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August 2, 2009

St. John M. Vianney

    This week we will celebrate the feast of a great saint.  The feast of St. John M. Vianney is August 4, which is the anniversary of his death in 1859.  This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of his death.  It is thanks to this holy man that we are taking special note of all priests during this anniversary year.  As we enter this year of the priest, the story of John Vianney is especially noteworthy.

    Jean-Marie Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, in the small French town of Dardilly.  He was the third of six children.  His parents were good Catholics who helped the poor even if their own needs were many.  Jean-Marie grew up on his parent’s farm during the French Revolution.  The practice of the faith was banned during this period of time so priests had to risk their lives to celebrate Mass and to administer the sacraments.  Being Catholic was a dangerous proposition for the Vianneys but they did so nonetheless.  

    The early years of Jean-Marie were happy ones but the political situation of the country was responsible for desperately taxing his formal education.  This would affect his formal studies for the priesthood.  Although he learned to read at home with the help of his older sister, Jean-Marie was not well versed in any of the other subjects.  This presented great difficulty when he decided to enter the seminary at nineteen years of age.  He struggled with school work, especially the Latin language and would have become totally discouraged had it not been for a Monsignor Balley who became a mentor to the young Vianney.  Without his help and encouragement Vianney would have given up and gone home.  

    In 1809 Jean-Marie was drafted into Napoleon’s army in the fight with Spain.  This did not play out as the authorities wished but by 1812, Vianney went back to his studies and finally came to the day of his ordination on August 13, 1815.  He was 29 years old.  Soon after his ordination Jean-Marie was sent to a very small and remote parish in the town of Ars, not far from Lyon.  It did not take very long for him to see that he had his work cut out for him.  The fallout of the Revolution had taken its toll on the religious formation of the peasants.

    Fr. Vianney remained in this humble village as its pastor for the remainder of his life.  (He is often referred to as the Cure of Ars which is french for Pastor of Ars.)  During his stay he became internationally known for his ministry, especially his sermons and his ability to offer reconciliation through confession.  By 1955, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year.  During the last ten years of his life he spent 16 – 18 hours in the confessional.  His spiritual direction was characterized by common sense, remarkable insight, and supernatural knowledge.    St. John Vianney, pray for us!

                            Lorette P. Nault