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Who were they?

Peter Chanel
Peter Chanel,[1] born 12 July 1803, fifth in a family of eight, was two years younger than Pompallier, who was the oldest of the group. His earliest education he had received from an old priest who had gone underground during the persecutions and whom Peter and a few other boys accompanied on his pastoral visits. He taught them on their walks from village to village.[2] After a few years at the minor seminary of Meximieux, Peter had entered the major seminary of Brou for the diocese of Belley and was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-four. He first was a curate in Ambérieu, where he found Claude Bret, whom he had known in Meximieux and who ran a school in the village. The two became very close friends, so much so that – unusual in those days – they wrote to each other in the familiar tu.[3] A year later Chanel was appointed parish priest of Crozet. The two friends thought of volunteering for the missions in Lousiana,[4] but Bishop Devie held them back. Together they became interested in the Marist project and in 1831 they joined.[5] In September of that year they took part in the common Marist retreat and both were at the same time assigned to the minor seminary of Belley under Colin as superior. Shortly afterwards Chanel’s sister Françoise joined the Marist sisters in Belley.[6] In 1832 Peter became director of the minor seminary. In 1833 he accompanied Colin on his voyage to Rome. In 1834 he became vice-superior of the minor seminary. On 1 May 1835, Chanel`s father died in a tragic accident. No sooner did the Oceania project come in view, than both Peter Chanel and Claude Bret, having waited five years after their first attempt to go the missions, volunteered.[7]

Claude Marie Xavier Bret,[8] the third eldest of the group, son of a shoemaker in Lyon, was born on 29 July, 1808. Wanting to be a priest he was sent to the minor seminary of Meximieux where he got to know Peter Chanel. He was a very small man, who, later, on the ship to Oceania, joked that he was the only one who could stand up straight and walk without bending his head in the low and narrow confines of the schooner.[9] He was very intelligent. At the age of nineteen he had already finished his second year of theology, but being too young for ordination he was put in charge of a school in Ambérieu at about the same time as Chanel was appointed there as the assistant priest. Having been held back from departing for Lousiana, he joined the Marists with Peter Chanel in 1831, and was appointed to teach at the minor seminary in Belley while still a subdeacon. Ordained a priest in 1832 for the diocese of Belley, he was in 1834 appointed to Valbenoîte. When Pompallier visited that community to seek associates, he immediately volunteered.[10] We can safely assume he would have been the first one to tell Peter Chanel (then in Belley) of the new mission project.

Only a few months younger than Bret was Catherin Servant,[11] born 25 October 1808, in Grézieu-le-Marché. He studied at Saint-Irénée from 1829 to 1832 and was ordained 22 December 1832. On his desire to join the Marists he was appointed by his bishop, in January 1833, to the Hermitage to work with Marcellin Champagnat. He must immediately have shown an enthusiasm for Oceania, because Pompallier counted on him in February 1836.[12]

The youngest of the four priests was Pierre Bataillon,[13] born on 1 January 1810, in Saint-Cyr-les Vignes (Loire). He went to school in Lyon and was in Saint-Irénée from 1832 to 1836. Although his father was mayor of the village at one time, the family was of moderate means, and he had to ask for remittance of his fees.[14] He was ordained on 19 December 1835. He had not shown any interest in the Marists but he asked Cholleton to be considered for the foreign missions. He was first appointed as a curate in Saint-Laurent-de-Chamousset, but, when looking around for candidates for Oceania, Cholleton offered him the possibility of joining Pompallier’s team.[15] In July he moved to the Marist community in Valbenoîte and was professed a Marist with the first group on 24 September.

Antoine Colombon was born in 1812 in Mottier (Ain). He joined the Marist Brothers in the Hermitage in 1831, and made his perpetual profession on 7 April 1834, as Brother Michel, -‘Brother of the Society of Mary’.[16] He was selected for Oceania by Marcellin Champagnat.[17]

At nineteen, Jean-Marie Delorme, born 19 July 1817, was the youngest of the group. He came from Saint-Laurent-d`Agny, some 20 km South-West of Lyons. Jean-Marie had received a good schooling and he had picked up a bit of the trade of his father, who was a tailor. Years later, on Futuna, for lack of black cloth, he made a white cassock for Catherin Servant from a bed sheet, which pleased everyone so much that from then on all the missionaries wanted white cassocks![18]. When the parish priest of his village, Jacques Fontbonne, went to join the Marists at the Hermitage, Jean-Marie followed him. He did his novitiate and was professed on 12 October 1834, as Brother Marie-Nizier.[19]

The oldest of the three Brothers on the team was Joseph Luzy, born 2 March 1807 in Marboz (Ain), not far from Chanel`s home village. With his brother he had been a student at the minor seminary of his home town. When he found the studies too hard, he stayed on at the seminary as a factotum, first in Marboz, later in Belley. Colin asked Champagnat if Joseph should not move to the Hermitage for further formation, but nothing came of it. It is not clear whether he volunteered or was invited, but in June or July he was added to the team for Oceania. In September, while the priests were in retreat in Belley, Joseph left Belley for Lyon and the Hermitage, where he did a retreat and immediately made his perpetual profession under the name of Joseph-Xavier, on 26 September 1836. He stayed on to attend the opening of the retreat on 2 October in the Hermitage, but left a day or two later later with Pompallier for Paris.[20]

This completed the first missionary team to leave for Oceania: one bishop, four priests, two from the diocese of Lyon and two from Belley, with three Brothers, two from Marcellin Champagnat’s teaching Brothers in the Hermitage and one from Belley.

There is no indication that either Pompallier, de Pins or Pastre, let alone Jean-Claude Colin, even considered having women on the team. Some Marist Sisters in Belley, Françoise Chanel for one, would have jumped at the occasion.[21] Colin mentioned the Sisters only after the men were on their way, telling Pompallier that they had decided to offer all their prayers and actions for the intention of the missionaries until the first message would come back from wherever they were on their journey.[22] Peter Chanel thought it the most natural thing that the Sisters would follow them to Oceania. ‘We know only too well, he was to write later to Françoise, how interested you all are in our mission’.[23] In his last letter from le Havre he made a point of mentioning to Colin that there were Sisters in the group of missionaries leaving for New Orleans.[24] He had already found in Le Havre a house where they could stay while waiting for the departure of their ship! He was also realistic enough to accept that as yet it was too early, but he did not forget to tell Françoise about the numerous Sisters’ convents they found in Valparaiso.[25]


  1. For a summary of the life of Peter Chanel, cf EC, pp. 21 – 29.
  2. EC, p. 135 n.2.
  3. EC, doc. 11.
  4. Cf. EC, p. 74 & p. 136f. Cf. Nicolet, Vie du bienheureux Pierre-Marie-Louis Chanel, p. 80.
  5. OM I, doc. 227 [1].
  6. RMJ, p. 102, n. 9.
  7. EC, doc. 28 [2].
  8. OM IV, pp. 206 – 208.
  9. Maurey, op. cit. I, Bret, p. 6.
  10. OM II, doc. 732 [12], n. 1.
  11. OM IV, p. 353.
  12. OM I, doc. 370 [4].
  13. OM IV, p. 194.
  14. APM, personal file, undated letter (1832?).
  15. OM I, doc. 372.
  16. FMO, p.16 - 22. APM, personal file. This was how the Brothers were called at that time in the register of professions of the Hermitage.
  17. That Champagnat selected him would seem to follow from what Br. Michel wrote to him: ‘je remercie le Seigneur de m`avoir procuré une si belle vocation par votre entremise’, 17-05-1840, FMO, p. 17.
  18. Ronzon, Jean-Marie Delorme, Frère Marie-Nizier, p. 24. In one of his leters from Valparaiso (28.07.1837) Pompallier writes to Colin that of the three Brothers with him, one is a tailor, one a cabinetmaker and the third a cobbler. It is not very clear who was what! Cf. LRO, doc. 18 [8].
  19. Ronzon, op. cit., pp. 13 – 25.
  20. Ronzon, Frères Maristes en Océanie (FMO), pp.10 – 16. Lettres Luzy, to his parents, 08.10.36. In early July, Colin paid a visit to the Hermitage to discuss a project of joining the Marist teaching brothers with the Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes, cf. LC, doc. 66. The two would have discussed the candidates for Oceania and it was not unlikely on that occasion that Joseph Luzy was added to the team.
  21. Kerr, op. cit., p. 300.
  22. CS, doc. 5 [1].
  23. EC, docs. 31 [2] & 36 [2].
  24. EC, doc. 29 [1].
  25. EC, doc. 31 [2]. From Valparaiso to Françoise: ‘The bishop knows too little yet of his mission to invite a few Sisters of Our Lady’. The list of houses of the congregation of the Picpus Sisters gives 1838 as the founding year of their community in Valparaiso. EC, doc. 36 [1].

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