Last Friday, we had our annual celebration of St. Peter Chanel Day, albeit only for the Class of 2021 due to COVID-19. The event brought food trucks, a King of Pops cart, fun and games, including a relatively intense doubles ping-pong match, and, of course, musical performances on the main stage. Most enjoyable to us on the school staff who were present was the seniors’ demonstration of exuberant conviviality, a genuine, cheerful warmth for their peers, which they expressed in universal applause for those performing and playing.
We continued to remember St. Peter Chanel this Wednesday through a celebration of Mass on his feast day. St. Peter Chanel, who is the namesake of our main classroom building above the Arcade, was one of the early missionaries of the new Society of Mary in the mid-1830s. On Christmas Eve 1836, he and a small group of Marist missionaries left from Le Havre, France and travelled to Oceania in the south Pacific. The trip included stops at the Canary Islands; Valparaiso, Chile; and Tahiti before arriving almost 11 months later at Futuna, a small island, about 30 square miles, in the Western Pacific.
There, St. Peter Chanel was given a name in the native language that translates as, “the man with a big heart.” He was known for his goodness and his care for others. He took quickly to learning the local customs and language. After working to understand them himself, he worked to bring Christ to the Futunans. His success in that regard had a hand in his martyrdom, as the local king felt threatened when his son announced he would become a Christian. This led to a group coming to Chanel’s house and taking his life on April 28, 1841, which is now recognized as his feast day. Within three years, because of the seeds of faith St. Peter Chanel had sown, the conversion of the island was complete. St. Peter Chanel, in addition to being a Marist saint, is now recognized as the Patron Saint of Oceania.
His life and work remind us that a central quality of being Marist is to be a missionary, to spread the Good News, and draws into high relief the importance of many of our Marist themes, including some of those captured in our Strategic Plan 2025
. Being a Christ-centered servant leader is at the heart of our preparation of Marist graduates, and we don’t have to work hard to see St. Peter Chanel as a clear example of what that looks like in action in an overwhelmingly secular society. We want our graduates to be prepared to go where God calls them in this world, to do His will, and to bring others into closer relationship with Him. And wherever they go, we want our graduates to be known for their faith and for their “big hearts.”
At Marist we can see any number of examples of this, through the mission work and direct service required through the Campus Ministry Office, for sure, but also, and just as clearly, through the study of language and culture in our Modern and Classical Languages department, where our students learn to pray in a different language. This is what it means to us at Marist when we say we want our graduates to be “global-ready,” that they are prepared to lead and serve around the world, to be the hands of Mary bringing all into the Church by knowing and serving her Son, Jesus.
Let us join together as a Marist community through this prayer to St. Peter Chanel.
St. Peter Chanel, you left your homeland to proclaim Jesus, savior of the world, to the peoples of Oceania. Guided by the Spirit of God, who is the strength of the gentle, you bore witness to love, even laying down your life. Grant that, like you, we may live our daily life in peace, in joy, and in fraternal love. May your prayer and example call forth from our midst many workers for the Gospel so that God’s Kingdom may reach to the ends of the earth.
St. Peter Chanel, pray for us.