FEAST DAY: AUG. 4
John Vianney was a driving force for reviving the faith in Europe following the persecution of Catholics after the French Revolution. Known affectionately as the Cure d’Ars, he is the patron saint of parish priests because of his zealous call to Gospel values and his compassionate care of those who returned to God in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Born Jean Baptiste-Marie Vianney in Dardilly in 1786, John joined his devout parents in worship at their local parish and in caring for the poor. When it became illegal and dangerous to be Catholic, his family traveled secretly to distant farms for Mass celebrated by priests hiding in fear for their lives. John prepared for receiving the sacraments by candlelight, covering the windows during lessons to avoid being discovered, jailed or even killed.
John was drafted to serve in the military but, when separated from his unit, he deserted.
When granted amnesty, he persevered in his quest to become a priest. Challenged by Latin and other academic courses, he was admitted to the seminary only when his local pastor convinced his superiors of John’s great love of God. He was finally ordained at age 30.
Assigned to his home parish of Ars, word of his fervor for bringing the lost back home to the Church spread quickly. His insightful work as a confessor to people who had been denied the comfort of their faith soon drew people from neighboring villages, cities and eventually from throughout Europe. John heard up to 300 confessions daily, spending 11-12 hours helping people turn back to God. In the summer, the time stretched to 16 hours and penitents waited up to a week to receive forgiveness.
Accounts report that by 1855, John was hearing 20,000 confessions a year, a number that reportedly grew to 75,000 in later years.
John’s passion for reconciling people to God was also expressed in his care for the down-trodden. In 1824 he opened La Providence, a home and school for destitute girls and women forced into prostitution during the economic upheaval after the Napoleonic Era.
John’s life is an important example of the value of both welcome and witness to those who have turned away from God and in the power that reconciliation has in healing and renewing their love for God. John served all who came to him at Ars selflessly until his death at age 73.