Patronage: parish priests
Also known as: Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney; St. John Vianney; the Curé d’Ars; the Servant of God
John Baptist Marie Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, in Dardilly, France, to modest circumstances. His father, Matthieu Vianney, was a shepherd. As a child he did farm work and received only two years of schooling. At age 20, in 1806, John enrolled in a new ecclesiastical school in Ecully. Handicapped by his lack of education, he was an average student. When France went to war against Spain, Emperor Napoleon rescinded the military exemption for ecclesiastical students, and John was drafted into the army. A reluctant soldier, he soon fell in with some deserters and remained in hiding for 14 months. His arrest was prevented when his younger brother took his place in the army. John returned to Ecully in 1810 and resumed his studies. In 1812 he was sent to a seminary in Verrières. He struggled and did poorly in his courses, but succeeded in being ordained a priest on August 13, 1815. He was sent to Ecully, where Abbé Balley encouraged him to persevere, and interceded on his behalf when he failed his exams. Balley died in 1818, and John was named curé, or parish priest, of Ars, a village about 20 miles north of Lyons. This remote area was lax in religious observances, and John devoted himself to instilling a stricter discipline. He spent from 16 to 20 hours a day in the confessional listening to his parishioners. John composed strong, fiery sermons intended to wake people up from their sinful slumber. He labored away every week, writing out his sermons in his own hand—a necessity, since he had a poor memory. He spent hours in prayer to receive inspiration. He sometimes used the sermons of others as models, and also consulted sources of the day, including sermon manuals and the anonymous Catachiste des Peuples. His intensity appealed to people, and they flocked to hear him. As his reputation grew, people came even from foreign countries to hear him preach. As many as 300 people a day arrived in Ars. Several years after arriving at Ars, John founded the Providence, an orphanage for girls that became popular for the catechism teachings that he gave there. The Providence served as a model for similar institutions that followed throughout France. John also became interested in the story of St. Philomena, and built a shrine to her, which became a popular pilgrimage site. John endured the criticisms of his peers that he was too uneducated to serve as parish priest. For 30 years, he suffered diabolical attacks that encouraged more criticism. For more than 40 years, John practiced severe mortification of food and sleep that probably would have proved fatal to many others. But he kept going with constant energy and drive, reclaiming lapsed Catholics and converting others. John died at Ars on August 4, 1869. He refused all honors due him. Numerous miracles were recorded of John. He was witnessed levitating while deep in prayer, his face transfigured and surrounded by a brilliant aura. He manifested money. Once, when in need of funds for the foundation of a mission, he prayed to Our Lady of Salette, to whom he was devoted, and subsequently found the sum he needed. When food ran short at the Providence orphanage, John took a relic of St. Francis Regis and placed it in a small pile of corn and prayed with the children. The attic was then found to be full of corn heaped into a pyramid shape, and of a different color than the other corn. John also healed people, especially children. John had numerous mystical experiences, including the mystical marriage, in which he received a gold ring of extraordinary brilliance, which he wore on the fourth finger of his left hand. Many who came to confession reported that an unearthly radiance emanated from his side of the booth, and that fiery rays shot from his face. He also spoke in tongues and entered a rapturous state in the confessional. He possessed mystical knowledge; he could read the thoughts of others and could discern the future. During his beatification process, John’s body was exhumed and found to be dried and darkened, but perfectly intact. His heart was removed and placed in a reliquary in a separate building called the Shrine of the Curé’s Heart. His face was covered with a wax mask, and his body was placed in a golden reliquary open to view. Unfortunately, some of John’s sermons are lost. In 1845, Canon Perrodin, the superior of the seminary at Brou, borrowed 20 copies of sermons to use in the preparation of a spiritual book. He returned them to the Abbé Raymond, John’s assistant. Raymond respected John but considered him no great speaker, and so he put the sermons in a drawer. After he was appointed pastor at Jayat in 1853, he tossed the sermons and other papers away. Other sermons were given away or even sold by John in order to raise money for the poor. Some he sent to the Abbé Colomb, forbidding them to be published without examination by Rome. The sermons were forgotten. After John’s death, interest in his work, believed to be saved only in letters, caused the sermons, about 85 in number, to be sent to Rome. They were soon published. All but three of the originals remain in Rome in the motherhouse of the Canons of the Immaculate Conception. Two were made into reliquaries and presented to Pope Pius X in 1905 and to Cardinal Coullie, archbishop of Lyons. The third was sent to Ars, where it was framed in gilded bronze and double crystal.