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.