Son of Arnold Denis Donders and Petronella van den Brekel. Peter grew up poor, rarely getting to school, working at home and in a local factory with his brother Martin, and dreaming of becoming a priest. With the help of local priests and a wealthy patron, he enter the seminary at the College of Herlaar at age twenty-two, initially working as a servant while he studied. At age twenty-six her applied to the Franciscans, Jesuits and Redemptorists, but was turned down by each. Ordained on 5 June 1841 after nearly ten years of work.
Missionary to the Dutch colony in Surinam, Dutch Guiana, arriving in Paramaribo on 16 September 1842. Evangelized and ministered to plantation slaves, constantly in touch with his superiors to complain of the terrible treatment of the workers. He baptized at least 1200 in his first couple of years, and worked among the sick during an epidemic in 1851. Transferred to the leper colony of Batavia in 1856. There he ministered to both the body and soul of the 600 or so patients. His constant harassment of the colonial authorities resulted in much better care for the patients.
When the Redemptorists arrived in Surinam in 1866 to take charge of the mission, Peter joined the Order, becoming a 57 year old novice in 1866, and making his final vows on 24 June 1867. He then returned to Batavia with a crew of Redemptorists ready to help the lepers. With the added help, Father Peter expanded his work, and began to evangelize the Indians in the region. He learned their languages and had made a good start on the work when his health failed. His superiors transferred him to easier assignments, but as the end approached, Peter returned to Batavia where he worked with the patients until his end.
“We can say that he was an apostle of the poor. In fact, he was born into a poor family and had to lead the life of a worker before he could pursue his priestly vocation. He dedicated his whole priestly life of the poor. In addition, he is an invitation and an incentive for the renewal and reflourishing of the missionary thrust which in the last century and in this one has made an exceptional contribution to carrying out of the Church’s missionary duty. Joining the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer late in life, he practiced in an excellent way what Saint Alphonsus proposed as an ideal for his religious: imitate the virtues and examples of the Redeemer in preaching the divine word to the poor.”
~St.Pope John Paul II in the beatification homily for Blessed Peter