Established: June 6, 1986Location: 12001 214th Street, Hawaiian GardensSan Pedro Region: Deanery 18Despite its flowery name, there is really nothing Hawaiian about this city, the smallest in Los Angeles County. Still, the reference to Hawaii prompted the selection of a particular saint’s name for the new parish in 1986. Cardinal Timothy Manning’s handwritten notes point out that this patron was “the only canonized saint and martyr of the Pacific Islands. And because of the name of Hawaii, it was thought appropriate to bring him into focus.” A native of France, Pierre (Peter) Chanel, was born in 1803 and worked as a shepherd until he was 12 when a visiting priest recognized his intelligence and sponsored his education. Peter entered the diocesan seminary and was ordained in 1827, imbued with zeal for missionary work. In 1831 he joined the Society of Mary (Marists) and five years later the Marists were formally approved by Pope Gregory XVI. Father Chanel then embraced the missionary life and traveled first to the Canary Islands, then Valparaiso, Tahiti and Futuna, a small island in the New Hebrides, north of Fiji. At first the pagan natives and their king welcomed him and his two companions. However, as the missionaries learned the native language and conversions spread, the king grew suspicious when his own son wanted baptism. So he ordered his warriors to “do whatever was necessary.” Thus, on April 18, 1841, Father Chanel was clubbed to death, his body cut up and sacked; it was a year before the Marists knew of his death. Yet, as testament to the missionary’s efforts, within two years the whole island was converted. (An ancient axiom states: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”) He was the first martyr from the South Pacific and remains the one and only Polynesian saint. Pope Pius XII canonized him in 1954 and his feast day is April 28. Today Futuna remains 99 percent Catholic.Devotion to the Blessed Mother as fostered by the Marianists was also the primary focus of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary Society. Brother Bruno Lanteri, ordained in 1782, founded this Italian institute based on great love for Mary and spiritual rebirth. By 1816 the group was declared a diocesan congregation and Pope Leo XII approved the society four years before the founder’s death in 1826. Pope Paul VI in 1930 authorized his cause for beatification as the founder of the Congregation of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. One of Father Lanteri’s instructions to his followers was “Never give up. Have no regrets with God. Be always diligent and generous.”This devotion to Mary is still the foundation of the parish that for seven years was a mission of Holy Family Church in Artesia. In the early 1980s, the Oblates were invited to staff the fledgling parish that was officially established in 1986. Father Vincenzo Antolini, the first pastor (through 1991), had previously served for 17 years as a missionary in Brazil. Addressing the new parishioners after the dedication he said: “I see the whole archdiocese in this parish…the richness of the ethnic groups and the whole task ahead makes this very exciting. But first your job is to pull the people together into one family.” He now serves as an associate.Father Lawrence Darnell, a native of Memphis, Tennessee and ordained in 1982, is the current pastor. He previously worked with the Oblates in Brazil serving the poor, and worked at St. Francis Chapel in Boston before being appointed an associate pastor, and later pastor, at St. Peter Chanel. Upon his arrival he found the “parishioners warm and wonderful, deeply concerned about the surrounding community.”Those words help explain the name of the Southeast L.A. County city that incorporated in 1964. Early history lists the area as a wooded marsh, called the “Delta” with frequent floods and muddy roads. In the 1920s a trail up the Coyote Creek became well-traveled, and an enterprising vendor envisioned an opportunity for quick, lucrative commerce. He constructed a simple bamboo frame covered with palm fronds and dubbed it “Hawaiian Gardens,” famous for fruit and “strong” libations. As noteworthy as the name of the small city may be, however, it is overshadowed by the devotion to the Blessed Mother, owing to both the Marists and the Oblates of Mary, and a martyr’s missionary spirit that are at the heart of its Catholic parish. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0215/chanelside/{/gallery}