August 3, 2016

Saint John Vianney, Patron Saint of Parish Priests

St. John Vianney
August 4th is the Memorial of Saint John Baptist Mary Vianney (1786-1859). He was born May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, France and baptized the same day. He was the fourth of six children to Matthieu and Marie Vianney. During Vianney's youth, the French Revolution forced priests to work in secrecy and Catholicism underground. The future saint was initially catechized and confirmed in private by two nuns who had lost their convent in the violence against the Church.

Against many obstacles and difficulties, (including seminary professors who considered him slow) Vianney suffered and struggled to become an exemplary priest. He was ordained in 1815. Shortly afterward, he was assigned to Ars, a town of 230 inhabitants (hence his designation the Curé d'Ars).

John Vianney was internationally known for his priestly work and for the spiritual transformation of the community of Ars. People traveled for miles to attend his Masses, hear him preach, and go to confession. Men of all ranks and conditions of life sought his guidance and advice. He was beatified by Pope St. Pius X, himself once a parish priest. Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI and is the patron saint of parish priests. He is remembered for lauding the sacrament of confession as indispensable to a life of virtue, for his personal piety, mortification, and great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Life of St. John Vianney

During the French Revolution a small band of Ursuline nuns was imprisoned in the Bastille. To cheer her disconsolate companions, one of the group passed wheaten discs of bread, cut from the loaf of the daily rations, to memorialize the happy days when they were free and could receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. At that time all religious schools and churches were closed, and those who harbored priests were imprisoned.

At the Vianney farmhouse near Dardilly, France, fugitive priests were offered a refuge. Here their son was prepared in his tenth year for the reception of Holy Communion by a hunted priest.

While tending his father's sheep, John Vianney fashioned a small statue of Our Lady out of clay. He hid it in the hollow of an old tree with this petition: "Dear Lady Mary, I love you very much; you must bring Jesus back to His tabernacles very soon!"

On a visit to his aunt at Ecully, John listened to her praises of Father Balley, the parish priest, and he sought the Father's advice regarding his vocation to the priesthood. The pastor appraised the overgrown, awkward youth of faltering speech and devoid of general education. Though John was unable to answer the questions pertaining to earthly science which Father asked him, yet, when the priest put to him the questions of the catechism, his face became luminous with lively interest. He answered every question correctly, and in a manner beyond his years. The amazed pastor took this evidence as a sign from heaven, prophesying, "You will become a priest!"

The ensuing years brought many trials to John. He was conscripted; his mother died; he failed often in his studies. Ordained as a Mass priest, August 12, 1815, he remarked to Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy: "Here is your priest, O Blessed Mother! Stay close to me. Help me to be a good priest!"

As a curate and as a pastor, St. John Vianney's daily instruction on the catechism found an inspired audience, among whom were noted orators such as Père Lacordaire, O.P., the famed preacher of Notre Dame. The saintly pastor performed many miracles, but the greatest was his own manner of Eucharistic living. It was his Lord, living in Father Vianney, who made him "spend and be spent" in ceaseless service for both sinner and saint in the sacred tribunal of penance.

Rev. Vincent F. Kienberger, O.P.

Collect Prayer

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. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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