Saint Peter Chanel, Martyr

April 23

Today is the feast day of Saint Peter Chanel.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Peter Chanel was born in 1803 in the diocese of Belley in France.  Peter was the fifth child of his parents; with his older brothers and sisters he was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin at his birth. They were all pious children who prayed and tried to help one another to serve God ever more faithfully. (1)

In 1814 the parish priest, seeing Peter’s good dispositions, arranged for him to study in the town of Cras, and to reside there with his aunt. During the summer the young Christian returned to watch the sheep and continue reading his cherished books in the fields. He began to serve Mass and learned the elements of Latin, and accompanied the priest when he went to take the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and dying. At the age of fifteen Peter passed through a temptation to abandon his studies and return home; a prayer to the Blessed Virgin saved his future vocation. The following year he was sent to the diocesan seminary; three years there left with his fellow candidates unforgettable memories of the pious seminarian. (1)

He was ordained priest in 1827, and engaged in the parochial ministry for a few years; but the reading of letters of missionaries in far-away lands inflamed his heart with zeal, and he resolved to devote his life to the Apostolate. In 1831 he joined the Society of Mary, and in 1836 he embarked for Oceania. (2)

Father Peter Chanel, continued on to Futuna, a volcanic island. There Father Chanel and Brother Marie-Nizier remained, welcomed by the local king of the Polynesian race. The natives already believed in a future immortal life, and the king Niouliki had forbidden cannibalism, but many superstitions still reigned. The two missionaries soon gained the confidence of the natives, learned the language and undertook serious labors to catechize them.  (1)

He was beginning to see the results of his efforts, when Niouluki, king and also pontiff of the island, already jealous of the progress of the new religion, was exasperated by the conversion of his son and daughter. At his instigation, one of the ministers gathered some of the enemies of Christianity and Peter was cruelly assassinated without uttering a word of complaint. Through his death, the venerable martyr obtained what he had so ardently desired and earnestly worked for, the conversion of Futuna. In 1842, two Marist missionaries resumed his work, and nowhere has the preaching of the Gospel produced more wonderful results. Peter was declared Venerable by Pius IX in 1857, and beatified by Leo XIII on 17 November, 1889. (2)

The sacred remains of the martyr were later exhumed and taken to New Zealand, and from there sent in 1851 to Lyons, to the Marist mother house.  (1)

Image: Pierre Chanel (Petelō Saineha), depicted on a glass-in-lead window of the catholic church of Lapaha, Tonga (3)

Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff


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