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Saint John Vianney

Saint John Vianney
  • Century: 18th &19th Century
  • Patronage: Priests, Parishes, Confessors
  • Feast Day: August 4th

St. John Vianney was born on May 8th, 1786 in the French town of Dardilly, and was baptized on the same day.  He was the fourth of six children.  His parents were strong Catholics who helped the poor and one it helped out, was St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saints of tramps, who passed through Dardilly on his pilgrimage to Rome.    

Around 1790, the French Revolution forced many loyal priests to hide from the government in order to carry out the sacraments in their parish.  In order to attend Mass, even though it was illegal, the Vianneys traveled to distant farms where they could pray in secret.   St. John looked upon Priests as heroes, since they daily put their lives on the line.  Many times the windows were covered so that the light of the candles burning during Mass could not be seen from the outside, this continued for many years.  

In 1802, the Catholic Church was re-established in France.  This resulted in religious peace throughout the country.  John Vianney wanted to study considering a vocation, but his father would not allow him to leave the farm until he was twenty.  He went to the neighboring village of Ecully, but he struggled in school, especially with Latin, since the French Revolution interrupted his past education.  It was only due to John’s deep desire to be a Priest that he continued.    In 1809 his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon’s army.  Two days after he was to report, he became ill and was hospitalized.  During this time, his draft left without him.  

Once released from the hospital, he was sent for another draft.  He went into a church to pray, and lost his group.  He met a young man who volunteered to guide him back to his group, but instead this young man led him deep into the mountains, where deserters gathered.  He lived there for fourteen months, hidden in a farmhouse, under the care of a widow with four children.  He was safe, since the hard weather isolated them from the town, during the winter.  In the spring the place was searched constantly for deserters, but John hid inside stacks of fermenting hay.  In 1810, amnesty was granted to all deserters, and he returned back to Ecully to resume his studies.  

He went to the minor seminary at Lyons in 1813, but was sent back due to his poor learning skills.  Only through persuasion by his teacher in Ecully, did the Vicar General take him back.  It was decided that his piety was great enough to compensate for his ignorance.  Finally he was ordained a Priest in 1815.  He was sent back to assist the Priest in Ecully.   

In 1818 John was appointed the parish priest of Ars, a town of 230.  As a parish priest, he realized the Revolution’s aftermath had resulted in religious ignorance, due to the destruction of the Catholic Church in France.  People were working in the fields on Sundays, dancing and drinking in taverns, and this bothered John.  He knew he would have to teach the faith to those that didn’t know it. 

Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began traveling to consult him as early as 1827.  By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached twenty thousand a year.  During the last ten years of his life, he spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day in the confessional.  Even the Bishop forbade him to attend the annual retreats of the diocesan clergy because of the souls awaiting him.  

St. John Vianney had a great devotion to St. Philomena.  Vianney regarded her as his guardian and erected a chapel and shrine in honor of the saint.  In 1843 he fell so ill, he thought he was going to die.  He asked St. Philomena to cure him and promised to say 100 Masses at her shrine.  Twelve days later, he was cured and attributed his cure to St. Philomena.  

On August 4th, 1859, Vianney died at the age of 73.  The bishop presided over his funeral with more than 300 priests, and more than 6,000 people in attendance, due to his popularity.  He was accredited with many miracles performed throughout his life.  He miraculously obtained money for his charities, food for the orphans, and had a supernatural knowledge of the past and future, and could heal the sick – especially children.  

In 1874 he was proclaimed Venerable, in 1905 declared Blessed, and 1925 he was canonized.  He was made patron saint of parish priests, and his feast is August 4th.  St. John Vianney’s body is entombed above the main altar in the Basilica at Ars, France.  His body was declared to be incorrupt by the Catholic Church, and many churches in France have a statue of him in them.

Practical Take Away 

St. John Vianney had a strong desire to become a priest, even though Masses had to be celebrated underground in his early years, because of the French Revolution.  He had a very difficult time with his studies, and was labeled as ignorant.  He went on to be ordained, and became famous internationally, because of his piety, ability to be a great confessor, and his performance of many miracles.  He spent his life teaching the faith to those under his care, because many had forgotten their faith, due to the French Revolution.  He didn’t care what the world thought, or how smart he was, he just focused on serving God by being a good priest.  His piety and knowledge of the faith made him a priest that people would come to see from foreign lands.  We too, can teach the faith to those around us, and through our piety set an example that will be noticed by all.