Peter Steele grew up in the 'genteelised working class' of post-war Perth (Thomas, 147). He was educated at the Christian Brothers' College, Perth; Loyola College, Melbourne; the University of Melbourne; Canisius College, Sydney and the Jesuit Theological College, Melbourne. Steele went from school to the seminary in 1957. He gained an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne. In 1984. Steele gave the Martin D'Arcy Lectures at the University of Oxford. From 1985 to 1990, he was the Provincial Superior of the Australian Jesuits. Steele taught at the University of Melbourne from 1966 and later administered the Department of English and held a Personal Chair in English there; he went on to become Emeritus Professor of English at the university.
Steele's creative work nourished his innovative teaching, much as his writing interwove with his life as a priest. He was the author of many volumes of poetry. Steele taught new courses in autobiography, travel writing and 'writing the city', and saw his varied roles as bookish pursuits: 'Instead of a talisman or gun I wear a book, averting evil, provisioned for the desert island always near at hand.' (135).
Steele once described himself as 'by background a conservative, by education a liberal, by vocation a radical' (137). He praised the example of the American Jesuit radical, Daniel Berrigan, a personal friend. Thomas (147) comments: 'His intellectual disposition may appear more congenial in Europe or the United States than here. His work only rarely grounds itself in Australian examples or is illuminated by Australian references. He necessarily has had little to do with day-to-day Australian life. Steele nonetheless described himmself as "emphatically and even pugnaciously Australian in orientation"'.
Steele was a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a Visting Professor at the University of Alberta, at Georgetown University and at Loyola University, Chicago. He was a regular contributor to the Jesuit-founded literary magazine, Eureka Street. Steele has also gained recognition as a critic through his books Jonathan Swift: Preacher and Jester (1978) and Flights of the Mind: Johnson and Dante (1997).
(Source: 'Peter Steele' in Mark Thomas Australia in Mind : thirteen influential Australian thinkers (1989): 133-148; 'Steele, Peter (1939-) in William H. Wilde et. al. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1994): 715).