St. Peter Orseolo

Author: Rev. Clifford Stevens


Feast: January 10

Peter Orseolo's life reads like a novel of adventure and intrigue, ending in the solitary wilds of the Pyrenees. He was a Venetian nobleman and at the age of twenty became the commander of the Venetian fleet, conducting successful campaigns against the pirates who preyed on ships in the Adriatic. He was married at eighteen and had one son. In 976, there was a popular uprising in Venice; the doge (or chief magistrate), Peter Candiani IV, was murdered, and a large part of the city was destroyed by fire. St. Peter Orseolo was chosen to replace the murdered doge and showed himself a remarkable statesman, one of the greatest to ever rule Venice.

He not only restored the city but began reconstruction of the cathedral of St. Mark, promoted peace, built hospitals, and created social programs to help widows, orphans, and pilgrims. He built a new palace for the doge and settled accounts with the murdered doge's widow, whose suit against the city threatened to destroy it financially.

With these tasks completed, on the night of September 1, 978, he secretly left Venice and took refuge in the Benedictine monastery of Cuxa, on the borders of France and Spain. For a long time, not even his wife and son knew his whereabouts. He cut himself off entirely from his former life and placed himself under the direction of the abbot of the monastery. Later, at the suggestion of St. Romuald, founder of the Camaldoli monks, whom he had met at Cuxa, he retired into even greater solitude. For all his brilliant success, Peter seems to have thought about the move for over ten years and he spent the rest of his life in total solitude with God.

His break with the world was the sensation of the age and was the talk of Venice for decades. He died in 987 and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.

Thought for the Day: Like St. Thomas More, St. Peter Orseolo took his success very lightly and had a secret hunger in his heart for closeness to God. He was somehow touched by the wonder of God, as are all great solitaries, and that wonder drove him into the wilderness where he could be alone with God. His example said something to the people of his age, pointing the way to the reality of God and the magnitude of eternal life.

From 'The Catholic One Year Bible': When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a Roman army captain came and pled with him to come to his home and heal his servant boy who was in bed paralyzed and racked with pain. "Yes," Jesus said, "I will come and heal him." Then the officer said, "Sir, I am not worthy to have you in my home; . . . If you will only stand here and say, 'Be healed,' my servant will get well!"—Matthew 8:5-9

Taken from "The One Year Book of Saints" by Rev. Clifford Stevens published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, IN 46750.