Franciscan Calendar: Saint Peter of Alcantara

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

October 23, 2018

During this season of Wisconsin’s bold colorful leaves, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity shine a light of holiness on St. Peter of Alcantara on the Franciscan Calendar. He was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He humbly served as confessor to Saint Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. (His death came one year before the Council of Trent concluded.)

Born into a noble family—his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain—Peter studied law at Salamanca University, and at 16 he joined the so-called Observant Franciscans, also known as the discalced friars. While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was elected provincial at the age of 39, and he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.

Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. (A great saint to pray to during mid-terms!) While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself.

In 1554, Peter received permission to form a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor. St. Peter of Alcantara, pray for us today!