Diocesan News

Who is Saint John Vianney?

Special to the Register by Father Kenneth Borowiak

LINCOLN (SNR) - St. John Vianney was a man with vision who overcame obstacles and performed deeds that seemed impossible. From his earliest years he felt called by God to be 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 school. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring, and after a lengthy battle with the books, Father Vianney was ordained.

His work as a confessor is Father Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. He spent up to 12-16 hours per day hearing confessions. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self, day after day.

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.

Life of Fr. John Vianney
Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney (May 8, 1786-August 4, 1859) was a French parish priest who is the patron saint of priests. He is often referred to as the “Curé  of Ars” (parish priest of Ars), who is known for his priestly and pastoral work in his parish in Ars, France.

His family were devoted Catholics who gave shelter to priests who had to flee from and hide from the anti-clerical phase of the French Revolution. Because of this, St. John Vianney received his primary sacraments clandestinely.

In school the young John Vianney struggled academically. Only because of his perseverance and the assistance of sympathetic priests did he persevere until ordination.

Vianney’s studies were interrupted in 1809 when he was drafted into Napoleon’s armies. He would have been exempt as an ecclesiastical student, but Napoleon had withdrawn the exemption in certain dioceses because of his need for soldiers in his fight against Spain.

Father John Vianney was ordained a priest Aug. 12, 1815.  

Curé (parish priest) of Ars
In 1818, Vianney was appointed parish priest in Ars, a town of 230 inhabitants. When Vianney’s bishop first assigned him, he got lost trying to find the town. Two young men tending flocks in the fields pointed him in the right direction.

As a parish priest, Father Vianney realized that the French Revolution’s aftermath had resulted in religious ignorance and indifference, due to the devastation wrought on the Church in France.

Father Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began travelling to go to confession to him as early as 1827. By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year. So great was the number of people who came to father Vianney that the railroad laid a special track to his parish to accommodate trains full of pilgrims.

There was a radical spiritual transformation of the community and its surroundings. Catholics attribute this to Vianney’s saintly life, mortification, persevering ministry in the sacrament of confession, and ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On Aug. 4, 1859, Father Vianney died at the age of 73. His body was later found to be incorrupt. The body, wearing a wax mask, is entombed above the main altar in the basilica at Ars. His heart was removed for veneration.

St. John Vianney was declared venerable in 1874 and blessed in 1905. In 1925 John Mary Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI, who in 1929 made him patron saint of parish priests. His feast day is Aug. 4.

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