St. Peter Chanel is the first martyr of the Society of Mary and of Oceania. Ordained in 1827, he spent the next three years as a parish priest. He joined the Society of Mary in 1831 and spent five years working at the diocesan college in Belley. In 1833 he accompanied Father Jean-Claude Colin on a journey to Rome to seek the approval of the Church for Father Colin’s plan for the Society of Mary.
The Catholic Church decided in 1835 to create a missionary territory in Oceania and to entrust it to the Society of Mary. In December 1836, St. Peter Chanel set sail aboard the Delphine with the first group of Marist missionaries and celebrated Mass on the island of Futuna one year later. Working in dangerous and lonely conditions, he and his companion, Brother Marie-Nizier Delorme, slowly learned the language and gained the trust of the people. But when the son of a chieftain expressed interest in being baptized, his father sent a band of men who killed St. Peter Chanel by striking him with hatchets. St. Peter Chanel died April 28, 1841, but it was eleven months before the Marists in France received the news.
Within a short time, the entire island became Catholic. St. Peter Chanel was canonized June 12, 1954, by Pius XII. His feast day is April 28, the date of his death. St. Peter Chanel’s remains were returned to the island of Futuna in 1977. Some of his letters and journals have been collected into a volume titled, Ever Your Poor Brother.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard
St. Peter Julian Eymard served the Church first as a diocesan priest, then as a Marist priest, and eventually as the founder of two congregations devoted to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Perhaps he is best known among Marists as the director of the Third Order of Mary for which he provided rules, structure and spiritual direction. He also served as provincial of the Society of Mary at Lyons.
In 1851 St. Julian Eymard made a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Fourviere and recorded his experience there:
One idea haunted me, and it was this: that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament had no religious institute to glorify His mystery of love, whose only object was entire consecration to its service. . . There ought to be one. I promised Mary to devote myself to this end.
With encouragement from Pius IX and Father Jean-Claude Colin, St. Julian Eymard decided to found the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament for priests. In spite of many difficulties, he obtained the Church’s approval for the Congregation during his lifetime. St. Julian Eymard also founded a congregation of sisters called the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, the Priests’ Eucharistic League, and Work for Poor Adults, which prepared adults for first communion. He wrote several books on the Eucharist.
St. Julian Eymard was canonized in 1962 during the Second Vatican Council. His feast day is August 1, also the date of his death in 1868.
Saint Marcellin Champagnat
St. Marcellin Champagnat was born in a small French village just weeks before the Bastille fell during the French Revolution. The ninth of ten children, he received a good religious education, but like St. John-Marie Vianney, not much formal education. Both men struggled with their studies in preparation for the priesthood.
At the major seminary in Lyons, St. Marcellin Champagnat met other seminarians who planned to establish a society named for Mary. It was Champagnat who said, “We must have brothers.” After ordination in 1816, he served as curate in the town of La Valla, and within six months he founded the Little Brothers of Mary with two candidates.
St. Marcellin Champagnat had seen the sufferings of students who were ridiculed by teachers, and he developed a particular love for the disadvantaged. He also had an exceptional ability to use whatever was at hand to accomplish a task. He transformed uneducated boys into teachers and sent them to work in small rural villages. He built the Hermitage, the first motherhouse of the Brothers, with unskilled labor and did much of the work himself.
The work was Mary’s work. Champagnat said it was “she who does everything.” He called Mary “our good mother”, “the one to whom we naturally turn”, and “our ordinary resource.”
St. Marcellin Champagnat died June 6, 1840, at the age of 51. He was canonized in Rome by John Paul II, April 18, 1999. His feast day is the same as his date of death—June 6.
Saint John-Marie Vianney
Many people recognize the name of St. John-Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars, but few know that he was professed a member of the Third Order of Mary by St. Julian Eymard on December 8, 1846. In 1854, Father Colin granted approval for Vianney to receive members into the Third Order of Mary.
The village of Ars was near Belley and Lyons where the Marists established themselves. St. John-Marie Vianney advised a number of men to become Marist priests, a number of women to become Marist sisters, and he directed many lay people to the Third Order of Mary.
St. John-Marie Vianney was aware of the missionary efforts of the Marists in the Bugey Mountains. He said, “The Marists, theirs is a work according to God’s own heart because there is humility, simplicity, and contradictions; they are setting about it in the right way, beginning their missions by teaching the catechism and first communions. . . the Marist is more hidden. Were I more talented, I would become Marist.”
Ordained in 1815 and made parish priest of Ars in 1818, St. John-Marie Vianney became known for his great love of the Eucharist, the many hours he spent in the confessional and his spirit of poverty. As early as 1827 people came from other places to consult him. In the last year of his life, more than 100,000 people visited Ars. St. John- Marie Vianney served Ars for 41 years, and in all that time his personal preference was to run away from the crowds and be alone with God.
Pius XI canonized St. John-Marie Vianney in 1925 and named him the patron saint of parish priests in 1929. His feast day is August 4.
Father Jean-Claude Colin
The cause for canonization of the founder of the Marist family, the Venerable Jean-Claude Colin, S.M., has been introduced. His vision for the Marists and his work as a founder are described more fully in other sections of the Handbook for Leaders of Marist Laity Groups (see Formation Programs in Resources).
Brother Blaise Marmoiton
The cause for canonization of the Venerable Blaise Marmoiton, S.M., a lay brother, has also been introduced. Brother Blaise accompanied other Marist missionaries to New Caledonia to found a new mission station in 1843. There he did the duties of a lay brother—planting, cooking, washing and mending clothes, and working as a carpenter. He was killed during an attack by a hostile local tribe. As he received absolution, Brother Blaise said, “On, how much I desire that my death may be for the salvation of this poor people; I forgive them from the bottom of my heart.” Thousands of natives soon converted.