St. Peter Chanel

St. Peter Chanel has special veneration in Australia as the first saint to have visited Australia during his life time.

St Peter Chanel

Marist priest and first martyr of Oceania

St Peter Chanel was born 12 July 1803 in Cuet, France. Growing up as the fifth of eight children, Peter attended to family work of leading their flock of sheep to pasture before being encouraged by Father Trompier, a neighbouring parish priest, to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. Young Peter moved to Cras, France and under the careful tutelage of Fr Trompier, grew in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Eucharist - and the idea of a missionary life.

On 15 July, 1827 Peter Chanel was ordained to the priesthood, became curate in the parish of Amberieu, east of Lyon and soon afterwards was entrusted with the care of the remote parish of Crozet, France. This was a journey of patience and steadfastness as Peter worked hard to regain the trust and goodwill of these parishioners.

Four years later Fr. Peter joined the infant Society of Mary, following the two instincts which were to have great influence in his life: a deep love for Our Lady and a sense of being called to the foreign missions. As a Marist Father he was sent to the College of Belley, first as spiritual director, then as rector, where the memory of his goodness and gentle but powerful personality is still revered today.

In April 1836 Pope Gregory XVI entrusted the vast mission field of the south-west Pacific to the Society of Mary. Fr. Peter Chanel was amongst the first group to take religious vows and with six fellow Marists, he left the port of Le Havre for the far-flung world of Oceania, on the tide of Christmas Eve. The voyage was long and dangerous, round the Horn and westward across a mostly unchartered Pacific. On 8 November, 1837, almost a year after leaving his homeland and in the company of twenty-year-old Br Marie Nizier, Fr. Peter was left on the tiny dot that was the island of Futuna.

Over the next few years, Peter Chanel worked generously among the thousand inhabitants of Futuna. Along with Br Marie Nizier, these two missionaries set about building shelters, growing food and learning the local language. Progress in bringing the Good News of God was heartbreakingly slow, but Peter Chanel's selflessness and love for this new flock began to have an effect on the natives. They gave him the title, 'the man with the good heart'.

The popularity and increasing success of the mission work brought jealousy and fear to the heart of King Niuliki of Futuna, bringing a halt to the spread of the Gospel. Determined to be rid of the missionaries he gave orders to torment them, before eventually calling for their death. Early in the morning of 28 April 1841, Fr. Peter at 38 years of age, was woken from sleep and clubbed to death. Oceania and the Society of Mary, had their first martyr.

Peter Chanel, a selfless, loving and faithful servant of God did not see the fruit of his labour but the value of his work transformed the flock of the Island of Futuna. Within two years the whole island became Christian, including his murderer. In 1954 Pope Pius XII declared Fr Peter Chanel SM to be a saint and that his feast day be celebrated on 28 April each year.

St Peter Chanel’s death bears witness that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

Legacy - Marist priests and brothers working in Oceania cover a territory as big as Western Europe. The area includes six independent nations, and two French territories.

The Marist Oceania province is the largest in the Society of Mary.

Major Shrine is located on the Island of Futuna

St Peter Chanel’s Feast Day is 28 April

Oceania covers: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Palau, New Caledonia, Samoa, Micronesia, Marshall Island, Solomon, Nauru, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Tonga.

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