On his own birthday in 2013, Pope Francis used the prerogative of his office to canonize Peter Faber, S.J. (in French, Pierre Favre) and to mark his recurring feast day every Aug. 2. This 16th century French shepherd became one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus along with Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, after they all met while studying at the University of Paris. Pope Francis has long held a devotion to the relatively under-appreciated figure of the three, who was by Ignatius’s estimation the most masterful spiritual director to accompany people on the Spiritual Exercises.
Though called to be a theological expert at the Diet of Worms, the Diet of Ratisbon (Regensburg), and the Council of Trent, Faber famously prioritized personal transformation over arcane theological debate. He moved throughout Germany, Portugal and Spain trying to change the culture of division and heated rhetoric of the Reformation by tranquilly engaging one person at a time and leading them closer to God.
Pope Francis reveres this defining characteristic, Faber’s “dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.” Those close to the pope find resonances between Francis’s hopes for his own leadership qualities and these of (at least one of) his favored Jesuit forefathers.
Peter Faber was a gifted academic student, and so tutored the more impassioned and quixotic Ignatius in the nuances of Greek philosophy, and particularly in Aristotle, who was indispensable for understanding the theology of the day and especially Saint Thomas Aquinas. In response, Ignatius repaid the favor by tutoring Faber in pastoral care for souls yearning to discern their place in life. Faber, the first to be ordained, celebrated the Mass in Montmarte where the Jesuits first pronounced their vows.
Exhausted by his missionary activity, Faber died at the young age of 40. This month marks the 473rd anniversary of his passing in the arms of his friend and mentor Ignatius. His remains are in the Church of the Gesú in Rome not far from Trajan’s Forum, steps away from those of another of the pope’s inspiring leading lights, Father Pedro Arrupe.
In a prayer that can still touch those of us learning about his transcendent aspirations today, Faber once earnestly asked God to remove from him “anything which separates me from You and You from me, … Cast from me every evil that stands in the way of my seeing You, hearing You, tasting You, savoring You, and touching You; fearing and being mindful of You; knowing You, trusting You, loving You, and possessing You; being conscious of You, and, as far as may be here on earth, enjoying You.”
As we (including yours truly) race toward another school year, let us take a moment to remember that education and formation go hand in hand. Rigorous study and attention to detail in lifelong learning should aid, not distract from, our efforts at holistic well-being and ongoing conversion to becoming fully alive, committed to service, and engaged with the social ills and divisions of our day.
Peter Faber can be one among many profound figures we turn to for guidance in how to balance a life of study with one of authentic care for those with whom we walk each day. May those that we serve, accompany, and educate through our Christian witness one day welcome us into the eternal halls where we will know as thoroughly as we are known.
Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.