Saint Peter Damian

21 February

If St. Peter Damian had to present his business card, as we do nowadays, to introduce himself to us, it would read something like this: ‘Orphan, worker, student, monk, hermit, priest, teacher, writer, abbot, reformer, bishop, Cardinal… Saint… Doctor of the Church’.

He did all of this during his lifetime between 1007 and 1072. He was born in Ravenna, Italy, in a noble family that had become poor. Being the youngest among seven children he was regarded as a burden. His parents died when he was still very young, so one of his brothers took him into his household. Besides treating him badly, he made him work as a swineherd. However another of Peter’s brothers, Fr. Damian, who was a parish priest in Ravenna, moved him from this dire situation and took him under his protection. He gave him a good education, with Peter proving to be an excellent scholar wherever he was. He was so grateful for all that this brother had done for him that he adopted his brother’s name to his, hence becoming known as Peter Damian.

When he finalised his education, he started teaching at the University. After a while he felt that the University way of life was not for him. After a forty-day retreat in a monastery in Fonte-Avellana, he felt a call for monastic life. He joined the monks in a Benedictine monastery for a life of penance and prayer, giving alms and attending to the poor. At the same time he started teaching the other monks, not only in the monastery where he was but also in other neighbouring monasteries. He was only 35 years  old when he was appointed abbot (superior) of the monastery.

It was at this time that Peter Damian started founding hermitages. These were simple dwellings sometimes attached to a monastery, where holy people would choose to live isolated from society, spending their life in prayer and fasting seeking a closer relationship with God by distancing themselves from the distractions of the world.
During this time the Catholic Church needed reform to be brought back on track to the path of holiness that was meant to bring the faithful in a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Besides, the Church was lacking in holy role models. Peter Damian set out to write letters to Bishops, Cardinals and even to the Pope, in attempts to reform practices that were undermining the call of the Catholic Church.

He was 50 years old when the Pope made him Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, in spite of his insistence to refuse the position. Peter Damian continued to write and speak openly, not being daunted by controversies. He attended a synod held at the Lateran in early 1047 and later another synod in Florence and in Rome, while continuing to write and to speak defending the Catholic Faith, putting his energy in fighting the unhealthy Church practices of those times. At the same time even as a Cardinal he would return to his hermitage seeking to continue with his life of prayer and penance.
He was 65 years old , when after an attack of fever, he died in a monastery near Ravenna. He was acclaimed a saint by the people and later the Church declared him Doctor of the Church.

With Lent on the threshold after the feast day of St Peter Damian, a saint whose life was one of prayer and penance, one might take the opportunity to focus on Lent.

Explain that Lent is a special time when we are invited to do things that bring us closer to God. It means making an effort to behave in the way so that we show God that we are one of His friends.

  • Encourage the children to adopt the attitude of “what I can do” instead of “what I will give up”.
  • Create time to discuss with the children a “mini-programm”for Lent.
  • You might consider creating a kind of journey path for Lent!~ Prepare a drawing of a winding path ending with a diagram of the Cross. Diagrams representing stones, of different shapes and colours can be drawn along the path. The children  write their suggestions on the ‘stones’ of what they plan to do during the weeks of Lent. Children can stick coloured labels / stars surrounding the stones representing their good deeds.

Alternatively, after  a discussion with the children, prepare small coloured papers and together write their suggestions of acts of love and kindness they propose to do during Lent. Place in a jar and at a specific  time every  number of days, papers are picked from the jar with the written suggestion to be adopted for a couple of days.  

–  More about Lent : Lent for Kids

Family Prayer Time
– Still keeping the focus on Lent you might consider including excerpts from the Children’s Bible highlighting the ‘journey’ of the  Lord Jesus leading up to Easter: 

miracles from His Public Ministry

  • Palm Sunday the Last Supper
  • Gethsemane
  • examples from The Way of the Cross
  • Crucifixion
  • Resurrection (do be mindful of the sensitivity of our children especially of the younger ones!)

Point out that even Jesus must have felt afraid, sad and alone and He asked God the Father to support Him. Encourage the children to voice their personal prayer to ask God for His help when they are sad and afraid. End with the assertion that God will always listen to us, will always love us irrespective of how we feel.

    – Worth watching : The Lent Song

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.