The Life of Saint John Vianney
Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney was born on May 8, 1756 in the French town of Dardilly. His parents, Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluze were devout Catholics who gave alms to the poor and gave shelter to Benedict Joseph Labre, who would eventually be canonized as the Patron Saint of Tramps, on his pilgrimage to Rome.
The Early Life of Father Vianney
In 1790, the French Revolution forced many Catholic Priests to hide from the French government in order to carry out their religious duties. In order to go to mass, which was now illegal, the Vianneys travelled to distant farms where they could pray in secret. In Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, it was dangerous for Priests to say mass and administer the sacraments. In spite of these dangers, Vianney’s First Communion lessons were carried out publicly and he made his First Communion when he was 13. As a result, Vianney began to regard priests as heroic.
In 1802, the Catholic Church was re-established in France. Around the same time, Vianney became concerned about his future vocation and wanted an education. At the age of 20, Vianney was sent to a Presbytery School in the village of Ecully, where he learned math, history, geography and Latin. Vianney struggled with school and only his desire to be a priest allowed him to persevere.
Vianney’s studies were interrupted in 1809 when he was drafted into the French Army. Ordinarily Vianney would have been exempt as a religious student. However, this exemption was withdrawn in some parts of France by Napoleon, who needed troops for the war with Spain, which was going badly. Shortly after reporting for duty at Lyons, Vianney fell ill and his unit left without him. When he recovered, Vianney was ordered to report for duty at Roanne. Vianney went into a church to pray and his unit once again left without him. Vianney met a young man who volunteered to guide Vianney back to his unit but instead took him to the mountain village of Les Noes, where there was a large community of deserters. Vianney stayed there for 14 months, adopting the name Jerome Vincent, in order to escape the local authorities. While living in Les Noes, Vianney built a school for the village children. In 1810, an Imperial decree pardoned all deserters in France and Vianney was able to return to his religious studies. In 1812, Vianney went to the minor seminary at Verrieres and then went to the major seminary at Lyons a year later. Vianney was formally ordained as a Catholic priest in August, 1815.
The Cure d’Ars
Shortly afterward, Father Vianney was sent to Ars, a town of about 230 people. Upon arriving in Ars, Father Vianney realized that the de-christianization of France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had left deep-seated religious ignorance. Father Vianney was astonished to find his parishioners ploughing their fields, drinking and dancing on Sundays. He refused to grant absolution to those who did not observe the Sabbath and keep Sunday as a day of rest. Father Vianney also insisted on strict adherence to the Ten Commandments and the six precepts of the Catholic Church. Within ten years the spiritual revival of Ars drew the attention, not only of senior Church officials, but of pilgrims all over the world.
Due to the dramatic revival of Ars, Father Vianney came to be known internationally and pilgrims came from all over Europe and as far away as the United States to see him. “By 1855 the number of pilgrims had reached twenty thousand a year. During the last ten years of Father Vianney’s life he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional.” During his life, Father Vianney was intensely devoted to St. Philomena, whom he regarded as his guardian, and built a shrine in her honour. In May, 1843, Father Vianney fell ill. He believed he was dying and prayed to St. Philomena. Father Vianney was cured twelve days later and promised to say 100 masses at her shrine, in thanks.
The Death of Father Vianney
Father Vianney died on August 4, 1859 at the age of 103. Before he was buried, his face was fitted with a wax death mask. Biographers wrote extensively about miracles attributed to Father Vianney, his work with orphans and charities, and his great love and devotion for Mary and the rosary. Father Vianney’s followers also believed that he had the ability to foretell the future. On October 3, 1874, Father Vianney was declared Venerable by Pope Pius IX and Blessed by Pope Pius X in January, 1905. Father Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and declared the Patron Saint of Priests in 1929. His feast day was originally set on August 8, and moved to August 4, in 1960.
In 2009, in honour of the 150th anniversary of his death, Pope Benedict XVI declared 2009 and 2010 to be the Year of the Priest.
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- June 15, 2010 / 1:55 am
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