Missionary work has been an important part of the Society of Jesus since its foundation, and indeed its formative years saw members travel as far as Japan and Brazil. Europe at this time, however, was in the throes of a religious reformation, and people across the continent were left in need of religious guidance. One missionary who worked tirelessly in this endeavour was Saint Peter Faber.
Born 1506 in a small village near Geneva in the French Alps, Peter Faber grew up as a shepherd. From an early age he proved himself to be an adept learner and a devout Catholic. First he was taught by a local priest, who then encouraged Peter to attend a nearby grammar school at the age of ten. Then, in 1525, at the age of nineteen, he arrived in Paris to attend the University of Paris, where he studied philosophy. Here he shared a room with Francis Xavier and later in 1529 with Ignatius de Loyola, with whom he traded learning: teaching Ignatius Greek while Ignatius instructed him in spiritual matters.
These three, together with four others, took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the Church of Montmartre in 1534. The vows were received by Faber, who had months earlier been ordained as a priest. These seven companions had planned to travel to the Holy Land to preach and convert, but war between Venice and the Turks prevented them from setting out. Instead they stayed in Rome where in 1540 Pope Paul III officially gave approval for the Society of Jesus to be established. At the Pope’s behest Faber travelled to Germany, a country caught in the midst of religious reform. Here Faber found the Catholic Church in a state of upheaval, and set about preaching. Renowned for his personality and gentle persuasiveness, Faber was successful in renewing and reviving catholic faith in many people, teaching the prayers and meditations detailed in Ignatius de Loyola’s book the Spiritual Exercises.
Faber was called by Ignatius to travel to Spain where he continued his missionary work, walking from town to town preaching the Word of God. From here he returned to Germany in early 1542 where he traversed the west of the country teaching and training new Jesuits. So successful was he that King John III of Portugal requested his expertise, and so between 1544 and 1546 Faber spent his time in Spain and Portugal, where in Lisbon he established the Portuguese Society of Jesus. Then in 1546 he was asked to return to Italy, to represent the papacy at the Council of Trent. However his years of wayfaring and missionary work across Europe had had a poor effect on his health, and so upon reaching Rome he was gravely sickened by fever, and died there in the company of Ignatius de Loyola, at the age of forty. Saint Peter Faber was beatified in 1872 and was only canonised in 2013, by Pope Francis.