St. John Mary Vianney (1786-1859), the patron saint of parish priests, was the son of a French farmer. As a boy, he desired to be a priest, but it seemed this would be prevented by academic difficulties; however, John overcame this obstacle with the help of a tutor. He was considered a devout but otherwise unpromising candidate for the priesthood. After being ordained, he was assigned to the small town of Ars, many of whose residents were indifferent to the faith.
The Curé d’Ars (Vianney’s title as pastor) immediately began enduring severe fasts, many sleepless nights, and other hardships as a form of prayer for his people. He became known as a simple but effective preacher, and stories of miraculous events and powers began to circulate regarding him; Ars and the surrounding countryside soon experienced a great spiritual revival. (Not everyone appreciated him. Several women had him say Mass for a “special intention” for some fourteen years. Their unmentioned intention was that he be transferred to a different parish.)
John Vianney was best known as a confessor. Many times he spent up to sixteen hours a day in the confessional, and he had the supernatural gift of knowing exactly what to say to penitents, reminding them of sins they had forgotten or were afraid to confess. Thousands of people from all over France flocked to his church, arousing the envy and opposition of some of the neighboring priests.
It’s said that the devil himself would often torment Vianney at night, sometimes physically beating him, but the saint would not give up his efforts to save souls. Eventually the Curé began to wear out from his rigorous lifestyle. Three times he tried to leave Ars for the solitude and peace of a monastery, but the people wouldn’t allow it. St. John Vianney remained at the parish until his death in 1859.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Dominic (1221), Priest, Founder of the Dominican Order
image: Andreas König / Wikimedia Commons