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Saint Peter Chanel

It does not matter whether or not I am killed, the religion has taken root on the island, it will not be destroyed by my death since it comes not from men but from God.

Saint Peter Chanel - Catholic Priest, Missionary and Martyr.

Saint Peter Chanel was born on July 12th, 1803 in the small village of La Potiere, France. he was the fifth of eighth children and worked as a shepherd in the pastures from the age of 7 until he was 12. At 1 the local Parish priest, after recognizing a talent for learning in the boy, persuaded Saint Peter's parents to allow him to attend the small parish school that had recently been opened. His piety and intelligence continued to show forth while in school and Saint Peter soon attracted the attention of a priest visiting the school from Cras, Trompier. Saint Peter was moved to a higher level school at Cras in 1814 and took his first communion on March 23rd, 1817.

Two years later, in 1819, Saint Peter entered into the Seminary at Meximieux, then Belley in 1823 and the major seminary in 1824 at Brou. On July 15th, 1827, Saint Peter was ordained a priest and began to serve as assistant priest at Amberieu-en-Bugey. As his time as a priest grew, so did his interest in foreign missionaries work. He became friends with a man named Claude Bret who would later become one of the first Marist Missionaries. After a year of serving as assistant priest Saint Peter applied for permission from the Bishop of Belley to begin operating as a foreign missionary but was denied. Instead, the young priest was assigned to the parish of Crozet as it's priest. He served at Crozet with great zeal and very quickly won over the hearts of the local parishioners. He also began to become friends with a group of diocesan priests who were laying the groundwork to form a new religious order dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Saint Peter joined in with the group in forming the Society of Mary (Marists) in 1831. The Society of Mary aimed to concentrate it's actity on local missions and foreign missionaries and Saint Peter was initially appointed as the Spiritual director at the seminary of Belley. For five years he served in this role faithfully while continuing to take a keen interest in work abroad. In 1836 Pope Gregory XVI asked the newly formed Society to send missionaries to the southwest Pacific. The time had come for Saint Peter's dream - Saint Peter was made superior of a group of seven Marist missionaries. Setting out from Le Havre on December 24th, the group was accompanied by the man who would become New Zealand's first Bishop - Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier.

Tragedy struck early in the mission. Saint Peter's good friend and companion in the journey, Claude Bret caught a flu-like virus when the group arrived in the Canary islands and died at sea on March 20th, 1837. Saint Peter and the group travelled next to Valparaiso Chile (June 28th), then to the Gambier Islands (September 13th) and to Tahiti (September 21st). At Tahiti they climbed aboard the ship Raiatea and departed on October 23rd. At Wallis, then the main seat of the mission in Tonga, two of the missionaries were dropped off to begin aiding in the outreach to the local while the main group travelled on to Vava'u. They were not welcome at Vava'u and so on November 8th, 1837, Saint Peter arrived at the neighboring kingdom of Futuna.

Saint Peter struggled initially with the native language but was encouraged by an initially warm welcome by the king of Futuna, Niuliki. Through patience, love, and faith the mission soon began to bear fruit with several natives converting and becoming baptized. King Niuliki's attitude towards the missionaries began to worsen though as he watched the first group of natives be baptized. Soon he grew concerned that the new Christian faith would undermine his authority as he served both as King and High Priest in the kingdom. The final straw broke when his son, prince Meitala asked Saint Peter to be baptized.

Upon hearing of his son's request, King Niuliki sent his son in law and chief warrior, Musumusu to resolve the situation by any means. After a scuffle between Musumusu and Meitala, Musumusu feigned injury and went to Saint Peter asking for medical help. Saint Peter immediately brought him inside the house and began to tender his wound, believing it to be a serious and real injury from the fight. Minutes later warriors poured into the home and began to ransack it. Musumusu stood up, grabbed a wooden club and clubbed Saint Peter Chanel to death in the home. Saint Peter Chanel died on April 28th, 1841.

On November 3th, 1841, Bishop Pompallier received word of Saint Peter's death. Immediately a French naval corvette was dispatched to accompany the mission schooner Sancta Maria in an attempt to recover his body. The ship arrived on January 18th, 1842 and his body was disinterred by one of the village chiefs. His body was returned to Krororaeka, New Zealand on May 3rd, 1842 where it remained until 1849. In April of 1849, his body was carefully transported from New Zealand to Australia, then to England and finally to France. It arrived at the mother house of the Society in Lyon on June 1st 1850.

In Futuna, Bishop Pompallier sent several missionaries back to the island in 1842. Over the next few years the majority of the islanders did convert to Christianity, including Musumusu himself. Late in his life, as he laid on his deathbed, Musumusu expressed a deep desire to be buried outside the church at Poi so that any pilgrims visiting to revere Saint Chanel would walk over his grave.

Saint Peter Chanel was declared a martyr and beatified in 1889 and formally canonized on June 12th, 1954, by Pope Pius XII. Today Saint Peter is recognized as the protomartyr and patron saint of Oceania. His feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on April 28th.

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