St. John Vianney
Most of the superhero movies we watch portray the main character as someone who is powerful and invincible. Unfortunately, these stories happen only on theaters and big screens. But our saint for today is a real life hero who conquered numerous people not because of an extraordinary power, but because of his life. Let us take a look at the life of the beloved Curé of Ars.
His Humble Beginings
Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney (known as John Vianney in English) was born on May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, near Lyon in France and was baptized the same day. He was the fourth of six children born to a family of farmers, Matthieu and Marie Vianney. He was raised in the Catholic faith and and his humble family often helped the poor. Young Vianney lived as a poor farm boy and shepherd.
When the anti-clerical French Revolution broke out in 1790, priests were forced do their ministry in secret due to the impending execution imposed upon clerics. Despite this fearful situation, the young Vianney believed the priests were heroes and he really admired their bravery. Despite the pressing circumstances of his time, John continued attending catechism classes, received First Communion and was confirmed in secret.
In 1806, a school for ecclesiastical students was opened. At the age of 20, John began his formal seminary school (actually, at his age, he was very late to enter the seminary because of his family’s financial status). However, ecclesiastical studies in preparation for ordination was never easy for John. Though his teachers never seem to have doubted his priestly calling, he was of average intelligence. His knowledge was limited to a little arithmetic, geography and history. But the most difficult for John was the study of Latin which, during that time, was extremely important.
The Road Seems Rough
The French Revolution brought a temporary halt to John’s studies. In 1809, he was drafted into the French Army. However, due to his frail health, he missed his recruiting call. In 1812, he returned to Ecully and resumed his studies. Still struggling with his studies due to his limited intelligence, he had to take philosophy classes in French, not in Latin, and failed many of his examinations (after several attempts, John eventually passed his courses). The priest who tutored him persuaded the bishop to ordain John for his holiness, not for intelligence. And so, John was ordained deacon in June 1815 and later on as a priest on August 12 of the same year.
The newly-ordained Vianney was appointed as assistant to Abbe Balley, the parish priest of Ecully. Three years after, Balley passed away. In 1818, Fr. Vianney was assigned as pastor to the small parish of Ars, a village not far from Lyon. The people of Ars were hostile, ignorant of the faith and lived wayward lives. However, the beloved Curé of Ars won their hearts through constant prayer, preaching and penance.
The Holy Man of Ars
In 1824, with the help of Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, Fr. Vianney established La Providence, a home for orphan girls. He taught catechism to children and offered personal penances for his flock. He preached powerful sermons, reminding his flock of God’s mercy and love and that He could forgive sins, no matter how grave they are.
But the most remarkable among his work was his ardent dedication as a confessor. Fr. Vianney had no gift of intense learning, but he did have the gift of understanding people’s hearts and minds. His reputation as a confessor grew rapidly, and pilgrims traveled from all over France to come to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (it was believed that he heard 20,000 confessions a year, which later on increased to 75,000). Fr. Vianney, strongly dedicated to the conversion and sanctity of his people, would spend up to 16 hours a day in the confessional.
Fr. Vianney served the small parish of Ars for 41 years. On August 4, 1859, at the age of 73, the humble Curé of Ars breathed his last. All throughout France, he was known as a holy man. He had limited learning, but he was full of love for his people. He was canonized May 31, 1925 by Pope Pius XI and was declared patron saint of priests. His feast day is August 4.
Five Interesting Facts About St. John Vianney
- Because of St. John Vianney’s commitment to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the devil hated him so much. St. John Vianney was repeatedly attacked by the devil and even burned his bed while the saint was sleeping.
- St. John Vianney is one of the “incorrupt saints”. His body, many years after his death, remains intact and did not decompose.
- St. John Vianney had a deep devotion and love to St. Philomena, a young Christian martyr. He attributed many miracles which happened in his parish to the saint’s intercession.
- St. John Vianney attempted to run away from Ars four times! This was because he really wanted to become a monk. After his fourth attempt, he finally decided that it was not to be.
- Commemorating the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney’s death in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year for Priests. He wrote a Letter to Clergy where he encouraged all priests to look to the Curé of Ars as an example of dedication to one’s priestly vocation.
Prayer to St. John Vianney
(by St. John Vianney)
I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally…My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.