The man who would become St. John Mary Vianney was a 19th century priest who began the path to sainthood by nurturing the faithful in the French village of Ars, teaching them and giving them the sacrament of reconciliation.
His work led him to become known as the Curé, French for parish priest, of Ars, and to his canonization in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
During the Year for Priests, which officially began on June 19, Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim St. John Vianney the patron saint of all the world’s priests. He is currently considered the patron saint of parish priests. The Year for Priests coincides with the 150th anniversary of the saint’s death.
The pope called the French priest “a true example of a priest at the service of the flock of Christ.”
He was born Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney in 1786 in Dardilly, France, the son of Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluze. At the age of 19, he discovered his vocation and began studies for the priesthood under the guidance of his mentor, known only as Father Bailey. His academics were interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon’s army in the war against Spain. Vianney was separated from his regiment and lived as a deserter. In 1810, he resumed his schooling. He struggled academically but was eventually ordained in 1815.
In 1818, he became a parish priest in Ars, a small village not far from Lyons in central France. There, he started “The Providence,” an institution for poor, orphaned girls, where he instructed them in the catechism. His lessons became so popular that they eventually drew large crowds to the local church, and his greatest work became instructing people in the Gospel and the tenets of the faith. Father Vianney’s teaching was characterized by simplicity, common sense and insight into the human condition.
People came from other regions of France and finally from other nations to learn from him. He was especially known for his devotion to the sacrament of confession, and tradition states that during the last decade of his life, Father Vianney spent between 16 and 18 hours a day in the confessional. Some claimed he had a supernatural capacity to discern sins a person withheld during an imperfect confession. By 1855, reports say more than 20,000 pilgrims were coming to Ars each year to receive his instruction.
Biographers write that he lived a life of great humility and self-sacrifice, sleeping and eating very little. However, he was always known for his cheerfulness and patience. He also was praised for what was later believed to be miraculous success in obtaining money and supplies for the orphans and poor people he helped during his lifetime. St. John Vianney died at age 73 on Aug. 4, 1859. His feast day is Aug. 4, and his major shrine is located in the village of Ars-sur-Forman in France.
In 1959, Pope John XXIII issued an encyclical praising the life of the saint, including his acts of self-mortification, dedication to poverty and chastity, and his devotion to the sacrament of confession.
Sources: www.newadvent.org, Catholic News Service, www.ewtn.com.
Go here for a Prayer to St. John Vianney