SAINT JOHN MARY VIANNEY (1786-1859), priest – Patron saint of priests and confessors
Today, the universal Church honors Saint John Mary (Jean Marie) Vianney, also known as the Holy Curé of Ars. He was a man with a vision, who overcame, with the grace of God, many obstacles in order to realize his dream and serve the needs of God’s children.
John Vianney was born May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, near Lyons, France to a farming family. John wanted to become a priest, but he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. His knowledge was extremely limited, being confined to knowing only a little arithmetic, history, and geography, and he found learning, especially the study of Latin, excessively difficult.
But then another obstacle presented itself – Napoleon needed recruits to man the army in his war with Spain. John was called to serve as a soldier, and the day his regiment was to leave for battle, he first went to church to pray; upon his return to the barracks, he found that his comrades had already left. He was threatened with arrest, but the recruiting captain believed his story and sent him after the troops. At nightfall he met a young man who volunteered to guide him to his fellow-soldiers, but, instead, led him to a place where some deserters had gathered.
John was persuaded to remain there, under an assumed name, as schoolmaster. After fourteen months, he was able to communicate with his family. His father was upset to know that John was a deserter and advised him to surrender, but the matter was settled by John’s younger brother offering to serve in his place and being accepted.
John now resumed his studies and was sent to the seminary at Verrieres, France; he was so deficient in Latin that he was obliged to study the course in philosophy in French. In time, he passed his exams and was ordained a priest on August 13, 1815. And in 1818, upon the death of the pastor (curé) in Ars (a small village near Lyons), Father Jean Marie was assigned as its new curé.
Upon his arrival, he immediately began praying and working for the conversion of his parishioners. Although he saw himself as unworthy of his mission as pastor, he allowed himself to be consumed by his love for God as he served the needs of the people.
Father Jean Marie slowly helped to revive the community’s faith through both his prayers and the witness of his lifestyle. He gave powerful homilies on the Mercy and Love of God, and it is said that even staunch sinners were converted upon hearing him. In addition, he restored his parish church, formed an orphanage called “La Providence”, and cared for the poor.
His work as a confessor is Father Jean Marie’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he would spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months, the amount of time he devoted to administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation was increased to 16 hours daily. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this almost complete giving of himself day-after-day.
Many people look forward to retirement and taking it easy, doing the things they always wanted to do but never had the time. But for Father Jean Marie, he had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. It is said that even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep would be disturbed frequently by the devil.
Dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament, he spent much time in prayer and personal mortification. He lived on little food and sleep, while working without rest in unfailing humility, gentleness, patience and cheerfulness, even into his early 70’s.
Father Jean Marie died on August 4, 1859, and over 1,000 people attended his funeral, including the bishop and priests of the diocese, who already viewed his life as a model of priestly holiness.
The Holy Curé of Ars was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In 1929, he declared Saint John Mary Vianney the patron saint of priests worldwide. His remains lie incorrupt in the Basilica at Ars, to which over 450,000 pilgrims travel to Ars every year in remembrance of his holy life.
We commemorate his feastday on August 4.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint John Vianney)
“Father of mercy, You made Saint John Vianney outstanding in his priestly zeal and concern for Your people. By his example and prayers, enable us to win our brothers and sisters to the Love of Christ and come with them to eternal glory.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”