A man with a vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision; he wanted to become a priest. Born near Lyons, France of a devoutly Christian family, John Vianney was five years old when the reign of terror in Paris was exiling or murdering the Catholic clergy and religious. His vocation was stimulated by contact with a holy priest and two years later he received his father’s permission to study for the priesthood. He was not an outstanding student, but he was finally ordained at the age of 29.
John Vianney was assigned to the parish at Ars, France as its Cuŕe, or pastor and remained there for 42 years because the people repeatedly opposed his transfer. He himself tried several times to leave Ars in order to follow a contemplative life. He was constantly occupied with the religious education of its parishioners, instructing them in plain language that they could understand. They often commented that no other priest had ever preached as he did.
John Vianney possessed the ability to read the hearts of his penitents. He had the gifts which mystical theologians call intuition and prophecy. There are literally hundreds of well-documented examples of his use of these gifts. When his confessor asked John Vianney how he repelled the attacks of the devil, he replied, “I turn to God; I make the Sign of the Cross; I address a few contemptuous words to the devil. I have noticed, moreover, that the tumult is greater and the assaults more numerous if, on the following day, some big sinner is due to come. At the beginning I felt afraid. I did not then know what it was, but now I am quite happy. It is a good sign, there is always a good haul of fish the next day.”
The fame of this humble priest spread over France, attracting hordes of troubled souls. He was spending from 13 to 17 hours per day in the stifling, cramped confessional booth. He opened a free school for poor girls in 1824 and he gave daily catechism lessons. He refused the appointment as a canon of the diocese and when he received the medal of the Legion of Honor in 1843, he sold it in order to give the money to the poor. From 1827-1859, the church at Ars was never empty. In the last year of the Saint’s life there were between 100,000-120,000 total number of pilgrims that traveled by public and private transport to see him.
John Vianney died of exhaustion at the age of 74, as he had predicted, peacefully and without fear. He was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI on Pentecost Sunday and proclaimed Patron of Parish Priests by the same Pontiff in 1929. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI named him the patron of all priests worldwide.
Saint John Vianney, pray for all priests!
Ball, Ann. “Modern Saints-Their Lives and Faces.” Rockford: Tan Books & Publishers, 1990.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.