St. John Vianney

John Vianney  was  born as Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney on 8 May 1786 in Dardilly in France and  was baptized on the day of his birth. John was the fourth of six children to his parents Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluze, who were both devout Catholics.  Matthieu and Marie helped the poor and even gave hospitality to St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of tramps, who passed through Dardilly whilst on his pilgrimage to Rome.  In 1770, due to the French Revolution many priests had to hide to do the sacraments in their parishes because of the government.  Even thought it was illegal, the Vianneys would travel to distant farms to pray and attend mass in secret. Because of the risks taken daily by priests, John Vianney began to look upon them as heroes. John had his first Communion lessons carried out by three priests in a public home, and he made his First Communion at the age of 13. During this mass and the lessons for communion, all the windows had to be covered so that the light from the candles couldn’t be seen from the outside.  The Catholic Church was re-established in France in 1802, resulting in religious peace throughout the country. By this time, Vianney was worried about his future vocation and yearned for education. He was 20 when his father allowed him to leave the farm to be taught at a “presbytery-school” in the neighbouring village of Écully, conducted by the Abbé Balley. The school taught the subjects of arithmetic, history, geography, and Latin. Because Vianney had previously had his education interrupted by the French Revolution, he struggled at the school, especially with the Latin but he perservered because of his deep desire to join the priesthood. Vianney continued to study until his studies were interrupted again when he was drafted into Napoleon’s armies in 1809. The exemption Vianney should have had with being an ecclesiastical student was withdrawn in certain dioceses because of the need of soldiers for Napoloeon to fight against Spain. Vianney became ill only two days after having to report at Lyons and was hospitalised.  This meant the other drafted soldiers left without him but he was redrafted on his release from hospital on Jan 5th.  He went to a church to pray and so fell behind the group. He met a man who offered to guide him back to the group but who then led him deep into the mountains of Le Forez, to the village of Les Noes, where deserters had gathered, and where he lived hidden in a farmhouse for the next fourteen months  under the care of Claudine Fayot, a widow with four children. Vianney assumed the name Jerome Vincent, and under that name he opened a school for village children and because of the harsh weather they were isolated from trouble from the army. In the warmer weather, the army would search regularly for him so Vianney would hide inside stacks of fermenting hay in the barn.  An imperial decree in March 1810 granted amnesty to all deserters, which enabled Vianney to go back legally to Ecully, where he resumed his studies. He was tonsured in 1811, and in 1812 he went to the minor seminary at Verrières-en-Forez. In autumn of 1813, he was sent to major seminary at Lyons. Considered too slow, he was returned to Abbe Balley. However, Balley persuaded the Vicars General that Vianney’s piety was great enough to compensate for his ignorance, and the seminarian received minor orders and the subdiaconate on 2 July 1814, was ordained a deacon in June 1815, and was ordained priest on 12 August 1815 in the Couvent des Minimes de Grenoble. He said his first Mass the next day, and was appointed assistant to Balley in Écully.n 1818, shortly after the death of Balley, Jean-Marie Vianney was appointed parish priest of the parish of Ars, a town of 230 inhabitants.  When Vianney’s bishop first assigned him to Ars, he got lost trying to find the town. Two young men tending flocks in the fields pointed him in the right direction.With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. As parish priest, Vianney realized that the Revolution’s aftermath had resulted in religious ignorance and indifference, due to the devastation wrought on the Catholic Church in France. At the time, Sundays in rural areas were spent working in the fields, or dancing and drinking in taverns. Vianney spent time in the confessional and gave homilies against blasphemy and dancing. If his parishioners did not give up dancing, he refused them absolution. Abbe Balley had been Vianney’s greatest inspiration, since he was a priest who remained loyal to his faith, despite the Revolution. Vianney felt compelled to fulfill the duties of a curé, just as did Balley, even when it was illegal. 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 20,000 a year. During the last ten years of his life, he spent 16 to 18 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 yonder”. He spent at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional during winter, and up to 16  hours during the summer. 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. During May 1843, Vianney fell so ill he thought that his life was coming to its end. He asked St Philomena to cure him and promised to say 100 Masses at her shrine. Twelve days later, Vianney was cured and he attributed his cure to her intercession. Vianney yearned for the contemplative life of a monk, and four times ran away from Ars, the last time in 1853.  He was a champion of the poor as a Franciscan tertiary and was a recipient of the coveted French Legion of Honour, which, he sold, donating the money to the orphanage. On 4 August 1859, Vianney died at age of 73. The bishop presided over his funeral with 300 priests and more than 6,000 people in attendance. Before he was buried, Vianney’s body was fitted with a wax mask. Biographers recorded miracles performed throughout his life, obtaining money for his charities and food for his orphans; he had supernatural knowledge of the past and future, and could heal the sick, especially children. The body of Saint John Mary Vianney  was found to be incorrupt by the Catholic Church. The body is entombed above the main altar in the Basilica at Ars, France.  On 3 October 1874 Pope Pius IX proclaimed him “venerable”; on 8 January 1905, Pope Pius X declared him Blessed and proposed him as a model to the parochial clergy. In 1925 John Marie Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI, who in 1929 made him patron saint of parish priests. In 1928 his feast day was inserted into the General Roman Calendar for celebration on 9 August. Pope John XXIII’s 1960 revision, in which the Vigil of Saint Lawrence had a high rank, moved the feast to 8 August. Finally, the 1969 revision placed it on 4 August, the day of his death. In 1959, on the 100th anniversary of his death, Pope John XXIII issued Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, an encyclical on Vianney. St. John Paul II himself visited Ars in 1986 at the 200th anniversary of Vianney’s birth and referred to the great saint as a “rare example of a pastor acutely aware of his responsibilities…and a sign of courage for those who today experience the grace of being called to the priesthood. St. John Vianney is the Patron Saint of Priests.

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