have been in Nijmegen were when his father, Jacob Kanis, died in 1543, followed later by two short visits. He was not forgotten in Nijmegen. In 1636 Jesuits from Emmerich purchased the house in Broertsraat where he was born. They converted the room in which he was born into a chapel. The Jesuits were able to keep the memory of the man who made his mark throughout Europe alive in Nijmegen during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Eventually Petrus Canisius was canonised in 1925. Two years later a statue of him was erected in the Hunnerpark. The opening of Canisius College in 1900, run by Jesuits until the mid-1970s, resulted in Petrus Canisius becoming even more closely affiliated with Nijmegen in the twentieth century. Canisius hospital opened in 1926 and Canisiussingel also bears his name.
A Nijmegen saint
1521-1597
Petrus Canisius in Hunnerpark. statue by Toon Dupois, 1927 (AM)

Source: Hans Bots, in: De Canon van Nijmegen, Uitgeverij Vantilt (Nijmegen 2009)