He died to convert an island that’s now unusually Catholic

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Peter Chanel
St. Peter Chanel. Tauʻolunga, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

St. Peter Chanel

Feast day: April 28

St. Peter Chanel (1803-41) exemplified the apostolic fervor by sharing his faith to the farthest ends of the earth and becoming a martyr in the South West Pacific. A French priest belonging to the Society of Mary (Marists), Father Chanel was the first martyr of Oceania, and he went there in fulfillment of a childhood dream. Although a shepherd boy, the local priest recognized St. Peter’s distinct character and convinced his parents to let him study in a little school the priest had started. At seminary, it was said of St. Peter Chanel that “He had a heart of gold with the simple faith of a child, and he led the life of an angel.”

Shortly after professing as a Marist, St. Peter Chanel was made the superior of a group of Marist missionaries that set out on Christmas Eve from France to the islands of the Pacific. St. Peter viewed the long crossing of the Atlantic as an opportunity to evangelize sailors and other passengers. After landing on the island of Futuna in the New Hebrides islands near New Zealand, St. Peter Chanel observed a religion worshiping evil deities. Nevertheless, he worked faithfully amid many hardships, learned the native language, cared for the sick and baptized the dying. He soon became known as “the man with the kind heart.” In honor of the Blessed Mother, Father Chanel chose December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, to say the first Mass at Futuna.

Initially, the local ruler, Niuliki, was cordial towards St. Peter Chanel and even considered him to be a sacred figure. But when this ruler saw his subjects being converted from idol worship, he issued an edict against Father Chanel to avert the movement towards Christianity. Finally, when Niuliki’s son asked to be baptized, the chief was so angry that he sent warriors to kill St. Peter Chanel, who was aware of this danger as he saw his enemies follow him more than once.

On April 18, 1841, a band of native warriors entered the hut of St. Peter Chanel, clubbed him to death, and cut up his body with hatchets. One shattered his arm and wounded his left temple with a war club. Another struck him to the ground with a bayonet. A third beat him severely with a club. Eventually, the skull of Father Chanel was split open with an adze. His last words before dying were “It is well for me.” His violent death brought about the conversion of the island, and the people of Futuna remain 99% Catholic to this day.


Heavenly Father, I want to be a bright shining light for you no matter the consequences. Thank you for loving me and may I always share this love with those around me.


O God, who for the spreading of your Church
crowned St. Peter Chanel with martyrdom,
grant that, in these days of paschal joy,
we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and
as to bear worthy witness to newness of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Maryella Hierholzer

Maryella Hierholzer is a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and did graduate work at Georgetown University. After concluding a career in the Washington area, she is now retired in Indiana where she is a teacher of adult and youth faith formation at her parish. She is also a volunteer at Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne.