The son of a French peasant, St. Peter Chanel (1803-1841) became a priest as a young man, and within three years brought about a spiritual renewal in his parish by showing great devotion to the sick. However, he desired to be a missionary, and at age twenty-eight joined the Society of Mary (the Marists).
For five years Peter taught in the Marist seminary; then he and several other missionaries were sent to the New Hebrides Islands in the Pacific. Peter, a Marist brother, and an English layman were assigned to the island of Futuna, whose ruler Niuliki had only recently stamped out cannibalism. At first the missionaries were well received, and Peter devoted himself to learning the local language and adjusting to life with whalers, traders, and warring native tribes. He remained gentle and calm in spite of great physical want and an apparent lack of success as a missionary. Eventually Peter won the confidence of many natives, and he began making converts. One of his catechumens said, “He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.” However, Niuliki became increasingly suspicious, and when his own son converted to Catholicism, he reacted violently.
In 1841, three years after his arrival on Futuna, St. Peter Chanel was seized by Niuliki’s warriors and clubbed to death, becoming the first martyr of the South Seas.
1. Our Christian example is of vital importance in converting others or in bringing about a spiritual renewal; St. Peter Chanel’s personal example testified to the truth of the gospel he proclaimed.
2. As Niuliki’s reaction shows, some people are threatened by the gospel, and may react unfavorably or even violently, as Jesus foretold (Luke 21:12-17).
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Louis Marie De Montfort (1716), Priest, Founder of Montfort Fathers
St. Paul of the Cross (1775), Priest, Founder of the Passionists