Peter lived at a very busy time. The Great Western Schism (1378-1417) was settled at the Council of Constance (1414-1418). France and England were fighting the Hundred Years’ War, and in 1453 the Byzantine Empire was completely wiped out by the loss of Constantinople to the Turks. At Peter’s death the age of printing had just begun in Germany, and Columbus’s arrival in the New World was less than 40 years away.
Peter came from a wealthy and pious family in Valladolid, Spain. At the age of 13, he was allowed to enter the Conventual Franciscans. Shortly after his ordination, he was made superior of the friary in Aguilar. He became part of a group of friars who wanted to lead a life of greater poverty and penance. In 1442 he was appointed head of all the Spanish Franciscans in his reform group.
Peter led the friars by his example. A special love of the poor and the sick characterized Peter. Miraculous stories are told about his charity to the poor. For example, the bread never seemed to run out as long as Peter had hungry people to feed. Throughout most of his life, Peter went hungry; he lived only on bread and water.
Immediately after his death on March 31, 1456, his grave became a place of pilgrimage. Peter was canonized in 1746.
Peter was an effective leader of the friars because he did not become ensnared in anger over the sins of others. Peter helped sinning friars rearrange the priorities in their lives and dedicate themselves to living the gospel of Jesus Christ as they had vowed. This patient correction is an act of charity available to all Franciscans, not just to superiors.
“And let all the brothers, both the ministers and servants as well as the others, take care not to be disturbed or angered at the sin or the evil of another, because the devil wishes to destroy many through the fault of one; but they should spiritually help [the brother] who has sinned as best they can, because it is not the healthy who are in need of the physician, but those who are sick (cf. Mt 9:12; Mk 2:17)” (Rule of 1221, Chapter 5).
Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.; revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.