What’s in a Name? Canisius College, Buffalo, New York (1870)

What’s in a Name? Canisius College, Buffalo, New York (1870) December 21, 2018

Founded in 1870 in downtown Buffalo, Canisius College is one of twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. According to the college website:

What began in a single building in downtown Buffalo now consists of 37 buildings located on 72 acres in a residential neighborhood in North-Central Buffalo. We are a masters-level, comprehensive university offering undergraduate, graduate and professional programs that are distinguished by close student-faculty collaboration and experiential learning opportunities that transform the mind and spirit. Canisius promotes the Jesuit principles of excellence, service and leadership through a broad range of learning experiences and a distinct core curriculum that is grounded in the liberal arts. 

Back in 1870, Buffalo had a sizable German immigrant community, and few German-speaking priests. So Bishop John Timon, C.M., asked the German Jesuits to send personnel for a new college in the city.

So why did they name the college Canisius?

Well, St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597) is probably the most significant figure in the history of the Jesuit order in Germany. (He was actually Dutch.) After St. Boniface, the eight-century monk who brought Christianity to the German people, Canisius is called the “Second Apostle of Germany.” The reason is that he did so much to preserve and strengthen Catholic life in the wake of the Reformation. Ordained in 1546, he was one of the earliest members of the Jesuits, and he taught at their first college in Messina before being assigned to Germany, where he spent most of his life. He was beatified in 1864 by Pope Blessed Pius IX, and in 1925 Pius XI canonized him.

For his work as a theologian and catechist, he was named a Doctor of the Church (one of only 33 in the entire history of the Church). In Germany, he worked as a preacher, a diplomat between warring factions, creator of a German catechism, and a pioneer of what would become the Catholic press. These were the years when the printed word was really taking off for the first time.  This was the original social media, and Canisius used it to the fullest. Canisius is the perfect example of the Jesuit seeking to meet people where they’re at, and accompany them on their journey.

So, really, it’s no surprise that a group of nineteenth century German Jesuits starting a new college in Western New York should name it for one of their greatest patron saints.

(*The drawing of St. Peter Canisius is by Pat McNamara.) 

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