Peter Chanel


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Marist priest and martyr. Born of peasant stock near Cras in the diocese of Belley (Ain, France), Peter was chosen as a pupil by his parish priest, the Abbé Trompier, for his unusual intelligence and piety. He went to the local seminary and was ordained priest: a year later he became pastor of the unsatisfactory parish of Crozet, which he revived in three years. In 1831 he joined the Marist missionary congregation, recently founded by Jean Colin at Lyons, hoping to work on the foreign missions. Instead he taught for five years as a lecturer in the seminary of Belley, but in 1836 he was sent to preach the Catholic faith in the islands of the southern Pacific ocean with a few companions. With one colleague he went to the Islands of Futuna (1837), one of a group under French sovereignty near Fiji, where cannibalism had formerly flourished. There they were given a friendly welcome by the people, whose confidence they won by healing the sick. The missionaries then learnt the local language and began to teach Christianity. The chief's son asked to receive baptism, but this so incensed his father that he sent a group of warriors with orders to kill. One of them clubbed Peter to the ground and the others cut up his body with knives and axes. But less than a year later the whole island became Christian. Peter was canonized in 1954 by Pius XII. Feast: 28 April. This feast was formerly celebrated only in New Zealand and Australia, of which he is regarded as the protomartyr, but recently it has been included in the universal Roman calendar.

Lives by C. Nicolet (1920), and W. Symes (1963);see also J. Hervier, Les missions maristes en Océanie (1902). Works edited by C. Rozier (1960).

Subjects: Christianity.

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