A Saint Who Was A Parish Priest – Saint John Vianney

statue of Saint John Mary Vianney, sculptor unknown, Saint John Marie Vianney Retreat House, Norzagaray, Bulacan, Philippines; swiped off the flickr account of dcfdelacruzMonsieur and Madame Vianney lived in France in a small village named Dardilly. They were farmers, and already had three sons when in the year 1786 another little boy was born to them. They called the baby John Baptist.

John was only three when the French Revolution broke out. The churches were closed, the Angelus bell was silenced, priests were declared traitors, and if they were caught, they were cruelly put to death by the guillotine. This meant that while young John was growing up, Mass could only be offered secretly in a barn, in a quiet cave, or some other hidden place, and it was not until he was ten that he was able to receive his First Holy Communion. Religious peace was not restored to France until 1802.

Everyone thought John Vianney was a very dull young man. They called him a clumsy, uncouth ploughboy, even though they all agreed that he was very holy. When he was nineteen, he astonished his people by telling them that he wanted to be a priest, and he went to live with a good priest named Father Balley, who tried to educate John for the priesthood. It was hard work, and John himself realized it. He decided there were two things that he could do, and these he did. He prayed and did acts of mortification.

In the meantime, Napoleon was in power in France, and ordered all young men to be called up for the army. John had to go, but almost immediately, he became ill and was taken to hospital. When he recovered he tried to catch up with his regiment, but he was too tired and exhausted to reach it, and he found shelter with a kind man for whom he did odd jobs about the house. After a while, one of his young brothers took his place in the army, and John was free to enter a Seminary to continue his studies for the priesthood.

But here it was the same old story. John Vianney just could not learn Latin or theology. He failed in his examinations and was sent home. But good Father Balley came to the rescue again, and he kept persevering with teaching his slow pupil, until at long last John was ordained a priest. After three years, Father Vianney was sent to a little village called Ars to be Parish Priest there. Those in authority thought that Ars did not need a clever, popular priest, and in this, they were really right; what Ars actually needed was a Parish Priest who was a saint. And Father John Vianney was that saint!

The people of Ars were kind and friendly, but were very careless in their spiritual duties. They liked their priest, but they weren’t going to be bothered listening to his sermons (if he could preach at all!), or going to him to Confession (if he knew anything about forgiving sins!).

As before, Father Vianney prayed and did penance, and gradually, without anyone noticing it, Ars was a different place. The people went to Mass and the Sacraments, they flocked to Father Vianney’s confessional; they would rather confess to him than to any other priest in France; they listened eagerly to his sermons, because it is simple words and old truths over and over again that help most. Soon men, women and children, the rich and the poor, came crowding into Ars to go to Confession to its holy priest, Father John Vianney, who had failed in his examinations, whom everyone had thought dull and lazy. Ars could not hold all the people, and still they came. Father Vianney, they had heard, was a saint, and he could read people’s souls; they wanted his blessing, they wanted to speak to him.

And how did Father Vianney become such a success? He may not have been clever, but he knew quite well what another priest was to say of him years later, “that to be a priest means to sacrifice your whole life for others for Christ’s sake.”

And so he gave his whole day to his people. He got up at one o’clock in the morning, and prayed for a long time, because he knew that work without prayer would not have lasting results. He offered Mass, he heard Confessions, he visited the poor, the sick, the sinners; he heard more Confessions, he preached to the people, he prayed again, and he went to bed at midnight! (He had snatched an hour or two of sleep during the day between his busy duties.) But when did he eat? During the day, he ate a few boiled potatoes, and sometimes an egg, and he had this poor meal standing up. Yet he lived to be seventy-three, keeping up this sort of life all day long, every day, all through the years.

But at last, it was time for Father Vianney to earn the reward of his priestly life. He knew that he was soon to die, and agreed to leave his hard bed of two wooden boards for a soft mattress, and to let his parishioners look after him, as they had always longed to do.

“It is my poor end,” he whispered with tears in his eyes. “I do not know whether I have carried out my duties well or not.”

He received the Last Sacraments, and in the very early hours of an August morning in the year 1859, he died peacefully, just as the young priest at his bedside was reading this beautiful prayer: “May the holy angels of God come to meet him, and lead him into the heavenly City.”

One lesson that stands out straight away in the life of Saint John Vianney is that of perseverance. See how he kept on struggling, despite so many obstacles, to achieve his great ambition to become a priest. We should pray to Saint John Vianney for our own parish priests and curates that he will help them in the same work that he once had to do.

The feast of Saint John Vianney is celebrated on August 4th.

– from the pamphlet Hero Stories especially for Boys. (Girls too!), by Eileen Taylor, Australian Catholic Truth Society, #1258, 1957