St. John Vianney: The Patron
Saint of Diocescan Priests
Brother John Raymond
Jean Marie Vianney was consecrated by his parents to Our Lady
before his birth. Also before his birth the Vianney house was
visited by a future saint whom his parents gave overnight lodging to
- St. Benedict Joseph Labre. From his parents piety the Vianney
family was blessed with many special graces.
The greatest blessing for the family was the birth of Jean Marie
in 1786. His mother played an important role in his early spiritual
development. In later years St. John Vianney wrote "After God, I owe
all to my mother; she was so good! Virtue easily passes from the
heart of a mother into that of her children." In his childhood Jean
Marie would stay up late at night to listen to his mother's stories
from the Bible. She gave him a small statue of Our Blessed Mother
which he carried with him wherever he went.
At the age of seven he began helping to look after the cows and
sheep. Sometimes he would give short sermons to the other children
based on what he had learned from his mother. He led them in praying
the Holy Rosary and singing hymns.
(We see from the early life of St. John Vianney how important is
the role of the parents in the spiritual formation of their
children. Even the graces God gives to the children depend to some
extent on the life and prayers of the patents. A plant needs good
soil in order to grow. So a child needs a good family life to
As a teenager Jean Marie helped his father with plowing, pruning,
harvesting and other farming work. St. John Vianney in later life
gives this following reflection on work, "If you work with God, you
will indeed do the work, but He will bless it... What a wonderful
thing it is to offer oneself every morning to God as a sacrifice!"
Jean Marie would remain in the Church after Sunday Mass kneeling in
adoration before the tabernacle. At night he would read the Gospels
or the Imitation of Christ. He began to tell his father about his
desire to enter the priesthood to his father. His mother was happy
at the news but his father refuse his permission. What seminary
would accept him at the age of l8 with little formal schooling? Who
would take his place working on the farm? For two years his father
resisted his vocation but finally with his mother's help the father
gave his permission.
Fr. Balley, a nearby pastor, had opened a school for seminarians
in his rectory. This Priest had risked his life by staying with his
flock through the bloody horrors of the French Revolution when many
priests were arrested and executed. Jean Marie went to this school
but because of his lack of schooling he became the laughingstock of
his younger classmates. He beacame frustrated and decided to go
home, but Fr. Balley talked him out of it. Jean Marie made a 100
kilometer pilgrimage on foot to the Shrine of St. Francis Regis
fasting all the way to ask for the grace to learn enough Latin to
continue his studies.
In l809 Jean Marie's studiies were interrupted for two years by a
summons to enlist in the Army. Because of an illness Jean Marie was
not able to go with his company of soldiers to battle. When he was
well enough he was told to catch up to them. He set out to do this.
Along the way he passed a church and he stopped in to make a visit.
The visit turned into hours and when he came out a soldier he met
told him it would be impossible to catch up to his company that day.
He suggested spending the night in the next town with some friends
of his. This soldier and his friends were all deserters. So Jean
Marie unknowingly became associated and known as a deserter also.
When peace returned to the country all deserters were pardoned for
On May 28th, 1911 Jean Marie entered the Junior Seminary joining
a class of 200. At age 26 he was older than his professor. He stood
out to be a very poor student and silently suffered the derision of
his classmates. He was eventually asked to leave the seminary
because of his poor mastery of Latin. He decided to join a Religious
Order of Brothers but again Fr. Balley made him change his plans.
The good Priest personally instructed him and three months later he
returned to the seminary to take the examination. Nervous in taking
the exam Jean Marie failed miserably. Fr. Balley did not give up. He
arrange for the exam to be given at the rectory. Being more relaxed
Jean Marie passed the exam.
At the age of 29, after a ten year struggle, Jean Marie became
Fr. Vianney. His first appointment was as assistant Priest to Fr.
Balley. After two years his good friend died. Fr. Vianney was
transferred to the tiny village of Ars. In this town most people
were ignorant of their Catholic Faith. They worked on Sundays, and
neglected their Faith. After visiting his parishioners one by one
Fr. Vianney realized what a poor state spiritually his people were
in. He began a personal program of prayer and penance for the
conversion of his Parish. His program of penance included self
denial of food, drink and sleep. He would go two and even three days
without eating. When he did eat his meal consisted of boiled
potatoes (which were cold by the time he ate them), an egg or some
pancakes. He woke up very early in the morning, after staying up
late into the night, and prostrated himself before the tabernacle to
beg Jesus to convert his parish. After some years the Holy Cure of
Ars brought about the conversion and transformation of the town.
In 1820 Fr. Vianney organized the Confraternity of the Holy
Rosary for the women of the parish and the Confraternity of the
Blessed Sacrament for men. Both groups were to lead a more perfect
life than the ordinary Christian by attending Holy Mass and
receiving Holy Communion frequently; and spending at least one hour
a week in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Through these two
groups Fr. Vianney revived family prayer: the Holy Rosary, the
Angelus and grace at meals. It became customary to pause for a Hail
Mary whenever the Church bell rang the hour. Young men walking
beside their carts could be seen praying the Rosary. In the fields
on the farm simple hymns were sung. Images of Our Lady and the
Saints adorned every house. Besides these changes in the
parishioners Fr. Vianney also worked for poor and abondoned
children. He set up a house for girls. At this orphanage he set up a
little chapel where these girls maintained Perpetual Eucharistic
Adoration. He started a tuition free school for the boys which taken
over by a Religious Order. All of these successes only came about
through the penances that Fr. Vianney suffered for his people.
In 1824 there began a 30 year attack of the devil. Voices,
strange noises, threats, furniture being thrown about and many ohter
assaults of the demon took place every night. Besides all this
external suffering Fr. Vianney had physical ailments such as severe
headaches, rheumatism, toothaches, fever and exhaustion. How did Fr.
Vianney make it through all these sufferings? He gives this advice,
"You must pray for the grace to love your crosses and then they
become dear to you."
Hearing of the holiness of Fr. Vianney people started to come to
the village to see the living Saint. They heard he had a great gift
of guiding souls and could heal the sick. By 1845 three to four
hundred people arrived daily to see Fr. Vianney - That is over
100,000 people a year. People would wait from one to three days to
make their Confessions. Each day found Fr. Vianney ministering to
these multitudes of visitors. This lasted for 30 years with only
three to four hours of sleep a night.
The greatest temptation the saint had was to leave the Parish and
join a monastery in order to atone for his sins and prepare for
death. He was afraid to die as a Pastor and have to give an account
of himself before God. He desired to join a special monastery,
opened by a former classmate of his at the seminary, where both
Brothers and Priests were to spend day and night in adoration of the
Most Blessed Sacrament. Three times he tried to quietly sneak out of
the town but the people always went after him and brought him back.
The heroic self-sacrifice of Fr. Vianney eventually led to his
death. At the age of 73 he began to have fainting spells. By the end
of July because of the intense summer heat Fr. Vianney could no
longer rise from his bed. His temptation over his unworthiness to
appear before God and give an account of himself no longer troubled
him. A sermon that he had once given now applied to him "How sweet
it is to die if one has lived on the cross". On August 4th, 1859 at
2 A.M., four days after his physical collapse, Fr. Vianney gave up
his soul to God without an agony. He had been Parish Priest of Ars
for 41 years. He was declared Venerable 13 years after his death. In
1904 when his body was exhumed it was found to be incorrupt although
the fleash had dried up and darkened. To this day his incorrupt body
can be seen encased in glass on a marble Altar in Ars. In 1905 he
was declared Blessed. On the Feast of Pentecost in 1925 he became
Saint John Marie Vianney. Pope Pius XI in 1929 declared him Patron
of all Diocescan Priests.
Let us pray to St. John Vianney that he will help our priests
grow in holiness. Also, let us invoke him to bring Perpetual
Eucharistic Adoration to our Parish as he was so devoted to this
PRAYER FOR OUR PARISH PRIESTS
Dear St. John Vianney, your childhood dream was to be a Priest,
to "win souls for God." You endured years of toil and humiliation to
attain the Priesthood. You became a Priest truly after God's own
heart, outstanding in humulity and poverty; prayer and
mortification. Totally devoted to the service of God's people. The
Church has exalted you as model and patron saint of all Parish
Priest, trusting that your example and prayers will help them to
live up to the high dignity of their vocation to be faithful
servants of God's people, to be perfect imitators of Christ the
Savior Who came not to be served but to serve, "to give His Life in
ransom for many."
Pray that God may give to His Church today many more Priests
after His own Heart. Pray for all the Priests under your patronage,
that they may be worthy representatives of Christ the Good Shepherd.
May they wholeheartedly devote themselves to prayer and penance;
be examples of humility and poverty; shining modelss of holiness;
tireless and powerful preachers of the Word of God; zealous
dispensers of God's Grace in the Sacraments. May their loving
devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to Mary His Mother be the
Twin Fountains of fruitfulness for their ministry. Amen.