Vianney, Patron of Parish Priests
order the greeting card from which the above was scanned:
The priest, who is "Alter Christus," or "Another
Christ," is the most important figure in the overall structure of
not just the Church: Throughout the centuries, Christ's mission of
has unremittingly extended over all the earth by the priest, who leaves
all to gain all.
Denying himself the personal comforts of family
and home life, the priest is the lone figure of heroism who looms over
history influencing all men who seek God, by his chaste example.
because of poor seminary training today, and idle time, bad theology, a
contracepting society of materialism, the priest as heroic figure has
Every day we open a newspaper to read
of scandals that discredit the priest's central role in salvation
Yet, we must refrain from condemning the entire priesthood because of
unworthy ones who exist side by side with the saintly priests we are
blessed with through the grace of God alone.
How evident today is the great need of sanctity
in the priesthood. The leading example of the simplicity of holiness is
none other than St. John Vianney, the Curè D' Ars.
On February 9, 1818, a young priest anxiously
walked along a narrow road that led to the village of Ars in Southern
Ars was to be his parish and he to be the curè. As he was
arriving he knelt down to pray, and while doing so, a strange idea
him to say, "This parish will not be able to contain the number of
who shall journey here."
This indeed was a strange prophecy. Why should
anyone want to come to Ars? It was at that time in a squalid state: 40
clay houses scattered in a valley through which a small stream slowly
The church was in poor repair with an unkempt cemetery behind it. The
were ordinary farmers and indifferent as far as the Catholic faith was
concerned, spending their leisure drinking and gossiping.
Yet, despite itself, Ars soon became famous,
for God had sent a blessing by sending this new curè.
The priest took the challenge that lay before
him. The French revolution had left its diabolical marks of
and indifference, but he would soon shake the people out of their
by preaching the uncompromising truths of salvation.
The life of the Curè D' Ars, as described
by one who witnessed and shared his labors, is in itself a more signal
glory of the miraculous, than any of those by which it was glorified:
Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney was born at Dardilly,
a village near Lyons, in a simple farmhouse situated among
vineyards. The house of the Vianneys had been known for generations
generations as the home of the poor, the well-known resort of all
beggars. In the year 1770, St. Joseph Labrè was one of these
The parents of Jean Vianney, Matthieu and
Marie, in a high degree the traditional virtues of their people.
was pious and thoroughly honest in a century of corruption in France,
his wife added the virtues of sweetness and tenderness, which sprang
a deeply interior nature, fitting for the mother of a Saint.
Before the birth of St. Jean-Marie, the oldest
of six children, she often offered him to God and the Blessed Virgin,
a secret vow to consecrate him to the altar. The woman who attended his
mother at the birth proclaimed: "Either this child will be a great
or a great villain."
At eighteen months old he had already learned
to join his hands in prayer and to lisp the names of Jesus and Mary.
Vianney would awaken her children daily, that she might see them offer
their hearts to God. The virtues of his mother passed into his heart:
Vianney credits, after God, his mother, with his singular graces, which
he would need in plenitude.
The Saint had trouble going though the seminary
and lived in an age of anti-religious rebellion, when Satan appeared
in French culture. The appeal at the time was to "liberty, equality,
fraternity." Their clamor had always been vicious in nature,
the rights of God, rendering man "sovereign," but now it had actually
but Saints do not surrender to dissolute social pathology. Vianney's
of reason was the archetypal assertion that sanctity was not a
phenomenon, and Vianney was to prove it wrong. Vianney did things
to be impossible and he did them with an innocent blatancy.
In the next 41 years this priest would convert
80,000 or more hardened sinners of every sort. Later, pilgrims from all
over, as many as 120,000 annually, came to see him, hear him preach and
tell him their sins, and he would heal their souls and sometimes even
A vocation is a precious and mysterious thing.
St. Alphonsus de Liguori estimated that one out of three receives a
If today we experience a lack of vocations, we must not blame God, but
ourselves. In order for grace to be effective and fruitful it must fall
on fertile ground, otherwise the seed will be choked out by worldly
At the time of Vianney's youth, because of
the anti-clerical, anti-eccelsical French Revolution that broke out in
1789, priests who did not sign an oath to the state were sent into
or forced into hiding. If caught these priests went to the guillotine.
Soon the doors of the church at Dardilly were closed and the practice
the Catholic faith forbidden.
But in nearby Lyons there were still 30 priests
loyal to Rome who continued to administer the Sacraments, in secrecy,
at the risk of their lives. The Vianneys not only managed to keep their
faith during this period of persecution, but in fact, grew stronger
of it, as God so often brings good out of evil. The courageous family
have nothing to do with priests who took the oath of allegiance to the
French constitution, which was anti-Church, known as juror priests, nor
would they permit their children to attend the public schools, even
a heavy fine was imposed on those who kept their children away.
Instead, they continued to say their daily
prayers and provide catechetical instruction in the home. Occasionally
a refractory or loyal-to-Rome priest would come to offer Mass in
The evils of the French Revolution, which
caused to the defection of so many priests, gave Jean Vianney a great
of sin and at great zeal for devotion and piety. He would say, "Oh, if
I were a priest, I should want to win ever so many souls for God."
In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power,
becoming absolute monarch. Whatever his failures and misdeeds and sins,
Bonaparte liberated the Church, opening the church doors so that
Mass could once more be publicly celebrated and Our lord
enthroned on the altar. Jean-Marie was quick to make visits to the
Sacrament. While he had advance spiritually during the persecution, his
formal education had suffered, as he knew only how to read and write,
nothing else. Now that Vianney could openly pursue his vocation,
trial awaited because Matthieu would not give his consent for his son
go to the seminary. The elder Vianney was growing old and he needed the
work of Vianney on the farm. In vain did Marie plead with her husband.
The whole time, St. John bore all in silence, submissive to God's holy
Meanwhile, the Abbè Balley, one of
the two priests who most influenced Vianney, had opened a small school
in the rectory at Ecully, to prepare boys for the priesthood. Matthieu
conceded and permitted Jean to study there. Fr. Balley was reluctant at
first because Jean-Marie was so poorly educated and was already
but changed his mind when he learned how much Vianney knew of the
John Marie enthusiastically tackled his textbooks,
but Latin was stumbling block for him. In desperation he made a
to the shrine of St. John Regis, asking for enough success to become a
priest. His prayers were answered later, although he never mastered
In 1807 he was confirmed, adding Baptiste
to his name. The following year a third obstacle presented itself.
had grown desperate for more soldiers, so, although he was supposedly
of the draft, he along with the other seminarians, was summoned to the
ranks of the Grand Army. He obeyed.
After two illnesses he was ordered to a regiment
on the Spanish lines. As went along on the road he said his Rosary.
late afternoon, exhausted, he stopped to rest, wondering where he would
find shelter in the winter weather. Suddenly a man appeared, telling
that his name was Guy. Guy picked up the Saint's pack and led him up a
mountainous path to a hut. The next morning Vianney thought that Guy
a deserter and feared his company as he would be considered one, too.
To avoid being caught, he went higher in the
mountains, staying with a kind widow; in gratitude he taught her
Fortunately, in 1810, Bonaparte granted a general amnesty and
was free to return home. The people in the mountain hamlet of Les
made a cassock for him because they loved him so much. That February,
bliss to have her beloved son return, Marie Vianney died. After that,
Jean-Marie had no longer any worldly attachment. by now he was 24. When
he returned to the seminary he made a consecration to Mary, placing his
complete trust in her, committing all his good works, past, present,
nd future to her motherly protection, in the manner recommended by St.
Louis de Montfort, the great saint of the French Vendee region, and who
was so instrumentally in preserving the faith in that part of France
the persecution. De Montfort had left a legacy so strong the Revolution
could not destroy it.
Vianney studied in the major seminary at Lyons,
and was by then known as the Abbè Vianney because he had
the tonsure the previous year.
250 seminarians, he was known for his asceticism, penance, modesty, and
recollection. Despite all this, six months later the authorities felt
to dismiss him, who is now the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, because
of poor academics.
Almost in despair, he heard a voice instructing
him to not fret as he would one day be a priest. The Abbè Balley
would not give up either, and soon sent John back for an examination
the minor orders and the diaconate. This time he was examined in French
and he passed, in fact it was recorded that he "gave very good,
answers . . ."
Meanwhile, all the Archbishop was concerned
about was piety. When told that Vianney was a model of piety, the
summoned him for ordination, saying that the "grace of God will do the
On July 2, the Feast of the Visitation, he
was made a subdeacon. On August 12, 1815, he was ordained a priest
At first, the faculties were withheld from him for Confession, but God
has a sense of humor, for soon Vianney would be hearing Confessions up
to 18 hours a day.
His work as parish priest for Ars was difficult:
it took him a few years to close down the taverns, and eight years to
the Sunday buying and nd selling, and a whole twenty-five years to get
the people to dress modestly and cease dancing so impiously. He prayed
constantly for sinners but he endured much suffering from them,
incessant diabolical disturbance, exhaustion, constant fevers. he said,
'To suffer lovingly, is to suffer no longer."
His diet was a self-inflicted penance: boiled
potatoes, usually days old, never more than two in a day. If someone
him a loaf of bread, he would exchange it for a crust from a beggar. To
his penitents, on the other hand, he gave easy penances, saying "I give
them a light penance and perform the rest myself."
At first, out of routine the villagers would
come to Sunday Mass at that was all. Even the, the slightest excuse
suffice with which to absent themselves. It was only on Sundays, that
was able to correct them in general. During the week he would visit the
farms and cottages when everyone was eating the noon meal. He would
leaning in the doorway talking with them about farming. But before he
left he had managed to turn the subject to Heaven. Later in the day he
was seen walking through the fields saying the Rosary.
He was such a eloquent speaker that many priests
and bishops came to hear him preach; so clearly did he teach the truths
of the Faith, that his listeners were startled to remark on their
The Saint did not consider his village converted
until all 200 villagers were observing the Ten Commandments, the Six
of the Church and the fulfillment of daily duties. He preached about
in dress, for he knew that modesty is the outward appearance of purity,
and he demanded modesty at all times, not just in church. But the sin
caused him to weep most was the sine of blasphemy, the profanation of
Holy Name. he used to say that it was a miracle that blasphemers were
struck dead on the spot. He warned the villagers that "if the sin of
is prevalent in your home, it----the home----will
From this it would seem that St. Vianney was
intolerant and uncompromising when it came to sin, and indeed, he was,
like his Patron Saint, St. John the Baptist.
And just as he lay axe to the root, he also
built up, explaining the Mysteries of the Faith, such as the
and spotless Virginity of Mary with such unction that people would shed
tears. His delight was to teach children the catechism, which he did
day. After a while, the adults came, too. Those who had grown up during
the Revolution were in complete ignorance of their Faith; he taught
the Rosary and loved to tell them about the Saints.
The Curè D'Ars repeatedly stressed
the importance of the Blessed Sacrament and arranged an Eucharistic
In time the church was never empty, because someone was always there
the Blessed Sacrament. The sanctuary had been refurbished with graceful
statues and pictures, because Vianney believed that the mere sight of a
holy image could convert a soul. [Catholic Tradition concurs, of
By 1827 peace pervaded Ars because everyone
living there was living in conformity to God's Divine Plan. All
France had heard of Ars and many came seeking the peace there and found
it in the confessional of the saintly priest. With unparalleled
he would discover the source of any problem and unhesitantly insist on
its being treated or cut away. Then he would prescribe the means for
in the state of grace, and how to reject occasions of sin. The time
in the confessional for each penitent was short for the lines were very
long and time was precious; sometimes he heard as many as 400
within a single day.
One day, upon leaving the confessional, to
say Mass, he passed by a lady who was ready to leave in despair of ever
getting to see him. he pleasantly told her, "You are not very patient,
my child. You have been here only three days and you want to go home?
must remain fifteen days and pray to Saint Philomena to tell you what
your vocation and after that, come and see me." She did so and later
a nun. At another time he came out of the confessional and bade a woman
out of turn to come in, somehow knowing that she could wait no longer.
He was the mother of 16 children.
These stories relate the wonderful compassion
of the Saint: in truth he was the living testimony to the Mercy of God.
And he would sometimes weep for the penitent, whom he considered as not
weeping enough. Space here does not permit more such accounts, but we
tell you about his love for Saint Philomena.
St. Jean Marie Vianney was renowned for miracles.
A simple prayer, a word, or a touch of his hand was all that was needed
to perform miraculous cures, but to him it was the curing of the soul
was of importance. And he did not like any attention he received or
Thus, he made an agreement with St. Philomena, his favorite saint, that
he would send all those that were deserving of cures to her; he would
her praises and she do the work. Until that time, Philomena
was little-known. Her relics had only recently been found in the
In fact, he is credited with the promotion of devotion to her for there
were those who did not believe about St.
Vianney testified that she and Our Lady appeared
to him on occasions when he needed some Heavenly assistance. And always
he would say, when asked how he kept up his arduous schedule, "With Our
Lady and Saint Philomena we get on well together."
Before we close with our little exposition,
we must provide a brief explanation of his harassment by the devil.
prefers to be forgotten so that he can do his work all the more
If this tactic does not work, he has recourse to all sorts of
to unsettle a soul. With the Curè none of his tactics were
Thus, the devil assumed a bodily form to terrify the priest, which he
to do for a time. Imagine yourself being dragged out of bed by the
as he was, on many occasions, or hearing hideous screams or Satan
singing in the night. This what happened to the Curè D'Ars from
1824-1858, hundreds of times a year. After a while he stopped being
all that Satan could effect was a loss of sleep, which was at most only
2 to 3 hours anyway. One night the bed was set aflame, still to no
The devil was heard to say, "If there were three such priests as you,
kingdom would be ruined."
The Saint spent long years in heroic suffering
and towards the end of his life he had the joy of seeing his Heavenly
and Queen honored by Pope Pius IX when he declared the Blessed Virgin
to "be preserved from all stain of sin, from the first moment of her
on December 8, 1854. This the saint had always held to be true, but now
it was official.
At the beginning as his vocation as a confessor,
one of his jealous confrerès warned him in a letter that a
who knew as little theology as he, should not dare to enter the
Vianney liked letters like that actually. But the people knew, and long
before his death he was revered as a saint, but the Curè did not
enjoy that. The only attention worthy having was his before the Blessed
Sacrament, which he had done all his life. At age 73, still keeping the
same routine, he was ready for eternal rest. On July 29, 1859, he
for the last time saying, "I can do more. Sinners will kill the
After receiving the Last Sacraments and Holy Viaticum, on August 4th,
soul of Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney went to Heaven. His body remains at
Ars today, incorrupt.
Saint of Priests
Vianney [the Curè d'Ars], was born on May 8, 1786 near Lyons,
Nearly refused admittance
into the seminary due to "his ignorance," then denied ordination for
the exam, a good bishop finally recognized the sanctity of our simple
"He has devotion to Our Lady? He knows how to say the Rosary? He is a
of piety? Very well then! I summon him to come up for ordination! The
of God will do the rest." And the "rest" is history! Denied the
of hearing Confessions until later, this magnificent Saint was to spend
three-fourths of his life in the Confessional, with lines up to 8 days
long waiting to confess to him and to hear him preach.
How did this "ignorant"
priest gain the distinguished title, "Patron of Parish Priests?" How
he gain wisdom equal to that of the Church Fathers? It was not admidst
books in libraries, but on his knees, in prayer . . . He sought wisdom
nowhere else but in jesus Christ, in His death and in His Cross.
Let us pray to the Curè
d'Ars, that he obtain for us holy priests!
There is an old traditional
saying in the Catholic Church:
If the parish priest
is a Saint, his people will be holy;
If the priest is holy,
but not yet a Saint, his people will be good;
If he is good, his
people will be lukewarm,
and if he is lukewarm,
his parishioners will be bad.
And if the priest himself
is bad, his people will go to Hell.
[This is presuming
they follow after such a priest.]
Wisdom of Saint John-Marie Vianney:
us to the Foot of the Cross, and the Cross brings us to the Gates of
. . ."
d'Ars on the Priesthood:
"O how great is a priest!
The priest will not understand the greatness of his office until he is
in Heaven . . . Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an Angel.
Will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our
If I were to meet a priest and an Angel, I should salute
the priest before I saluted the Angel. The latter is the friend of God;
but the priest holds His place. St. Teresa kissed the ground where a
priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, "There is he
who made me a child of God, and opened Heaven to me by holy Baptism; he
who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul. "
At the sight of a church tower, you may say, "What is there in that
place?" "The Body of Our Lord. " "Why is He there?" "Because a priest
has been there, and has said holy Mass. "
The priest has the key
to of the Heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the
of the good God, the distributor of his wealth . . . the priest is not
a priest for himself, he does not give himself absolution, he does not
administer the Sacraments to himself . . . he is for you. After God,
priest is everything. Leave a parish 20 years without priests; they
worship beasts. When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by
the priest, because when there is no longer any priest there is no
and where there is no longer any sacrifice, there is no religion."
Two words of wisdom from the Saint:
"We must never lose
sight of the fact that we are either Saints or outcasts, that we must
for Heaven or for Hell; there is no middle path in this. You either
wholly to the world or wholly to God.
If people would do for
God what they do for the world, what a great number of Christians would
go to Heaven."
Sources used: FROM
THE HOUSETOPS Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 3, St.
Benedict Center; THE CURE D' ARS TODAY, by Fr. George Rutler, Ignatius
Press; LIFE OF THE CURE D' ARS, by Abbe Monin, out of print;
and EUCHARISTIC MEDITATIONS by the Curè D'Ars.
* The tonsure is a formal
ceremony whereby a seminarian receives the first clerical orders. A
lock of hair from the front, side and back of the head is snipped and
seminarian given a surplice, a white linen vestment worn when
the Sacraments outside of Mass and when the alb is not worn.
LITANY OF ST. JOHN VIANNEY
THE SAINT'S PRAYER, THE LOVE