Peter of St. Joseph de Betancur was born March 21, 1626, in the village of Vilaflor on the isle of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain. During his childhood and early teens he worked as a shepherd for a small flock of sheep which gave him the opportunity to grow in spiritual matters. After his fathers death he left shepherding and dedicated himself to caring for the family. Inspired to go to Honduras in the Americas as a missionary, he sailed from the port of Santa Cruz but the ship stopped in Havana, Cuba, in 1649. Two years later he arranged to work onboard a ship to pay his fare and again headed out for his cherished goal. He remained on the ship until he became violently ill and was abandoned on a beach without food or money. Despite his illness, he walked for days until he arrived in Santiago, Guatemala, on February 18, 1651, just a month before his 25th birthday.
Upon the advice of a priest, Peter began studies for the priesthood but found the studies too overwhelming and entered the Franciscan Third Order [secular] and received the habit of that order in 1685 and was assigned to the Church of Calvary. Three years later, in an austere palm hut later referred to as "the little house of the Virgin," he began a work he placed under the protection of "Holy Mary of Bethlehem." It became a school for street children, a home for foreign students and a refuge for poor convalescents. This work became known as the first free school of learning in Central America and the first hospital for convalescents in the Spanish colonies of America.
The works and holy life of Brother Peter attracted a group of Franciscan Tertiaries [third order] and a joint effort was established. The Hospital Order of Bethlehem was founded and was
recognized and approved by the Church after Peters death.
Weakened by constant fasting and penance, he succumbed to death from bronchial pneumonia. He died on April 25, 1667, at the tender age of 41. After approval of the required canonical miracle, Brother Peter was entered in the catalogue of the Saints of the Catholic Church. Peter of St. Joseph of Betancur was officially canonized by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on July 30, 2002, in the 335th year after his death.
His works continue today in the Orders of Brothers [Orden de los Hermanos de Belen] in Tenerife, Spain, and in Guatemala, Guatemala, as well as the Congregations of Bethlemite Sisters with their Mother House in Bogota, Columbia SA; Provincial Houses in Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Rome and India. Its only house in the United States is St. Josephs Residence in Dallas, Texas, which is staffed by Sisters from Columbia. Because of his holy example, he has also been called "The St. Francis of the Americas" and "The Man of Charity."