St Peter Chanel, also known as Pierre Louis Marie Chanel, was a Catholic missionary priest of the Society of Mary or “Marists”.
He was born on July 12 1803 in Montrevel-en-Bresse, Ain, France.
He died as a martyr on April 28 1841 (aged 37) in Futuna Island in Oceania.
We celebrate his feast day on April 28 every year in the Catholic Church.
|St Peter Chanel, Priest Biography
|Date of Birth
|July 12 1803
|Place of Birth
|Montrevel-en-Bresse, Ain, France
|Saints who were Priests
|Marist missionary, Priest
|Place of Work
|France and Futuna Island
|Date of Death
|April 28 1841
|Place of Death
|Futuna Island in Oceania
|Beatified by Pope Leo XIII on November 17 1889
|Canonized by Pope Pius XII on June 12 1954
|Patron Saint of
St Peter Chanel’s Biography
Saint Peter Chanel was born on July 12 1803, in a small village called La Potière, situated close to Montrevel-en-Bresse, in the Ain department of France.
He was born to a family of peasants named Claude-François Chanel and Marie-Anne Sibellas, and was the fifth child among their eight children.
At the tender age of seven, he began working as a shepherd, taking care of his father’s flock of sheep.
The parish priest in Peter’s locality convinced his parents to let him enroll in a small school that the priest had established.
Following some basic education in his hometown, Peter’s exceptional devotion and intellect caught the notice of a visiting priest named Abbé Trompier from Cras.
Consequently, Abbé Trompier took charge of Peter’s education in Cras from the autumn of 1814. Peter received his first communion on March 23, 1817.
Since that moment, Chanel developed a fascination for foreign missions. This inclination was sparked after he read correspondences from missionaries serving in America that were sent by Bishop Louis William Valentine Dubourg.
PeterChanel reflected later, saying, “It was during that year that I first contemplated the idea of venturing into foreign missions.” In 1819, he joined the minor seminary in Meximieux, where he excelled in Latin, Christian doctrine, and oratory, earning several academic distinctions and prizes.
He continued his education at the Belley diocesan college in 1823 and subsequently enrolled in the major seminary at Brou in 1824.
On July 15, 1827, Chanel was ordained and served as an assistant priest in Ambérieu-en-Bugey for a short period.
During this time, he read letters from a former curate of the same parish who had become a missionary in India.
While in Ambérieu, he befriended Claude Bret, who later became one of the initial Marist Missionaries. In the subsequent year, Chanel expressed his desire to embark on missionary work to the Bishop of Belley.
However, his request was declined, and instead, he was assigned as a parish priest for three years in Crozet.
Chanel’s fervor was admired, and his attentive treatment of the ill in the community gained him the affection of the locals.
It was during this period that Chanel learned of a faction of diocesan priests who were interested in forming a religious order devoted to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
At 28 years old, in 1831, Chanel became a member of the recently established Society of Mary (Marists), an organization focused on local and foreign missionary work.
Despite Chanel’s desire to become a missionary, the Marists assigned him to serve as the spiritual mentor at the seminary of Belley, a position he held for five years.
In 1836, the Marists received a request to dispatch missionaries to the southwestern Pacific region.
Chanel, who had taken his vows as a Marist along with other candidates on September 24, 1836, was appointed as the leader of a group of seven Marist missionaries.
On December 24, 1836, they embarked on their journey from Le Havre on the Delphine, alongside the recently appointed Bishop of Maronea (Western Oceania), Jean-Baptiste Pompallier.
Chanel’s journey began with a stop in the Canary Islands (January 8, 1837), where his companion, Claude Bret, contracted a flu-like illness and ultimately passed away at sea on March 20, 1837.
Afterwards, Chanel traveled to Valparaíso, Chile (June 28), where the French Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (also known as the “Picpus Fathers”) were situated and responsible for the administration of the Apostolic Vicariate of Eastern Oceania.
Chanel’s third and fourth destinations were the Gambier Islands (September 13) and Tahiti (September 21). Upon their arrival in Vava’u, Tonga, the missionaries were not received hospitably and thus proceeded to Futuna. Chanel went to nearby Futuna, and reached his destination on November 8, 1837.
At first, the missionaries were greeted warmly by Niuliki, the king of Futuna. Although Chanel found it challenging to learn the local language, he persisted and eventually became proficient.
Despite facing numerous challenges and a lack of resources, he demonstrated unwavering patience and bravery.
Tragically, on February 2, 1839, a cyclone swept through the island, destroying nearly all of the houses and crops.
Chanel worked diligently in the midst of enormous difficulties, caring for the sick, administering last rites to the dying, and earning the nickname “the man with the kind heart” from the local community.
His mission was a challenging one, as he had to deal with isolation and adapt to unfamiliar foods and customs, but over time, he started to see some positive results.
Chanel faced many challenges during his mission, but eventually, he was able to baptize a few natives and instruct others.
However, King Niuliki was concerned that Christianity would undermine his authority and didn’t support the missionaries.
When his son, Meitala, sought to be baptized, the king sent his son-in-law, Musumusu, to deal with the situation.
Musumusu and Meitala fought, and Musumusu, injured, went to Chanel for medical help. While Chanel was attending to him, Musumusu’s group ransacked his house, and Musumusu himself killed Chanel with an ax and club on 28 April 1841. Despite the tragedy, Chanel’s legacy lived on.
After learning of Chanel’s death, Jean-Baptiste François Pompallier, who was the first Catholic bishop in New Zealand, arranged for Chanel’s body to be brought to New Zealand.
The body was then transported to the motherhouse of the Society of Mary in Lyon, France. In 1977, the relics were brought back to Futuna. Later, in 1985, the skull was also returned to Futuna.
Catherin Servant, François Roulleaux-Dubignon, and Marie Nizier were sent by Pompallier to return to the island, and they arrived on June 9, 1842.
With time, many islanders converted to Catholicism, including Musumusu himself who expressed the desire that he be buried outside the church at Poi so that those who came to revere Chanel would walk over his grave to reach it.
A special action song and dance called eke was created by the people of Futuna after Chanel’s death, and it is still performed in Tonga.
Chanel was beatified and declared a martyr in 1889. He was later canonized on 12 June 1954 by Pope Pius XII. Chanel is acknowledged as the patron saint and protomartyr of Oceania.
His feast day is celebrated on 28 April, which is observed as a public holiday in Wallis and Futuna.
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