Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
The sound of Alleluias fills the 50 days of Easter Sunday to Pentecost as we give thanks for the gift of our salvation. The Easter Triduum recalls the passion and resurrection of Christ in the sacred journey from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil. "Dying he destroyed our death. Rising he restored our life."
Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr, 1803-1841
Peter was the fifth child of Francis and Mary Ann Chanel, peasants living in Cluet, France. Mary Ann recognized that her son could perform great service to God and she dedicated him to Mary. His education was turned over to the priest in their parish who saw him through his elementary schooling. Peter then chose to enter the seminary where he was esteemed by both students and faculty.
After his ordination in 1827, Peter was assigned to a rundown and lax country parish which, by simply caring for the sick, he completely revitalized in three years. Peter’s ambition had always been to become a missionary, however, and when the Society of Mary (Marist) order was founded, Peter joined in 1831.
Peter’s first duties with the Marists were not exactly what he had envisioned. His assignment was to teach at the Marist seminary, which he did for five years. In 1836, the Marists were given the New Hebrides islands in the Pacific as area for their evangelical work. Father Chanel was assigned as the superior of seven Marists sent as missionaries. Upon their arrival in Oceana the band split up and Peter Chanel and a lay brother went to the island of Futuna.
The two missionaries were well received by the pagan islanders on Futuna, and the king, who had recently abolished cannibalism, was among their welcomers. Chanel and the lay brother had some initial success in their conversion efforts, but real progress came only after they learned the islanders’ language.
As the number of conversions began to grow, the king realized that the adoption of Christianity by his people posed a threat to some of his prerogatives. When his own son expressed a desire to be baptized, the king sent his warriors to club Father Chanel to death and cut his body to pieces. Thus, on April 28, 1841, Father Peter Chanel became the first Marist to be martyred and the first martyr in Oceania.
A measure of the success of Peter Chanel’s mission work is in the fact that within months of his death, the whole island of Futuna was converted to Christianity. St. Peter Chanel, the patron of Oceania, was canonized in 1954. An optional memorial is celebrated honoring this saint on April 28.
Peter's message today: Given the success that he was having and the initial welcome from the king, Peter probably did not expect to suffer martyrdom. That is true of most people today in a civilized world. And yet martyrdom still occurs in our times, even in some so-called civilized countries.