Saint Peter Damian was born in Ravenna, Italy. At a very young age, he lost both his parents. One of his older brothers took him under his care, but in the long run, was treated more like a slave than a family member. Feeling pity for the young man, another brother, the archpriest of Ravenna, took care of him and truly became a father figure. His name was Damian. Saint Peter was so glad that his brother essentially adopted him, and removed him from the household of the other, that he took his surname and became known as Peter Damian.
He was sent to school by his brother and became a great student who had the skills to learn well and eventually teach others. From his earliest days at school, he focused his attention on prayer, study, work and fasting. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes to help him fight against the temptations of this world and the Devil. He was gracious with his money and often gave it away to others as well as sat with the poor, ate with them, and served them with great joy.
After living in this world for sometime, and with two reformed Benedictine hermits, Saint Peter Damian decided to enter their hermitage. He enjoyed the rule of the order and found himself fitting into the life of a hermit with ease. Along with his brother hermits, he lived a life of deep prayer and spiritual reading. They lived as pairs in austere cells.
As a hermit, he continued to study and found himself a fine student of the Sacred Scriptures. At one point in the hermitage, just as the abbot was about to die, his brothers elected Peter the new abbot unanimously, but he refused the position. The abbot made it a point of obedience for Peter and so he took on the position. He was a good leader who governed the hermitage with great wisdom and pious actions. With the grace of God and humility, Peter Damian founded five more hermitages and appointed men to oversee them. He focused his brothers on the importance of monasticism, humility, and charity.
Being that he was so good as the governor of these hermitages, Popes during his lifetime asked him to be a monitor to the Chair of Saint Peter. He was in the service of the Catholic Church for years. Seeing that he was a faithful steward, Pope Stephen IX elevated him to cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He never enjoyed being bishop of Ostia and constantly asked to be removed from this position in order to return to his hermitage.
Finally, after his dedication to Ostia, Pope Alexander II, released him of his duties as bishop, but asked him to be an advisor on important church business. Although he remained the pope’s advisor, Peter left his duty as bishop as well as gave up his governance of the hermitages. He desired to be a simple monk.
Even as he grew older, he never used simple tools to help him eat. Whatever he asked others to do, he did the same. After moderating official church business in Ravenna under the direction of Alexander II, as he was returning to Rome, Saint Peter Damian caught a fever and died eight days later in Faenza. He entered Heavenly Glory on February 22, 1072, as the monks of the monastery were praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
He is well known for his abilities to run hermitages, oversee church matters at the highest level, and preach and write with articulation. He was an ardent reformer of clerical and monastic abuses. St. Peter was a trailblazer of the Hildebrandine reform in the church, although these reforms occurred years after his death and under his friend, Pope St. Gregory VII.
Pope Leo XII declared St. Peter Damian a saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church in 1828.
Walsh, Michael. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.