St. John Vianney: The Curé de Ars Early Life Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, known as John in English, was born on May 8, 1786, in Dardilly, France, and was baptized the same day. He was the fourth of six children born to Matthieu and Marie Vianney, poor peasants with a strong faith.
John was raised in a Catholic home, and the family often helped the poor and housed St. Benedict Joseph Labre when he made his pilgrimage to Rome. His childhood was marked by the tragic events of the French Revolution. While the Jacobins, supported by the Freemasons, were organizing the hunt for priests and sending them and their faithful to the guillotine, Jean-Marie was studying catechism in secret, with the help of two nuns who lost their convents to the Revolution, and fell hopelessly in love with Jesus.
The Crucified One must indeed deserve all, the young man thought, if so many thousands of youth and adults, priests and lay people were giving their lives for him, tolerating even the most atrocious torture. At 13-years-old, John made his first communion and prepared for his confirmation in secrecy.
In 1790, when the anticlerical Terror phase of the French Revolution forced priests to work in secrecy or face execution, young Vianney believed the priests were heroes and continued to believe throughout his life in the bravery of priests. In 1802, the Catholic Church was reestablished in France and religious freedom and peace spread throughout the country.
When he was 20-years-old, John was allowed to leave the family farm to learn at a "presbytery-school" in Écully. There he learned math, history, geography and Latin. It was during a Mass celebrated secretly behind barred doors by an anti-Revolution priest in a home near Écully, close to his native parish, that Jean-Marie received his First Communion, which strengthened him in his inmost desire. "I will be a priest", he affirmed.
As his education had been disrupted by the French Revolution, he struggled in his studies, particularly with Latin, but worked hard to learn. Military Life Unfortunately, in 1809, John was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte's armies. He had been studying as an ecclesiastical student, which was a protected title and would normally have exempted him from military services, but Napoleon had withdrawn the exemption in some dioceses as he required more soldiers.
Two days into his service, John fell ill and required hospitalization. As his troop continued, he stopped in at a church where he prayed. There he met a young man who volunteered to return him to his group, but instead led him deep into the mountains where military deserters met. John lived with them for one year and two months. He used the name Jerome Vincent and opened a school for the nearby village of Les Noes' children. John remained in Les Noes and hid when gendarmes came in search of deserters until 1810, when deserters were granted amnesty.
Now free, John returned to Écully and resumed his ecclesiastic studies. Priesthood He attended a minor seminary, Abbe Balley, in 1812 and was eventually ordained a deacon in June 1815. He joined his heroes as a priest August 12, 1815 in the Couvent des Minimes de Grenoble. His first Mass was celebrated the next day and he was appointed assistant to Balley in Écully.
The day after his arrival in Ars, he was almost alone as he made his way toward the altar to celebrate Mass. But a few days later, when some came to see what another priest could possibly have come to do at Ars and how he lived, the faithful found him on his knees in prayer before the Tabernacle, as though he truly saw Someone: they found him in the same position, morning, afternoon, evening and even at night.
When some started coming to his Sunday Mass, they realized they understood what he was saying: he was talking about God, who rewarded the good with Paradise and punished the wicked with hell; about his Son, Jesus Christ, who came to die on the Cross to expiate the sins of the world, of his infinite love, of his forgiveness for those who change their way of life, of the joy that comes from him alone.
They were simple words, words of fire, unforgettable words that won the heartfelt admiration of the people. Still others came to hear him. When he began his priestly duties, Fr. Vianney realized many were either ignorant or indifferent to religion as a result of the French Revolution.
Many danced and drank on Sundays or worked in their fields. Fr. Vianney spent much time in confession and often delivered homilies against blasphemy and dancing. Finally, if parishioners did not give up dancing, he refused them absolution.
Victim of the Confessional From the first moment he arrived in Ars, Fr Jean-Marie had become the man consumed by the confessional. He had gone to Ars, indeed, he had become a priest to convert souls, together with Christ, to Christianize the world. His parishioners flocked to him for confession and felt the joy of God's forgiveness and of conversion.
He listened, understood, read their minds, prompted repentance and comforted them. Ars became the European capital of reconciliation with God: men and women from across Europe and around the world would set out for France because they truly believed that in an out-of-the-way French village, a priest consumed by prayer and penance was speaking of God, hearing confessions and guiding souls to holiness.
He spent 11 to twelve hours each day working to reconcile people with God. In the summer months, he often worked 16-hour days and refused to retire. His fame spread until people began to travel to him in 1827. Within thirty years, it is said he received up to 20,000 pilgrims each year.
The pilgrimages to see him became international: 10,000, 100,000, 400,000 or perhaps even more pilgrims went every year to Ars for 30 years. They were simple people, famous founders, statesmen, Bishops. They left him, renewed. And all, like the peasant of Macon who when asked: "But who did you see at Ars?" were able to reply: "I saw God, in a man".
Prayer, Fasting, Penance The food he lived on became known through some pious ladies who went to help him at home: a little dry bread, a few boiled potatoes. They also told of traces of blood they had seen on his very plain clothing. He had looked around and seen the sins of his people and had begun a ruthless fight against these evils with prayer, fasting and penance, offering his whole life to God with the Crucified One.
When he listened to his people, he was kind, meek and very gentle, a true father with a marvelous message for them: love for Jesus Christ, intimacy with him, so that even the most rebellious could not resist his fascination. Even those who were the most remote from God, the most recalcitrant sinners, soon felt that God had sent a saint to Ars and hastened to listen to him. Little by little, the tiny town was transformed.
Those who saw and heard him felt drawn to his confessional: whole lives were converted, people returned to God, won over by his prayers and his "blood". Dancing, drunkenness and swearing, things the Curé condemned most severely, disappeared from the town. Even the most dissolute young men changed their ways.
The church was filled with people, including those who started to come from neighboring environs. In 1823, the Bishop raised Ars to the rank of parish. Fr Vianney wanted to leave, for he felt unworthy to be a "parish priest", but he remained out of obedience. In 1827, he cried out to his parishioners with his heart full of joy: "Ars, my brothers and sisters, is no longer Ars!"
By 1853, Fr. Vianney had attempted to run away from Ars four times, each attempt with the intention of becoming a monk but decided after the final time that it was not to be. Six years later, he passed away and left behind a legacy of faith and was viewed as the champion of the poor.
On October 3, 1873, Pope Pius IX proclaimed Fr. Vianney as "venerable" and on January 8, 1905, Pope Pius X beatified him. St. John Vianney was canonized on May 31, 1925. His feast day was declared August 9 but it was changed twice before it fell to August 4. He is known as the patron saint of parish priests.
St. John Vianney would often say: "Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire, it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that."
Prayer of St. John Vianney
I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life. I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You. I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally... My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.