Patron Saint of Priests
Also known as “Cure of Ars”
Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, known as John in English, was born 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.
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.
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.
He continued to believe in the bravery of priests and received his First Communion catechism instructions in private by two nuns who lost their convents to the Revolution.
At 13-years-old, John made his first communion and prepared for his confirmation in secrecy.
When he was 20-years-old, John was allowed to leave the family farm to learn at a “prsbytery-school” in Écully. There he learned math, history, geography and Latin.
As his education had been disrupted by the French Revolution, he struggled in his studies, particularly with Latin, but worked hard to learn.
In 1802, the Catholic Church was reestablished in France and religious freedom and peace spread throughout the country.
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student, which was a protected title and would normally have excepted him from military services, but Napoleon had withdrawn the exemption in some dioceses as he required more soldiers.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. 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.
Three years later, when Balley passed away, Fr. John Vianney was appointed parish priest of the Ars parish. With help from Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lerdet, La Providence, a home for girls, was established in Ars.
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.
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.
He was deeply devoted to St. Philomena and erected a chapel and shrine in her honor. When he later became deathly ill but miraculously recovered, he attributed his health to St. Philomena’s intercession.
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.
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.
The Curé of Ars and Saint Philomena.
On her return to France from Mugnano, Pauline Jaricot went to visit her dear friend, the Venerable Curé of Ars, to whom she recounted the whole history of her miraculous cure. Mdlle. Jaricot bestowed upon the Curé a portion of the relics she had obtained from Mugnano, uttering these prophetic words; “Have full confidence in this great Saint, she will obtain for you all that you ask.”
The holy priest whilst listening to her with rapt attention felt a burning love for the Little Saint kindle in his heart. Intense was his joy when Pauline offered him a part of the precious relics which she had brought with her. A chapel was immediately erected in his church in honour of the Virgin Martyr where the relic was duly placed. This chapel soon became the scene of innumerable cures, conversions and miracles. M. Vianney dedicated himself by special vow to Saint Philomena, and a marvelous intimacy became evident between the good priest and her whom he now considered his Celestial Patroness. He did everything for her and she did everything for him. She appeared to him, conversed with him and granted everything in answer to his prayers. He called her by the tenderest names and she delighted in bestowing on him the most wonderful favors. His gift of miracles was extraordinary, yet, far from producing in him the slightest notion of vanity, it was the greatest cross he had to bear. He was wont to throw all the blame on Saint Philomena. “It’s Saint Philomena. I wish she would work her miracles away from here”, he would say with a laugh. But all the same the Little Saint seemed to take keen pleasure in teasing her holy friend by performing her wonders by his very hands. On one occasion a poor woman in the midst of a crowded church besought him to bless her sick child. The venerable Curé could not resist the supplications of the poor mother. He blessed the child and it was instantly restored to health. “Oh! Oh!” said the holy man, full of confusion, making off in haste to the sacristy: “I wish Saint Philomena would have cured the child at home.”
In season and out of season he spoke of his “dear Little Saint.” In a short time all France rang with her name. Every diocese has altars and chapels and churches dedicated to the Thaumaturga. In Langres alone there were no less than twelve churches consecrated to her honour. Her three feasts the 11th, August, her principal festival, the 25th. May the Finding of her Relics and the Sunday within the octave of the Ascension, the feast of her Patronage, began to be celebrated with great pomp and attracted immense crowds.
A new bond of love.
Of the many marvels to be seen at Ars during the life of its saintly pastor, none was greater than the daily life of the holy man himself. His frail body was too extenuated with such rigorous fasts and penitential exercises that his emaciated appearance struck the visitors to Ars with awe. Notwithstanding his extreme weakness, the incessant labor which he took on himself each day were enough to exhaust the most herculean strength, were he endowed with it. Day followed day and crowds thronged to Ars not only from all parts of France, but from England, Ireland, Germany and the other countries of Europe. The sick, the sorrowful, holy souls as well as the most abandoned sinners flocked round him besieging his confessional. They spent long hours, even days, awaiting their turn to poor out their sorrows into his loving heart, or to ask for the solution of some subtle difficulty, or to tell him of the sins and wickedness of a life-time. One glance from him went straight to the heart of the most hardened reprobate. His angelic smile brought comfort to the most distressed. A word – seemingly inspired – resolved the most intricate doubt. But how he lived! That was the miracle of Ars.
Every evening during the month of May, it was his wont to give a short Instructional. On the third day, just as he had begun to speak, he was taken so ill, that he was obliged to quit the pulpit and go to bed. He was found to be suffering from a serious attack of pneumonia. During the next few days he was much worse; the fever never left him, and syncope after syncope followed each other in quick succession. Three doctors met in consultation, and pronounced that there was scarcely any hope.
The whole parish was in tears. “You cannot form any idea,” wrote Mme. La Comtesse des Garets, in a letter dated May the 10th, 1843, “of the touching and pious spectacle, that has been before our eyes ever since the beginning of the saintly man’s illness.”
One sees nothing but tears hears nothing but prayers and sobs. The church, which seems desolate without him, is nevertheless continually filled with weeping crowds, imploring Heaven with heart and should, by prayers, and acts of naïve faith, and touching piety. …Candles are burning on every altar, rosaries are in every hand. During the first few days guardians were obliged to be placed at the presbytery door, to keep back the eager crowd that besieged it, entreating to see the venerable Curé once more, and receive his last benediction. They could only calm his fervor, by giving notice each time the saint, rising in his bed of suffering, would give a general benediction.”
Vianney’s Confessor was of opinion that the last Sacraments ought to be administered. As the doctors had recommended hat he should be spared all strong emotion, the priests who were present at Ars, agreed that the bell should not be rung. The Curé overheard their conversation, and turning to the person at his bedside said: “Go, and have the bells rung; ought not the parishioners to pray for their Curé?”
At the first deep tones of the bell the houses were deserted as if by magic, and the whole of the parish accompanied the Viaticum to the threshold of the presbytery. The priests, Count Prosper des Garets, entered the sick-chamber, whilst the crowd knelt in the court-yard of the house, and in the village square, weeping and praying. When M. Vianney was asked if he believed all the truths of religion, he answered: “I have never doubted one”; if he pardoned his enemies: “Thanks be to God, I have never wished evil to any one.”
As this ceremony is described in the letter to the Countess de Garets just quoted, bearing the date of the 10th of May, it no doubt took place upon that or the preceding day.
The next morning the doctor approaching the sick man felt his pulse, and then, believing him to be past hearing, said aloud,” He has only a few minutes to live.”
The dying man distinctly heard the flat that condemned him; and, being seized with awe and terror of the Judgment, earnestly prayed to God that He would grant him a reprieve, and delay the awful moment yet a little while.
Four months later he himself described the anguish of this tragic moment to his family, when he was once more at Dardilly, in their midst. “Be sure, cousin”, he said to Mme. Fayolle of Ecully, “When you assist the dying by fortifying and preparing them to appear before God, that you never cease your exhortations until they have actually departed. For this is what happened a little while ago to me, whom all gave up for dead, and abandoned, without so much as word of comfort, because they were so certain that my last hour had come. I was in mortal dread of the Judgment of God when the doctor, after feeling my pulse, said, “He has only a few minutes more to live.” ON hearing those words I thought, “In a few minutes thou wilt appear before God: and – with empty hands.” Then, at the remembrance of the many persons, who had come from so far off to make their confessions, and who were imploring the Holy Virgin and Saint Philomena for me with all their hearts, I said within myself: “Lord! If thou canst still use me do not yet take me from this world.” And even as I spoke, I felt my vigor renewed; and all my strength returned.”
At the exact moment that M. Vianney was so miraculous restored to life; a Mass was being said on his behalf at the altar of Saint Philomena. Pertinent, the parish school master – who never left the sick man night of day – was at this bed-side, and distinctly saw reflected on his face the emotions – to him inexplicable – of the drama which was being enacted in his soul. In his deposition, in the process of Beatification, he relates, “Before the priest had begun to offer the Holy Sacrifice, M. Vianney’s attitude appeared to me to be that of a person in mortal terror. I noticed something extraordinary in him, great anxiety, and unusual perturbation. I observed all his movements with redoubled attention, thinking that fatal hour had come, and that he was about to breathe his last. But as soon as the priest was at the Altar he suddenly became tranquil. It was as if he saw something pleasant and reassuring; and the Mass was scarcely over when he exclaimed, ‘My friend,! a great change has just been wrought in me…. I am cured.’”
From this moment in fact the disease left him and, little by little, his strength came back, so that on Friday, the 19th, he was able to be carried to church as a convalescent. There he fell on his knees before the Tabernacle, no doubt consecrating to the Service of God the years of life that remained to him.
Then he went and prayed for a long while, in the Chapel of his favorite little saint, to whom intercession, as he declared, his recovery was due.
Conversions at Ars and what Saint Philomena had to do with them.
Now more than ever was Saint Philomena to work wonders for her holy friend. When great sinners came to him, after exhorting them to sorrow and moving them to repentance, he used to send them to the altar of Saint Philomena to ask her to obtain their conversion. We will quote two of the innumerable instances.
A distinguished savant from Lyons, M. Massait, set out on a scientific exploration in the French mountains. One of his fellow travelers, an old friend, who was going to Ars said to him: “Come to Ars and I will show you a Curé who works miracles.”
“Miracles, my friend”. He said laughing, “I don’t believe in miracles.”
“Well come and I promise that you will see and believe.”
“If you could make me believe, that would indeed be a miracle. But as Ars is not far from the scene of my explorations, I don’t mind if I do go”. The rest of the story we shall leave M. Massait to tell in his own words.
“Arrived in Ars, my friend put me up at the house of the Widow Gaillard, where we both shared the same room. Early in the morning he called out to me: “Massiat, will you do me a favor? Will you come to Mass with me?”
“Go to Mass? Why, man” I answered, “I never went to Mass since my First Communion. Ask me something else”.
“You’ll come, old friend, just to do me a favor. It is there you can see and judge the Curé for yourself. I only ask you to use your eyes. I will get you a place where you can be at your ease.”
“Well, frankly it’s not much to my liking” I replied, “but I will go simply to please you.”
“We got to the church. My friend put me in the seat facing the sacristy. Shortly afterwards the door opened and the Curé, vested for Mass, made his appearance. His eyes met mine for one instant, but the glance went right to my heart. I felt myself crushed beneath his glare. I bent my head and covered my face with my hands. All during the Mass I was immovable. When it ended I attempted to lift my head and got up to leave the church. Just as I passed the sacristy door I heard the words; “Get out all of you, all out” and a long bony hand rested on my arm and I felt myself drawn irresistibly into the sacristy as by an invisible force. The door closed on me. I felt myself attain beneath that gaze that seemed to crush me. I blurted out a few confused words: “Reverend Father I have a burden on my shoulders that weighs me down.” Then I heard what seemed an angelic voice, such a one as I had never heard before, so sweet that it did not seem to proceed from mortal man.”
“You must get rid of the burden at once. Go on your knees; tell me your poor life. Our Lord will take the burden, my friend.” Then I commenced my confession, it was the story of all my life since my First Communion, Little by little I felt relieved, then consoled and finally completely at rest. When I had finished, the saintly priest added: “Come back tomorrow but now you will go to the altar of Saint Philomena and tell her to ask of God your conversion.” I did not weep in the sacristy but I confess that I wept abundantly at the altar of Saint Philomena.”
This conversation was one of the most striking that occurred at Ars. M. Massait lived thenceforth a most fervent life which was crowned by a most happy death.
The following is the account given by a religious of his own conversion.
“Though reared by a Catholic mother I soon became dissolute young vagabond and, after a short absence from home, contracted scandalous vices. M father paid little or no attention to my conduct but my behavior well-nigh broke my mother’s heart. Taking offence at a few words of correction, I resolved to become a soldier where I foresaw that I could thus better enjoy my liberty. Before joining my regiment my mother begged me with tears in her eyes, as a last proof of love, to go with her to Ars. I laughed outright in her face and scoffed at the idea of going to confession. She begged me at least to go to Ars, even if I did not confess. Her tears and supplications overcame me and I consented to go, thought in anything but a pleasant frame of mind. But again temptation awaited me, for, on my arrival, I met two of my companions who sneered at the idea of the Curé’s influence. For no other reason than to please my mother I went to the church where M. Vianney was teaching catechism to the children. His appearance struck me forcibly and as his eyes met mine they seemed to see into the depths of my soul. I began to believe what I had heard already, that the Curé saw what passed in the consciences of those who approached him. Yet so frail is hi8man nature that on meeting my friends after the lesson, my companions and I enjoyed ourselves making jokes at the expense of the venerable priest.”
“Once more my mother induced me to go to Church but I was scarcely there than I wished to leave. What was my amazement when at the precise moment the door of the sacristy opened and the Curé came straight towards me, making a sign to follow him, which I did without knowing what I was about! I fell on my knees and I wept. Seeing me moved, the holy priest bade me go to the altar of Saint Philomena and say 5 Our Fathers and Hail Martyrs. I went. It was the hour of grace. Something strange happened to me which I cannot explain. My heart began to beat with such violence that I was thoroughly frightened. I did not know how long I remained there. I lost all idea of time. What I do know is that, in getting up, I was no longer the same man. Tears choked me. I had to go out and breathe in the open air. My two friends, on seeing me exclaimed: “Oh, how you are changed! You have all the appearance of being converted.” “Perhaps so,” I replied, and turned brusquely on my heels. Though they made most deliberate and wicked attempts to prevent me, thank God I was proof against all temptation and have now been enjoying the bliss of religious life for sixteen years.”
It would fill a whole volume, where we to recount all the wonders which Saint Philomena worked at the prayers of the dear Curé. Her chapel was a veritable sanctuary of wonders. Thousands came in pilgrimage to ask her intercession. Ex-voto offerings of every imaginable type testified to the miracles worked, the favors obtained, the conversions wrought, the blessings granted, the prayers answered. One favor, however, the holy priest asked for in vain, and that was that she would work her miracles some place else where people were not likely to attribute them to him This prayer the little Saint persistently refused to hear, for she delighted in working her wonders through his instrumentality or in answer to his prayers. With this one exception, a perfect understanding existed between the two so that the Curé felt her presence as it were at his side.
In reply to some one who repeatedly asked him to Curé a friend, he replied: “No, no, Saint Philomena cured her once. She did not make proper use of it. It’s not likely that the little Saint will do it again.” If, however he did not obtain her Curé he obtained for the poor invalid abundant graces, patience, strength and divine consolations.
To a religious who was sent by his superior to solicit the Curé of a member of his order whose death would be a great loss to his Community, M. Vianney replied: “No, no. He is doing much more for his salvation and for his order as he is. He will not be cured.”
These were the exceptions, countless miracles, cures and conversions were the rule.
The venerable Curé of Ars was raised up by God to serve as the model and patron of priests. They are not expected to aspire after his extraordinary gifts or to imitate his extreme rigors. That is not possible without a special call from God. But they can easily follow his example in other ways. What can be more easy, for instance, than to imitate his sweet intimacy, his unbounded confidence, his tender devotion to Saint Philomena? If priests would only place a stature of this great Thaumaturga in their churches and spread her devotion, as well from the pulpit as in the confessional, there churches would soon become centers of devotion and abundant graces would flow on pastor and people. The sick, the sorrowful, and, above all, the most hardened inners would soon reap the benefits of the Saint’s powerful intercession.
“All our religion is but a false religion, and all our virtues are mere illusions and we ourselves are only hypocrites in the sight of God, if we have not that universal charity for everyone – for the good, and for the bad, for the poor and for the rich, and for all those who do us harm as much as those who do us good”.
“If people would do for God what they do for the world, what a great number of Christians would go to Heaven”.
“You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God”.
“I tell you that you have less to suffer in following the Cross than in serving the world and its pleasures”.
“You cannot please both God and the world at the same time, They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions”.
“We must always choose the most perfect. Two good works present themselves to be done, one in favour of a person we love, the other in favour of a person who has done us some harm. Well, we must give preference to the latter”.
“We should consider those moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament as the happiest of our lives”.
“My little children, reflect on these words: the Christian’s treasure is not on earth but in heaven. Our thoughts, then, ought to be directed to where out treasure is. This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies”.
“Prayer is nothing else but union with God. In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can every pull apart. This union of god with a tiny creature is a lovely thing. It is a happiness beyond understanding”.
“My little children, your hearts, are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the souls and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun”.
Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. O, how I love these noble souls!
“How unlike them we are! How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to the good God like this: “I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.” I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart”.
“Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself”.
– Saint John Vianney