St Peter Chanel, patron saint of Oceania (Feast day: April 28)

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St Peter Chanel, patron saint of Oceania (Feast day: April 28)

The patron saint of Oceania is Saint Peter Chanel, a French Marist missionary priest, who was martyred by being clubbed to death on the tiny island of Futuna in the South Pacific in 1841. 

Born in 1803 into a farming family, when St Peter Chanel was a young adolescent he developed an interest in missionary work through reading letters sent to his parish from missionaries working in the Americas.

Ordained a diocesan priest in 1827, he was known for his quiet demeanour, simplicity and love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking as his personal motto: “To love Mary and bring others to love her.”

His first posting as a parish priest was to a small rural town of Crozet near the French-Swiss border, where he was credited for renewing parish life through his piety and zealous work ministering to the town’s sick. 

In 1831, after being sent to teach in a seminary, St Peter Chanel joined the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers), a newly former religious community dedicated to foreign missionary work.

In 1836, St Peter Chanel’s dream of becoming a missionary finally came to fruition when he was appointed as superior of a small group of Marists tasking with spreading the message of Christ’s love to the inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific.

Assigned with a lay brother to Futuna Island – a small island northeast of Fiji – initial successes at evangelising the island’s natives were slow.

Facing many hardships, St Peter Chanel persevered and his gentle manner soon gained him a reputation as ‘the man with the good heart’. 

As conversions to the Catholic faith on the island gradually grew, the king of Futuna grew jealous of St Peter Chanel, believing that the spread of Christianity undermined his authority.

When the king learnt that his son had asked to be baptised, he requested that his favourite warrior named Musumusu deal with St Peter Chanel. 

On the morning of April 28, 1841, Musumusu ransacked St Peter Chanel’s home and killed him by repeatedly hitting him on the head with an axe.

The mission on Futuna continued and within a few years of Saint Peter’s death, close to the whole island had converted to the Catholic faith including Musumusu himself.  Today, Futuna remains strongly Catholic. 

Canonised by Pope Pius XII in 1954, St Peter Chanel was the first martyr from the Marist Fathers and is currently the only saint from Polynesia.

His relics today lie in Futuna in a basilica bearing his name. 
Musumusu is buried outside the church, honouring the repentant killer’s dying wish that devotees walk over his grave as they pray before the saint.