Petrus Canisius Van Lierde

Petrus Canisius Van Lierde

Petrus Canisius J. van Lierde, O.S.A., born April 22, 1907 † March 12, 1995, served forty years from 1951 to 1991 as Vicar General of the Vatican State, and was the longest serving Vatican official in that position.

Petrus Canisius J. van Lierde was born in Hasselt, Belgium to a Dutch family. After his education, he joined the Order of Saint Augustine and was ordained priest May 30, 1931. After receiving doctorates in theology and philosophy, he headed the Augustinian College Saint Monica in Rome, where he was hiding many refugees including military officers, Jews and anti-fascist politicians during he war years. [Pham 259] Pope Pius XII named him Titular Bishop of Porphyreon in 1951 and Vicar General of the Vatican State. [] October 1958 he gave the last rites to the Pope and presided over his funeral in Saint Peter Basilica. He functioned as Sacristan in four Papal Conclaves, 1958, 1963 and twice in 1978. [Pham 259] After having served forty years and one day, Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation in 1991 [ - 61k] and named him Emeritus Vicar General, with the privilege to maintain his residence inside the Vatican near the papal quarters.

acristan of the Popes

In 1954, when Pope Pius XII seemed to be without hope of survival, he asked for Petrus Canisius Van Lierde to annoint him. Miracuously, the Pope recovered and lived another four years. In May 1963, Pope John XXIII was asking for him. On May 31 it had become clear that the cancer had overcome the resistance of the Pope. At 11 A.M. Petrus Canisius Van Lierde as Papal Sacristan was at the bedside of the dying pope, ready to anoint him. The Pope begins to speak for a very last time: "“I had the great grace to be born into a Christian family, modest and poor, but with the fear of the Lord. …My time on earth is drawing to a close. But Christ lives on and continues his work in the Church. Souls, souls, Ut omnes unum sint," (that all may be one). Van Lierde then anointed his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Overcome by emotion, he forgets the right order of anointing. Pope John gently helps him. Then the Pope bid him and all the other bystanders a last farewell. [Peter Hebblethwaite, John XXIII, Pope of the Council, Revised edition, Harper Collins, Glasgow,1994 502]

Van Lierde and Pope Pius XII

Throughout his life, Van Lierde was an ardent admirer of Pope Pius XII, whose determination and courage to save lives during the German occupation of Rome he repeatedly described.Pius XII possessed a sharp, penetrating intelligence, [Van Lierde 69] an extraordinary memory, a methodical way, and strong will to work, a deep love of God and of people, whom he loved through God and because of Him. Pius XII lived simply when alone, and displayed friendly reluctance, when he met strangers. He had instant capacity to understand the other person and showed great tact towards those who may have been very direct. [Van Lierde 69] From 1958 to 1995, he presided over the annual liturgical celebrations for Pope Pius XII in the crypt of Saint Peter Basilica. In presence of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he led the funeral services of Madre Pascalina Lehnert in the Vatican's Campo Santo. Petrus Canisius J. van Lierde died March 12, 1995, on the anniversary of the coronation of his favourite Pope.


** Pontificio Annuario, Vatican City, 1951-1992
** Peter Pham, " Vatican Heirs of the Fisherman behind the scenes of Papal Death and succession," Oxford University Press 2004


** Petrus Canisius J van Lierde, "Pius XII, in Herbert Schambeck, Pius XII", Butzon & Becker, Kevelaer, 1986
** Petrus Canisius J van Lierde "The Holy See at work, how the Catholic Church is governed", [Translated by James Tucek. Hawthorn Books New York, 1962
** Petrus Canisius J van Lierde, " Prayers and devotions from John Paul II" London. Penguin. 1998. 466 S.. ISBN 0-14-024725-4
** Petrus Canisius J. van Lierde, "What is a Cardinal", Hawthorn Books, New York, 1964


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