Thursday, April 28, 2011
170 years ago Saint Peter Louis Mary Chanel died
He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.
- one of Saint Peter's catechumens, explaining why he believed Peter's teachings
ST. PETER CHANEL—1803-1841
Feast: April 28
On April 18, 1841, a band of native warriors entered the hut of Father Peter Chanel on the island of Futuna in the New Hebrides islands near New Zealand. They clubbed the missionary to death and cut up his body with hatchets. Two years later, the whole island was Catholic.
St. Peter Chanel's death bears witness to the ancient axiom that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians." He is the first martyr from Oceania, that part of the world spread over the south Pacific, and he came there as the fulfillment of a dream he had had as a boy.
Peter was born in 1803 in the diocese of Belley, France. At the age of seven, he was a shepherd boy, but the local parish priest, recognizing something unusual in the boy, convinced his parents to let him study, in a little school the priest had started. From there Peter went on to the seminary, where it was said of him: "He had a heart of gold with the simple faith of a child, and he led the life of an angel."
He was ordained a priest and assigned to a parish at Crozet. In three years he had transformed the parish. In 1831, he joined the newly founded Society of Mary, since he had long dreamed of being a missionary; but for five years he was assigned to teach at the seminary in Belley. Finally, in 1836, his dream was realized, and he was sent with other Marists to the islands of the Pacific. He had to suffer great hardships, disappointments, frustration, and almost complete failure as well as the opposition of the local chieftain. The work seemed hopeless: only a few had been baptized, and the chieftain continued to be suspicious and hostile. Then, when the chief's son asked for baptism, the chief was so angry that he sent warriors to kill the missionary.
Peter's violent death brought about the conversion of the island, and the people of Futuna remain Catholic to this day. Peter Chanel was beatified in 1889 and canonized in 1954.
Thought for the Day: Success or failure is often not completely in our hands, and sometimes we have to face what seems almost certain failure. But success is not required of us, only fidelity. St. Peter Chanel's work ended in his own death in the face of what seemed total failure. Out of that failure, God brought about the success Peter was seeking.
From 'The Catholic One Year Bible': . . . "Why are you looking in a tomb for someone who is alive? He isn't here! He has come back to life again! Don't you remember what he told you back in Galilee . . . that he would rise again the third day?"—Luke 24:5-7
Pierre Louis Marie Chanel, known in English as Saint Peter Chanel (12 July 1803 – 28 April 1841) was a Catholic priest, missionary, and martyr.
Protomartyr of Oceania
Born July 12, 1803(1803-07-12)
Montrevel-en-Bresse, Ain, France
Died April 28, 1841(1841-04-28) (aged 37)
Venerated in Catholic Church
Beatified 17 November 1889, Rome by Pope Leo XIII
Canonized 12 June 1954, Rome by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine Futuna
Feast 28 April
Attributes Gentle, Kind, Encouraging
Pierre Louis Marie Chanel, known in English as Saint Peter Chanel (12 July 1803 – 28 April 1841) was a Catholic priest, missionary, and martyr.
Chanel was born in La Potière near Cuet in the area of Belley, Ain département, France.
After some schooling at Cras, his piety and intelligence attracted the attention of a local priest, Fr. Trompier, and he was put into Church-sponsored education. He followed this with seminary training in 1819, at the minor seminary at Meximieux and Belley in 1823, and then in 1824 at the major seminary at Brou.
He was ordained priest, along with 24 others, on 15 July 1827 by Bishop Devie, and spent a brief time as an assistant priest at Ambérieu. There he again met Claude Bret, who was to become his friend and also one of the first Marist Missionaries.
From an early age, Chanel had been thinking about going on the foreign missions, and his intention was strengthened by the letters that arrived at Ambérieu from a former curate, then a missionary in India.
The following year, Chanel applied to the bishop of Belley for permission to go to the missions. His application was not accepted and instead he was appointed for the next three years as parish priest of the run-down parish of Crozet, which he revitalized in that short time.
His zeal was widely respected, and his care, particularly of those in the parish that were sick, won the hearts of the locals, who began again to practice their faith. During this time, Chanel heard of a group of Diocesan Priests who were hopeful of starting a religious order to be dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Marist and missionary
Chanel joined the forming Society of Mary (Marists), who would concentrate on local missions and foreign missionary work. Instead of selecting him as a missionary, however, the Marists used his talents as the spiritual director at the Seminary of Belley, where he stayed for five years. In 1833, he accompanied Fr. Jean-Claude Colin to Rome to seek approval of the nascent Society.
In 1836, the Marists, finally formally approved by Pope Gregory XVI, were asked to send missionaries to the territory of the South West Pacific. Chanel, professed a Marist on 24 September 1836, was made the superior of a band of Marist missionaries that set out on 24 December from Le Havre. They were accompanied by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier who was to become the first Bishop of New Zealand.
Chanel traveled first to the Canary Islands (8 January 1837), where Fr. Claude Bret (Chanel's friend) caught a flu-like virus which led to his death at sea (20 March 1837). Next Chanel traveled to Valparaiso (28 June), where the French Picpus Fathers who had care of the Vicariate of Eastern Oceania had their base. His third and fourth stops were in Gambier (13 September) and in Tahiti (21 September), where the group transferred to the Raiatea.
In that ship they set sail (23 October) to drop off two missionaries at Wallis, the main seat of the mission in Tonga. Pierre Chanel went to neighboring Futuna, accompanied by a French lay brother Marie-Nizier Delorme. They arrived on 8 November 1837 with an English Protestant layman named Thomas Boag who had been resident on the island and had joined them at Tonga seeking passage to Futuna.
The group was initially well received by the island's king, Niuliki. Once the missionaries learned the local language and began preaching directly to the people, the king grew restive. He believed that Christianity would take away his prerogatives as high priest and king.
When the king's son, Meitala, sought to be baptized, the king sent a favoured warrior, his son-in-law, Musumusu, to "do whatever was necessary" to resolve the problem. Musumusu initially went to Meitala and the two fought. Musumusu, injured in the fracas, went to Chanel feigning need of medical attention. While Chanel tended him, a group of others ransacked his house. Musumusu took an axe and clubbed Chanel on the head. Chanel died that day, April 28, 1841.
The news of Chanel's death took months to reach the outside world. It was almost a year before Marists in France learned of it; for those in New Zealand, it took half that time. Two weeks after the killing the William Hamilton, a passing American trading ship, took Br. Marie-Nizier, Boag and others to Wallis (arriving 18 May 1841) and safety. In time, the news made it to Kororareka, New Zealand. There, Marie Nizier told Pompallier’s deputy, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Épalle, that Peter Chanel had been murdered.
Bishop Pompallier heard of the death of Chanel on 4 November 1841, while he was at Akaroa, and arranged for a French naval corvette L’Allier, commanded by the Comte du Bouzet, to accompany the Mission schooner Sancta Maria and sail on 19 November for Wallis and Futuna Islands, taking with him Fr. Philippe Viard. The two vessels arrived at ʻUvea (Wallis) on 30 December 1841.
Fr. Bataillon, the missionary priest on ʻUvea, persuaded the Bishop to stay awhile on ʻUvea, where conversions were plentiful. The Bishop sent Viard to Futuna, where he landed on 18 January 1842. A chief named Maligi, who had not agreed to Chanel’s murder, agreed to disinter Fr. Chanel's body, and brought it to the L’Allier the next day, wrapped in several local mats.
The commander of the vessel asked the ship's doctor, M. Rault, to inspect the remains. After a prolonged examination he was able to certify the identity of the remains, bearing in mind the description of the manner of Chanel's death given previously by Brother Marie-Nizier. The doctor undertook to embalm the remains, so that they could be kept. They were wrapped in linen and placed in a cask, and taken to the Sancta Maria. The body was taken back to Kororareka, New Zealand, arriving on 3 May 1842.
Late in May 1842, a French vessel, the Jonas, arrived in the Bay of Islands. The ship's doctor visited the Marists there, and they mentioned to him their concern to have Chanel's remains more fittingly cared for. With the doctor's help, a little tin chest was made and well lined with linen; the remains were placed in it as decently as possible. This chest was wrapped in linen, and then placed in a "box made of good quality wood." After telling Fr. Colin, the founder and first Superior General of the Society of Mary in France about these arrangements for more appropriate care of the remains, Fr. Forest said that the box would be kept "in a fitting place".
The relics remained in the Bay of Islands until 1849, when they were accompanied by Fr. Petitjean to Auckland – most likely early in April 1849. They left New Zealand on 15 April 1849 by the ship Maukin, and arrived in Sydney, Australia on 4 May. Fr. Rocher S.M. received the container that held the bones and took it to the Procure Chapel at Gladesville in Sydney on 7 May. Fr. Rocher was very careful in making the decision as to when to send the container on to England and France.
He looked for a trustworthy captain, and a reliable person in London to receive the consignment, attend to the Customs, and have it sent on to Lyon. Early in 1850, Fr. Bernin S.M., pro-vicar for Bishop Douarre, vicar-apostolic of New Caledonia, had to leave for France. He left Sydney for London on the Waterloo on 1 February 1850, taking Peter Chanel's remains with him. On June 1, 1850, the remains arrived at the Mother House of the Society of Mary in Lyon, to the great joy, in particular, of Father Colin, founder of the Marists.
Conversions in Futuna:
Chanel's martyrdom accomplished his missionary work, however. Pompallier sent Frs. Catherin Servant, François Roulleaux-Dubignon and Br. Marie Nizier to return to the Island. They arrived on 9 June 1842. Eventually, most on the island converted to Catholicism. Musumusu himself converted and, as he lay dying, expressed the desire that he be buried outside the church at Poi, so that those who came to revere Peter Chanel in the Church would walk over his grave to get to it.
Fact and fiction:
It is important that a biographer distinguish overly keen hagiography that might make it seem that the local people of Futuna converted overnight. The rigorous scrutiny demanded by Chanel's Beatification as a martyr in 1889, and even more by his canonization in 1954, sifted out such exaggerations and embellished piety. Two of the three notebooks containing his Futuna diary survived, and these provide a solid reference point in assessing his character as a missionary.
It is equally regrettable that many of the errors made in earlier biographies abound and can be found on websites elsewhere. Mistakes in geography including statements that Chanel went to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) or that Futuna is part of that island group are also frequent. (In fact there is another island as part of the Vanuatu group called Futuna but the two islands should not be confused.)
As a kind of penitence, a special action song and dance, known as the eke, was created by the people of Futuna shortly after Chanel's death. The dance is still performed in Tonga.
Chanel was declared a martyr and beatified in 1889. He was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII. His feast day in the Catholic Church is 28 April. The relics were returned to Futuna in 1977. The fractured skull was returned to Futuna in 1985.
First Martyr of Oceania
by M O'Meeghan SM
This year marks the Bi-centenary of the birth of St Peter Chanel; he was born on 12 July 1803, the fifth of eight children in a farming family with a small holding in south-western France. The area was still troubled by the political instability that followed the Revolution. That, plus the need to help on the farm, meant his primary schooling was rather fragmented.
In his early teens the parish priest helped him with special lessons in the presbytery, so that at 16 he was ready to begin his four years of secondary education at the minor seminary. He progressed to the major seminary to be ordained at 24 as a priest for the Belley diocese. For his first year of priesthood he was assistant in a medium sized town, already thinking seriously about applying for an apostolate in the foreign missions. Then followed three years as parish priest in a small country town where the Church was still in disarray a generation after the Revolution. With quiet zeal, tact and compassion he transformed it. Underlying his approach was his personal motto “Aimer Marie et faire l'aimer” - to love Mary and bring others to love her.
In 1831, at 28, with his bishop's agreement he joined the small group of diocesan priests who had hopes of starting a Society of Mary. He was one of the three representatives who went to Rome to ask the Pope's approval for their planned Society of Mary. This approval was given in April 1836 when Marists accepted responsibility for new missions in the little-known south-west Pacific. By the end of that year Peter was one of the first band of missionaries, four priests and three catechist brothers, attached to Bishop Pompallier, who sailed from Le Havre on Christmas Eve for this pioneering mission.
After a prolonged journey out to the Pacific fact-finding and considering possibilities, on All Saints Day 1837 Pompallier placed Fr Peter Bataillon and Br Joseph Luzy on Wallis Island, in an island group north of Fiji. A week later he founded a second mission, leaving Fr Peter Chanel and Br Marie-Nizier Delorme 170km away on Futuna, the smaller island of the two. By then the Bishop had decided to make his base in New Zealand and, via Sydney, landed in Hokianga on 10 January 1838.
For three and a half years on Futuna, Chanel and Marie-Nizier battled with language difficulties, strange customs and food, sickness, malnutrition, loneliness. Hardest to bear was the seeming lack of success in adult conversions. But they persevered, living and preaching the Gospel, in spite of the king's tolerance wearing thin.
The eventual conversion of the king's son proved to be Peter's death warrant. The king kept control of his people largely through their worship of evil spirits. His son's becoming a Christian undermined this power, so Peter had to be stopped. With the king's approval a small group of his tribal leaders clubbed Peter to death while Marie-Nizier was absent visiting elsewhere. It was on 28th April 1841.
When he heard the news of Peter's brutal death, Pompallier sailed to Wallis, accompanied by Fr Philippe Viard, later to be the first bishop of Wellington. Viard went ashore on Futuna, refusing any armed escort, and gathered Peter's remains which were then brought to New Zealand. These were kept reverently at Kororareka (Russell) till 1849 when they were returned to France.
Because of the difficulty of getting reliable eye-witness evidence, it took the Church a long time to be satisfied that Peter died because of hatred of the Catholic faith, and not merely through greed for his few possessions, or resentment at Peter's efforts to act as peacemaker between warring tribes. He was officially declared a martyr and beatified in 1889.He was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1954 and, because of his connection with New Zealand, St Peter Chanel is honoured here with a feast day.
The Story of his “Relics”
By Fr B Quin SM
Father Chanel was done to death soon after 7am on 28th April 1841. His murderers stripped his body of clothing, but some sympathetic women came soon after,wrapped his body in mats of siapo (tapa cloth) as was the Futunian custom and buried it with traditional ceremony.
Bishop Pompallier was at Akaroa in the course of visitation to Mission Stations down the east coast of both main islands of New Zealand, when news of Fr. Chanel's death reached him on 4th November 1841.
He arranged for a French naval vessel L’Allier, commanded by the Comte du Bouzet, to accompany the Mission schooner the Sancta Maria and to sail for Wallis and Futuna Islands, taking with him Fr. Philippe Viard S.M. The two vessels arrived at Wallis Island on 30 December 1841 after a journey of 32 days. Fr. Bataillon S.M., the missionary Priest on Wallis Island persuaded the Bishop to stay a while on Wallis, where the harvest of conversions was in full swing. The Bishop sent Fr. Viard to Futuna Island, where after having to wait offshore well over a week because of contrary winds, he was able to land on 18th January 1842. A chief named Maligi, who had not agreed to Chanel’s murder, agreed to disinter Fr. Chanel’s body, and brought it to L’Allier the next day, again wrapped in several mats.
The Commander of the vessel asked the ship’s doctor M. Rault, to inspect the remains. After a prolonged examination he was able to certify the identity of the remains bearing in mind the description of the manner of the Saint’s death given previously by Brother Marie-Nizier S.M., Fr. Chanel’s assistant. (Brother Marie—Nizier had been able to escape to Wallis a few days after Chanel’s murder and accompanied Fr. Viard back to Futuna Island).
The doctor undertook to embalm the remains so that they could be kept without upsetting the crew. They were wrapped in linen and placed in a cask, and taken to the Sancta Maria. Bishop Pompallier decided to stay on Wallis Island, and Fr. Viard, on the Sancta Maria brought Fr. Chanel’s remains back to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. He arrived on 3rd February 1842.
Late in May 1842 a French Vessel, the Jonas arrived in the Bay of Islands. The ship’s doctor visited the Marists there, and they mentioned to him their concern to have Chanel’s remains more fittingly cared for. The bones were by now completely stripped of flesh. With the Doctors help a little tin chest was made and well-lined with linen, and the remains were placed in it as decently as possible. This chest was wrapped in linen., and then placed in a “box made of good quality wood”.
After telling Fr. Colin, the Founder and first Superior General of the Society of Mary in France about these arrangements for more appropiate care of the Saint’s remains, Fr. Forest S.M. said that the box would be kept “in a fitting place”. Just where that “fitting place’ was, is not known today. As Fr.Kevin Roach S.M. observed "it is improbable that the printing house and store ( for that is what the building now called Pompallier House then was) would have been seen as the suitable resting place for a martyr.”
The Saint’s remains stayed at Kororareka until 1849. Bishop Pompallier drew up a document proving the authenticity of the bones, and gave the axe which had smashed the missionary’s skull to the Council for the Propogation of The Faith in Lyons, France. In 1949, according to a Marist Messenqer article of that time, it was in the Society’s museum at 72, Rue Sala. Other articles belonging to Fr. Chanel were given to the Mission in Futuna Island or sent to Lyons for the Society of Mary.
On June 20th 1848, the Sacred Congregation de Propoganda Fide decreed that the New Zealand Catholic Mission should be split into two vicariates-apostolic, and that the Marists should leave Auckland and, under the leadership of (new) Bishop Viard, undertake mission and parish work in the new Wellington vicariate.
In communicating this decision to his men, Fr. Colin also asked that Fr. Chanel's remains be brought back to France.
The relics were accompanied by Fr. Petitjean to Auckland - most likely early in April 1849. They left New Zealand on 15th April 1849 by the ship Maukin and arrived in Sydney, Australia on 4th May, Fr. Rocher S.M. who had been in Sydney since 1845 setting up the Procure (business office) for the Oceania Marist Mission, received the container which held the bones and took it to the Procure Chapel at Gladesville in Sydney on 7th May.
Fr. Rocher was very careful in making the decision as to when to send the container on to England and France. He looked for a trustworthy Captain, and a reliable person in London to receive the consignment, attend to the Customs, and have it sent on to Lyons.
Early in 1850, Fr. Bernin S.M., pro-vicar for Bishop Douarre, vicar-apostolic of New Caledonia, had to leave for France. He left Sydney for London on the Waterloo on 1st February 1850 taking Peter Chanel’s remains with him. On June 1st 1850 the remains arrived at the Mother House of the Society of Mary in Lyons, to the great joy, in particular, of Father Colin, founder of the Marists.
Many small parts of the remains were distributed after Peter Chanel’s beatification in Rome in 1889. One of his rib bones came to New Zealand and is now at the Marist Seminary in Auckland, for example. But substantially the relics remained in or near Lyons except the skull which was taken to the Marist General House in Rome at the time of Peter Chanel's canonisation in 1954.
In 1977, at the request of the Bishop of Wallis and Futuna, the main reliquary containing the major bones of Peter Chanel, was returned to Futuna Island. They travelled by air through Australia, New Zealand, (they were taken to the National Shrine at Russell in the Bay of Islands on March 30th 1977) on to Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Wallis. They were placed in in the Church at Poi on Futuna Island, the site of the martydom, on 28th April 1977, the day this Saint is honoured throughout the Catholic Church in the world.
The 1985 General Chapter of the Society of Mary, decided that the major relic of the Saint, his fractured skull, should likewise be returned to Futuna Island. Accompanied by an Assistant-General of the Marist Order, Fr. Joaquin Fernandez, it arrived in Futuna on 7th November 1985. As someone remarked at the time, "what God has joined together....".