St Peter Faber, Jesuit
At times we hear someone recount how an unexpected friend, or a roommate at university, changed the course of his or her life. That happened to Peter Faber (Pierre Lefevre or Favre, in French). As a boy, he herded sheep in the mountains of what is now Haute-Savoie, France. Those around him realized that the little shepherd had an agile mind and an extraordinary memory, so eventually he was taught to read, and in 1525, at the age of nineteen, Peter set out to Paris to study.
At university, he met a new friend: Francis Xavier, from the Basque region of Spain. Soon the two met another Spaniard: Iñigo – or Ignatius – López de Loyola, who was a little older than most students and found some of the university courses difficult. The three became roommates, and Peter tutored the struggling Ignatius in philosophy. What he received in return proved to be priceless: Peter may have been Ignatius’ tutor, but Ignatius, who by that time had acquired a remarkable degree of insight into the spiritual life, became his master in the life in Christ.
In the room they shared, the three spoke of God, of serving the Church, and of working in the Holy Land. Of the three, Peter was ordained to the priesthood first, so when the three roommates, along with four other friends, decided to take vows together in a small chapel on Montmartre in 1534, it was Fr. Peter who received their vows.
A gentle guide
When the friends’ hoped-for journey to the Holy Land proved impossible, this small group of men, who had begun to call themselves the “Society of Jesus,” placed themselves at the disposal of the Pope. Pope Paul III sent Fr. Peter first to various Italian cities, then, in 1540, to Germany, where only two decades before, Martin Luther had stirred up and divided the Church.
Peter was shocked at what he found there. The Church was in disarray not only from the activities of the Reformers, but from what they had been reacting against: the unspiritual life of the clergy, abuses of many kinds, and a dangerous insipidness of the Christian life. A “reform” was indeed needed, he realized, but not the kind that Martin Luther had proposed. So, in addition to the formal tasks the Pope had entrusted him with – taking part in the Protestant-Catholic dialogue the Emperor had called for at the Diet of Worms – Fr. Peter set about the difficult work of an interior, spiritual reform. He befriended hundreds, disarming them with his gentleness, and led people of all ranks and states of life in the profound conversion to the Lord that is at the heart of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Soon the Exercises became so sought-after, and he so esteemed as a guide of souls that he wrote to Ignatius: there was work enough in Germany for ten more Jesuits!
Being spent for the Lord
Fr. Peter was in Germany for just a year when he was sent to Spain, to help the fledgling Jesuit order and direct others in the spiritual life. After Spain came Germany again, then Portugal. Everywhere he walked for the next five years – for he walked to all these places – he made friends and deftly guided people closer to the Lord. Simon Rodrigues, another of the first seven Jesuits, said that his French companion was “endowed with charming grace in dealing with people…. Somehow he entered into friendship in such a way … that his very way of living and gracious conversation powerfully drew to the love of God all those with whom he dealt.”
Fr. Peter was allowing himself to be spent for the Lord and his Church. In 1546, when he was 40, the Pope asked him to serve as a peritus – an expert – at the Council of Trent. Fr. Peter set out in obedience, but after so much travelling and work, his body was failing. He stopped in Rome to see Ignatius for the first time in seven years, arriving exhausted and fevered. The gentle priest never made it to Trent. He died, it is said, in the arms of his superior, former roommate, and brother in the faith on August 1, 1546. Pope Francis canonized him in 2013.