Pondering on the Life of St. John Mary Vianney, Patron of Parish Priests

Today August 4, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, patron of priests. St. John Vianney, also known as the Holy Curé de Ars, was born May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, near Lyon, France to a family of farmers. Because of the French Revolution, Vianney received little education. Given the anticlerical sentiment of the Hébertists during the Reign of Terror, he was forced to make his first communion and confession secretly and was impressed by the heroism of the nuns and priests who risked their lives for their faith. He felt called to pursue the priesthood but struggled with Latin and needed private tutoring to supplement his lack of formal education. His studies were interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon’s armies in 1809. Whether deliberately or by serendipity, he was separated from his draft group and ended up in a rural village with a number of army deserters, where he was forced to hide until the decree of amnesty for all deserters in 1810. He was ordained in 1815 and was made assistant priest at Écully, France.

He was ordained a priest in 1815 and became curate in Ecully. He was then sent to the remote French community of Ars in 1818 to be a parish priest.

He made it a model parish and reports of his holiness and his supernatural powers soon spread. He was known for his devotion to the Virgin Mary and to St. Philomena and was dedicated to the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) for his parishioners. From 1824 he suffered attacks that he believed were caused by the Devil, who allegedly on one occasion set fire to Vianney’s bed. By 1827 Ars had become a pilgrimage site, and, every year from 1845 until Vianney’s death, about 20,000 persons visited Ars to see Vianney and especially to make their confession to him.

Upon his arrival, the priest immediately began praying and working for the conversion of his parishioners. Although he saw himself as unworthy of his mission as pastor, he allowed himself to be consumed by the love of God as he served the people. 

Vianney slowly helped to revive the community’s faith through both his prayers and the witness of his lifestyle. He gave powerful homilies on the mercy and love of God, and it is said that even staunch sinners were converted upon hearing him.  In addition, he restored his church, formed an orphanage, “La Providence,” and cared for the poor.

His reputation as a confessor grew rapidly, and pilgrims travelled from all over France to come to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Firmly committed to the conversion of the people, he would spend up to 16 hours a day in the confessional.

Plagued by many trials and besieged by the devil, the St. John Vianney remained firm in his faith, and lived a life of devotion to God.  Dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament, he spent much time in prayer and practiced much mortification. He lived on little food and sleep, while working without rest in unfailing humility, gentleness, patience and cheerfulness, until he was well into his 70s.

John Vianney died on August 4, 1859. Over 1,000 people attended his funeral, including the bishop and priests of the diocese, who already viewed his life as a model of priestly holiness.

The Holy Curé of Ars was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  He is the patron of priests.  Over 450,000 pilgrims travel to Ars every year in remembrance of his holy life.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, commemorating the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney’s death, declared the Year for Priests.  The Pope wrote a Letter to Clergy, encouraging all priests to look to the Curé of Ars as an example of dedication to one’s priestly calling.

2 Things to ponder

  1. John Vianney failed in the seminary but passed in the parish. Many of us pass in the seminary but fail in the parish. Seminary cannot make a good parish priest unless one is moved by the Spirit.
  2. John Vianney went to a remote place and made it famous. Some times we look for a place of fame and make it remote. It is not the place that counts but our zeal for the Lord’s Mission.

St Jonh Vianney Pray for us



Leave a Reply