"Here is your priest, O Blessed Mother! Stay close to me. Help me to be a good priest!"
A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies.
His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained.
Situations calling for “impossible” deeds followed him everywhere. As pastor of the parish at Ars, John encountered people who were indifferent and quite comfortable with their style of living. His vision led him through severe fasts and short nights of sleep.
With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. Only a man of vision could have such trust that God would provide for the spiritual and material needs of all those who came to make La Providence their home.
His work as a confessor is John Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he was to spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months this time was increased to 16 hours. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self 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 John Vianney had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. Even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep were disturbed frequently by the devil.
Father Vianney was assigned to the small farming community of Ars, whose parish consisted of 260 people. Walking along the road, towing a few possessions in a cart, he thanked a local boy who pointed him the way, saying, “You have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven.” The political turbulence, anti-clericalism and religious skepticism of the age had taken their toll on the village, and the practice of the faith was poor. Father Vianney undertook a life of heroic penance and prayer to draw his people away from sin and closer to God. Known for his wise spiritual counsels and the gift of reading hearts, he soon became a “prisoner” of the confessional, hearing confessions for up to eighteen hours a day, as people came from across Europe and beyond to see him. He also exercised great charity, building an orphanage for homeless children and receiving beggars with an open heart and hand.
Due to his success in bringing souls to Christ, he became a target of the devil, who confronted the priest on various occasions. Undeterred, Father Vianney did not fall for the devil’s tricks and dismissed strange events by saying, “It’s just the devil.”
Jean Vianney died on Aug. 4, 1859, at the age of 73. Nearly 1,000 people attended his funeral, including the bishop and priests of the diocese. On Oct. 3, 1873, Pope Pius IX proclaimed him Venerable, and on Jan. 8, 1905, Pope Pius X beatified him. St. Jean Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 31, 1925. In 1929, the Holy Father declared him patron of parish priests.
Pictured is the major relic of the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney. In 2019, the Cathedral was honored to be part of the nationwide tour of the relic.
Almighty and merciful God, who made the Priest Saint John Vianney wonderful in his pastoral zeal, grant, we pray, that through his intercession and example we may in charity win brothers and sisters for Christ and attain with them eternal glory.