Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was born May 8, 1786, in France in the town of Dardilly, near Lyons. His devout Catholic parents were farmers, and from an early age, John worked in the fields.
Without formal education, as a young man he was functionally illiterate; but thanks to his mother’s teaching, Vianney was able to memorize and understand numerous prayers and live a devout religious life.
At age 17, John Vianney felt the call to the priesthood. The path to ordination was not an easy one due to the corrupted morals of the day. It was only thanks to some wise priests — including Father Balley, the parish priest of d’Écully, that he finally received Holy Orders on Feb. 13, 1815, at age 29.
Three years later, in 1818, Father John Vianney was sent to the town of Ars, which, with just 230 residents, was little more than a small French village. Here the young priest dedicated all his efforts to the spiritual care of the faithful. He visited the poorest families, restored the village church, organized patronal feast days. He also founded La Providence, a home for girls.
He always was available to hear confessions and offer forgiveness, spending up to 16 hours a day in the confessional. Crowds of penitents traveled from every part of France to make their confession to the holy priest.
In time, Ars became known as “the great hospital of souls.” St John Vianney himself would keep vigils and fast to assist the expiation of the sins of the faithful. “I’ll tell you my recipe,” he told one of his confreres. “I give sinners a small penance, and the rest I do in their place.”
Having given his whole life for God and his parishioners, John Vianney died on Aug. 4, 1859. He was 73. His relics can be found in Ars, in the sanctuary dedicated to him, which is visited by some 450,000 pilgrims every year. He was beatified by Pope St Pius X in 1905, and canonized 20 years later by Pope Pius XI.
In 1929, the same pope proclaimed him the “heavenly patron of all parish priests throughout the world.” During the centenary of his death in 1959, Pope St. John XXIII dedicated an encyclical to St John Vianney, pointing him out as exemplary model for priests.
Fifty years later, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated a “Year of Priests” on the 150th anniversary of his birthday into heaven, in order “to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.”
Adapted by A.J. Valentini