Born in Catalonia, Spain in 1581, Peter Claver joined the Jesuits at the age of 20. While studying philosophy, Peter befriended St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, the college's doorkeeper, who persuaded him to set out for the Americas to spread the Word of God in the missions.
He arrived in Cartagena, Colombia in 1610, and worked among the African slaves for 44 years, until his death.
The approximately 1000 slaves which arrived each month made Cartagena one of the major ports through which slaves from Africa were sold into the New World, despite the prohibition of the Church and repeated condemnations of the Pope. The missionaries there could only hope to alleviate the suffering of the slaves.
Claver did so with heroic commitment, caring for each of the slaves who arrived on the ships, suffering from the trauma of the voyage they had just completed and trembling with fear for what lay ahead. Claver defended them, showed them kindness, cared for them in sickness and won their confidence.
He trained interpreters as catechists, in order to teach the faith to the slaves in their many different tongues. He baptized and ministered the sacraments to over 300,000.
He is quoted as saying: “To love God as He ought to be loved, we must be detached from all temporal love. We must love nothing but Him, or if we love anything else, we must love it only for His sake.”
The upper class of Cartagena, along with the slave merchants and even some of his superiors were opposed to his ministry and denounced him for defiling the Sacraments to creatures who "almost didn’t have souls." However, he persisted in his work among the slaves amid the humiliations and persecutions and lived a rigorous life of prayer and fasting until the day he died September 8, 1654.
St. Peter was canonized on January 16, 1888 by Pope Leo XIII and in 1896, he was proclaimed Patron of all the Catholic missions among people of African descent.