St Peter Chanel
Peter Chanel was born in Cuet, France in 1803 and ordained a priest in 1827. During his first appointment in the parish of Crozet, he became quickly known for his sincerity and holiness. In 1831, Peter Chanel joined the Society of Mary, which at that stage, was still awaiting ecclesiastical approval from Rome. As a Marist Father he was sent to the College of Belley, first as a spiritual director and then as rector.
After official approval of the congregation was given, and the Marists took vows, a small group was sent to the South Pacific to undertake the task of spreading the gospel to the peoples of that part of the world. Peter volunteered to join the pioneering band. Eventually he arrived on the tiny island of Futuna.
Peter worked with outstanding generosity and commitment among the inhabitants of Futuna for four years. Because of his love of Jesus and Mary, and his dedication to the people of Futuna, he endured extreme difficulties and hardship. The people were so impressed by Peter’s selflessness and love that they gave him the name, “the man with the good heart.”
Unfortunately, fear and jealousy led the king to take steps to get rid of the missionaries. At first, he tried to starve them. The attempts by Fr Peter and Br Marie Nizier to grow vegetables were frustrated by raids on their garden. Finally, the king gave orders for the missionaries to be murdered.
Early in the morning of 28th April, 1841, Peter was awakened from sleep and clubbed to death. The blows split his skull. Peter became the first martyr of the fledgling Society of Mary and the one of the first martyrs of the Pacific region. He was only 38 years old when he died.
Only after his death was the true value of Peter’s work seen. Within the next two years, the Society of Mary was again taking care of the people of Futuna and in a short time the whole island, including those who murdered Peter Chanel, became Christian.
On 12th June, 1954 Pope Pius XII declared St Peter Chanel, S.M. to be a saint of the Church of God. His feast day is celebrated on 28th April.
St Marcellin Champagnat
Marcellin Champagnat was born at Marlhes, in France in 1789 during the turbulent time of the French Revolution. His father held an important position in local politics and he introduced Marcellin to many practical skills.
In 1803 he was asked if he would like to be a priest. He gave the matter deep consideration and committed himself to the task with outstanding dedication. Despite his own lack of sound, formal education, he worked hard at his studies. He always valued the role of education and it is not surprising that providing a good education for children and the young became a very important passion during his life.
In the seminary of St Irenaeus in Lyon, France, Marcellin met many who were inspired with an idea of founding a religious congregation dedicated to the work of Mary. During the academic year of 1815 – 1816 the “Marist aspirants” discussed their hopes and made their plans for the founding of the Society of Mary. They envisaged a congregation of three branches: priests, sisters, and a third order of lay people, all of whom would undertake the ‘work of Mary.’ At the suggestion and insistence of Marcellin (“We need brothers!”), a branch of teaching brothers was added.
Following his ordination in 1816, Marcellin was appointed to the parish of La Valla, where he began immediately the work of founding the “Little Brothers of Mary”. With outstanding commitment and great personal charisma, he gathered a community around him and attended to the urgent need of providing Christian education to many of the young people of his region. Soon many others were attracted to his work and schools flourished at first throughout France and later, to places all over the world.
Marcellin also shared responsibility for the foundation of the priests’ branch of the congregation. He worked tirelessly in the area of Lyon to promote the beginnings of the Society of Mary and, following formal ecclesiastical approval in 1836, took his vows along with the first Marists.
Marcellin died on 6th June, 1840 at the age of 51 years. On the 18th April, 1999 Pope John Paul II proclaimed Marcellin Joseph Benoit Champagnat, S.M. a saint of the Church of God. His feast day is celebrated on the 6th June.
The cause of the Spanish Martyrs
In 2010 the Society of Mary introduced the cause for beatification of nine Spanish Marist confreres who were martyred during the 1936 religious’ persecution in Spain. The diocese of Alcalà de Henares has decided to present one group of 43 diocesan priests, religious and lay people, killed and buried in the common grave in Paracuellos del Jarama, including some of our confreres: Frs Antonio de Santiago, Fausto Muñoz, Romualdo Sáenz, Timoteo Uriondo and Zacarías Feijóo.
The cause of Antoine Marie Garin
In 2016 in New Zealand the cause of beatification of Marist Father Antoine Marie Garin was launched.
After making his profession as a member of the Society of Mary, in 1840 Garin was assigned to New Zealand, where he arrived with 10 other members of the society on the Mary Grey at the Bay of Islands on 14 June 1841. He was provincial of the Marists in New Zealand from 1841 to 1843 and, despite Pompallier’s growing antagonism to the society, he was nominated several times to Rome as a possible bishop.
In 1850 he was assigned to Nelson where he remained for the next 40 years. He had the pastoral care of 200 – 300 Catholics scattered over the huge area of Nelson, Buller, Marlborough and the northern part of the region that became Westland. He journeyed constantly to visit his people, on both foot and horseback, often inflicting great privations on his not over robust constitution. He was responsible for education early in Nelson’s history and opened orphanages for both boys and girls as early as 1872. In 1876 he gave lectures to the citizens of Nelson for a fee to raise funds to purchase land for a boy’s orphanage. The sum collected was thirteen pounds.
Garin died on the 14th April 1889.
When Garin was exhumed 18 months after his death, to be reinterred in the crypt below this chapel his body was found to be incorrupt despite the coffin found filled with water which was the quickest way for a body to decompose.