Skip to comments.Saint John MarIE Baptist Vianney, Cure of Ars (1786-1859)
Posted on 08/04/2009 8:58:56 PM PDT by Salvation
Saint John MarIE Baptist Vianney
Cure of Ars (1786-1859)
written by SCTJM
Feast Day: August 4
Since the Sun of Justice disappeared from mans perspective, Holy Church has been illuminated by the resplendent light of uncountable saints.
Less than a century ago, a small French village of Ars was for many years the home to all religious life in the country. Between the years of 1818 and 1859, its name was on the lips of many people, its influence was great, and pilgrims came so frequently it was necessary for the train company of the area to open a special office in the city of Lyons to help with the traffic from this village of Ars.
Who caused all this? A simple, but incomparable priest whose life we will examine in this story: St. John Vianney.
Saint John was born on May 8th, 1786 in the town of Dardilly, France, and baptized the same day. He was the fourth of eight brothers. Like many other saints, St. John came from very Christian parents. His father owned a farm and his mother was a native of the village of Ecully, located close to the city of Lyons. It is an error to see the Vianney family as ignorant. Both the parents and children spent without a doubt arduous days working in the fields and vineyards, but the fact that for several centuries these lands belonged to the Vianney family inspired in the family a legitimate pride and esteem from those who knew them. A family virtue was the kindness and help rendered to the poor, as no beggar was turned away from their doors. Because of this, the family was privileged to give lodging to Saint Benedict Labre when this patron of the beggars passed through the village of Dardilly on one of his pilgrimages to Rome.
Since childhood his parents would take him to the farm where he learned to be a shepherd. The farm was his favorite place; the flowers, the trees, and all of nature spoke to him about God whom he found in his innermost being. He would go frequently underneath the big shade trees to make a small altar and place an image of Our Lady there, which he would always carry with him, and would do so all his life. At Marys feet he would open his heart in prayer and confidence as a small child. He had the custom of doing the sign of the Cross every time the clock struck a new hour. On other occasions he would call his shepherd friends and share with them the things he would learn about the Lord from his mother. She taught him the first classes of catechism. He later shared this with the villagers of Ars, as catechism was one of his greatest ministries as a priest.
In 1790, France was going through a great crisis, the French Revolution. Under the pretext of implementing liberty, equality, and fraternity, it actually opened up a massive persecution taking many men and women to death by guillotine, including many priests and religious. The priests had to disguise themselves, often changing their living quarters, in order to minister to the people of God who continued to be faithful. Among these priests, two are very important in the life and vocation of St. John Vianney: Father Balley and Fatherr Groboz, both of whom worked in Ecculy. One was a baker and the other a cook.
During this time, St. John received his First Holy Communion in his mothers house. Trying not to attract attention to the authorities, carts of hay were loaded and unloaded in front of the windows during the ceremony to avoid any conflict. St. John, who was just 13 years old, had tears rolling down his cheeks when he received Our Lord. During all his life he would always talk about this special day of his First Holy Communion, and he especially safeguarded the rosary his mother gave him as a gift for this occasion.
Student of the Church
As Napoleon Bonaparte gradually took power, the Church obtained some liberty. For a short time St. John assisted a school in the town, but as he grew older, the fields demanded his work. In these long hours of work, he received the conviction to be a priest. He said to himself: If Im a priest I can win many souls for God. He shared this thought with his mother, who offered her support, but his father gave him great struggles. Two years passed before his father accepted his sons inspiration to be a priest.
The Archbishop of Lyons, the uncle of Napoleon, knew his first obligation was to obtain candidates for the priesthood. He established in each parish a campaign to promote vocations. Father Balley, who was at the time the Pastor in Ecculy, opened a small school in the rectory to form young men that felt the vocational call. It was the opportunity for St. John; he was able to attend the school of Father Balley and stay in his aunts house. Even his father saw the advantages of the opportunity and gave him permission. St. John was now 20 years old.
Many say that he was clumsy, if not stupid. However, this was not too far from reality. His judgment was never mistaken, but his memory was poor. He said of himself that he was unable to retain anything in his mind. Seeing the difficulty in retaining his studies, especially Latin grammar, he almost returned home in desperation. Father Balley grasped the danger of his student and asked him to make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Saint Francis Regis in Louvesc. The pilgrimage made a difference in the life of St. John Vianney, allowing him to progress sufficiently, saving him from too much discouragement and preventing him from leaving the seminary.
Napoleons hunger for power was insatiable. He went forth to conquer all of Europe, and because of this numerous people lost their lives in the army. This lack of soldiers made him recruit more soldiers. In 1806 St. Johns class was called in for recruitment. Two years passed and in the autumn of 1809 St. John was called to enlist in the army, even though he was exempted since he was a seminarian. It seemed that the name of our saint was not in the official student listing of the Church which was given to the authorities by the Diocese.
The young Vianney was sent to the Spanish regime. His parents tried to find someone who could substitute him. For the sum of 3,000 francs a young man volunteered in his place, but changed his mind at the last moment.
On October 26th, St. John entered the barricades of Lyons only to get sick. From here he was sent to the hospital in Roanne where a nurse helped him recover his health. On January 6th, 1810, St. John left the hospital, only to encounter the news that his group had left him behind. Now he had to try and catch up to them.
Winter time was very harsh, and he was assailed by high fever, impeding him to continue his journey. Entering a shed to look for shelter, he sat on his sack and started to pray the rosary. Some time later he would say of this experience that perhaps I have never prayed with so much confidence. All of a sudden, a stranger approached him and asked what he was doing there. St. John told him his story and at that moment, the stranger grabbed his bag and asked him to follow him. They reached the house of a farmer, staying there for several days until his fever ceased. While in bed it crossed his mind for the first time the reality that he had deserted the army. He knew Mayor Paul Fayot who was dedicated to hiding deserters and so he went to him for help. Not being able to accommodate him, Paul Fayot sent him to the house of his cousin Caludine Fayot, a widow with three children. From this moment on Vianney adopted the name Jerome Vincent. He even opened up a school for the children of the village under this name .
In 1810 an imperial decree granted amnesty to all deserters between the years 1806-1810. St. John was covered by this decree. Therefore, he was free to return home and finish his studies. Divine Providence and the Blessed Mother had saved him.
His mother died shortly after this happy reunion. Now he was 24 years old and time was passing by. On May 28th, 1811 he received the tonsure. Father Balley, seeing the need for him to continue his regular studies, sent him to the Minor Seminary of Verrieres. Here the young Vianney suffered much and had a lot of work, but he was never outstanding as a philosopher.
Difficulties with the studies
In October 1813, he entered the Major Seminary of Lyons. His inadequate knowledge of Latin made it impossible to understand what the professors were saying or how to respond to the questions given to him.
At the end of his first term, he was asked to leave. His pain and discouragement were intense. For some time he thought about going to one of the religious congregations nearby, but once again Father Balley came to his rescue and he was given private tutoring in Ecculy. However, the examination prior to ordination was not satisfactory. A private examination was given to him at the rectory of Ecculy. This proved to be more satisfactory and sufficed, judging that his moral qualities overcame any academic deficiency.
On August 13th, 1815, St. John Vianney was elevated to the priesthood at 29 years old. This ineffable dignity, he frequently would say, the priest will only be able to understand in heaven. His first Mass was in the Seminary Chapel in Grenoble.
Upon his return to Ecculy he was over joyed to learn that he would be the helper of his dear friend and teacher, Father Balley. However, the diocesan authorities determined for a time that Fr. Vianney should not have the faculties for confession, he who spent most of his life in the confessional. Fr. Balley spoke on his behalf to the ecclesiastical authorities and he himself was his first penitent.
His sister Margarita would say: He did not preach well yet, but the people would go in masses when it was his turn to preach.
On December 17th, 1817, his dear friend Father Balley died in his arms, someone for whom he cried as if it had been his father.
St. John Vianney, who was so detached from material things, had preserved until the end of his life a small mirror belonging to his teacher and father, because he would say it reflected his face. Shortly after the death of Father Balley, Vianney was assigned to the village of Ars, a small isolated town where it was thought that his intellectual limitations would do no harm.
Pastor of Ars: 1818-1859.
The small village of Ars is found on a wavy plain, with a small hill in the center where the Church stands. In the year 1815 forty houses existed. The Church and the rectory near the valley were extremely damaged.
In the clerical circles, Ars was seen as a type of Siberia. The district was awkward, the spiritual desolation was greater than the material. In the first few days of February 1818, Father Vianney received official notification of his transfer to Ars. The General Vicar said to him: There is not much love in that parish, you will instill some. On February 9th, Father Vianney set out to the place which would become for the next 41 years the area of his most surprising and unprecedented activity.
He walked 38 kilometers from Ecculy to Ars. A carriage followed along with a wooden bed, some clothing, and books belonging to Father Balley. As he approached the small village, he commented how small it was and said a prophesy at the same time : The parish will not be capable of holding the multitudes that will come here.
The majority of the habitants of the village sought the pleasures of the world and did not have much faith, even though a small group of devout, fervent people remained. Among the devout was a lady of the largest house of Ars, Mdm. des Garets, who divided her time between prayer and works of charity.
Upon arrival, the first preoccupation of Fr. Vianney was to make contact with his flock. He visited each house of the parish. During these days he still had time to walk through the prairie with his breviary(prayer book) in his hands and with his hat under his arm. To win the friendship of the people he would speak to them about the harvest, the time of year, their families, etc. Above everything he would pray and accompanied them with the most austere penances. He made his own instruments of penance. His bed was the floor since he had given away his bed from Ecculy. He would also go days without eating. Until 1827, no one did domestic work in the rectory. His main dish was potatoes, and on occasion a boiled egg. One time he admitted trying to live on grass, but he said later that such a diet is impossible.
He said: The devil does not fear much discipline and instruments of discipline (hair shirts), what he really fears is the reduction of food, drink, and sleep.
The Holy Cure of Ars enjoyed the beauty of the prairies and the trees, but he loved very much the beauty of the House of God in the solemnities of the Church. He started by buying a new altar, with his own savings, and he himself painted the woodwork on the walls. He made it a goal to restore and give greater splendor to what he called: The furniture of the House of God. He purchased the best embroidery, fabric, and texture to make the priestly vestments for the Lord which are still admired today in Ars.
The most disastrous consequence of the revolution was the religious ignorance of the people. The Holy Cure resolved to do all possible to remedy this deplorable state of peoples hearts. However, his sermons and instructions cost him much pain: his memory would not allow him to retain anything. Therefore, he would stay long nights in the small rectory composing and memorizing his sermons for Sundays. At times he would work seven straight hours on his sermons.
A parishioner asked him once why was it that when he preached he talked so loud, and when he prayed, he prayed so soft. He answered: Oh, when I preach I speak to people that apparently are deaf or asleep, but in prayer I talk to God who is not deaf.
He had more pity on the children than the adults and started to group them together in the rectory and in the Church as early as 6:00 am since their work in the fields began early. He was well disciplined and made them know the catechism word for word. In those days profanation of Sundays was common and men would spend the mornings working in the fields, and in the afternoons and evenings they would attend dances and bars. St. John Vianney worked hard against these evils.
The Tavern, declared the Saint in one of his sermons, is the house of the devil, the market where the souls are lost, where family harmony is broken, where fights start, and assassinations are committed. The devil does not care much for the owners of the taverns; he despises them and spits them out.
So great was the influence of the Cure of Ars that the time came where all the taverns of Ars had to close down due to a lack of customers. In subsequent times, modest hotels were opened to accommodate strangers, something the Holy Cure was not opposed to.
He was committed with more eagerness to eliminate the frequenting of dances as a means of a distraction. He knew well they were a source of falling into grave sin. To prevent this he revived the custom of praying vespers on Sunday. He was so strict about this that, at times, he would reject absolution to people who resisted and continued the custom.
Because of this reason he won for himself many enemies that would slander him, but the Holy Cure took all this lightly and did not put his heart on it.
Two years passed when the news arrived that Fr. Vianney would be the Cure of Salles in Beaujolais. The entire village of Ars was appalled by the news. A lady of Ars even wrote a letter stating she would strangle the General Vicar.
To assure their future, the town people requested that their village be erected as a regular parish and their pastor be the Cure of Ars. Father Vianney was installed as pastor because up until this time he had only been a chaplain which are easier to relocate than are pastors.
This same year the Holy Cure of Ars initiated the various works in the Church. A tower was constructed and various side chapels. One of them was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary where he would celebrate Mass in honor of the Holy Virgin every Saturday for 40 years. The Church was also enriched with many images and pictures. He wanted to have good schools in the village and he began by opening a free school for girls under the name Providence. Since 1827 he only received indigent girls in the boarding school. He had to find food for them, and in more than one occasion the Lord intervened miraculously, multiplying the grain or the flour. During 20 years he went to have dinner in this house.
After two and a half years, Sundays were respected as the day of the Lord. The entire village went to vespers.
The Cure of Ars loved the ceremonies in the Church. He personally trained the altar servers. His favorite feast was Corpus Christi. On this feast day he would spend less time in the confessional and would go around the town admiring the decorations; he himself took part in the procession the Blessed Sacrament.
The last Feast Day of Corpus Christi he celebrated took place 40 days before his death, and unknowingly, the towns mayor contracted a music band. Upon hearing the first songs from the band, the saint burst into tears of joyand at the end of the celebration he had no words to express and appreciate this gift from God.
His tender love for the Blessed Mother moved him to consecrate his Parish to the Queen of Heaven. At the entrance of the Church he placed a statue of Mary which is still in the same place today.
When Pope Pius IX defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, our saint asked the people of the village to illuminate their houses at night, and the Church bells rang for hours. Upon seeing the light coming from Ars the nearby towns thought the village was burning and rushed to help. Today a silver hat is placed near the image of Mary with the names of all the parishioners of Ars.
Attacked by the forces of hell
It was expected that the devil would be furious at the triumph of faith and conversion and at the holiness of Gods instrument. For a period of 35 years the Holy Cure of Ars was assaulted and bothered physically by the devil.
The ordinary occupation of the devil which God permits is temptation. The devil can also attack souls in various other ways:
a) Harassment: extraordinary action by the devil who seeks to frighten by means of horrible apparitions or sounds.
b) Obsession: it can be external when the devil acts in the external senses of the body or internal when it influences the imagination and memory.
c) Possession: when the devil takes control of our entire organism.
The Cure of Ars suffered the first, harassments. The attacks of the devil started in the winter of 1824. Horrible sounds and noisy screams where heard outside his door coming from the small garden in the front. At first, Fr. Vianney thought it was someone roaming around wanting to steal. The following night he asked a parishioner to stay with him.
After midnight strong and loud noises where heard against the front door, it seems as if several heavy carts were going through the rooms. Mr. Andre took his pistol, looked out the window, but saw nothing, only the light of the moon. He said: For 15 minutes the house trembled and my legs also did. He never stayed in the house again.
This happened almost every night. It also occurred when the holy priest was not in town. One morning the devil set his bed on fire. The saint was getting ready for Holy Mass when he heard someone screaming fire, fire. The only thing he did was give the keys of the room to those who were going to extinguish the fire and he left since he knew the devil wanted to prevent Holy Mass.
The only thing he said was: That villain, not able to trap the bird, sets fire on his cage. Today the pilgrims can see over the saints bed a picture frame with the marks of the flames on the glass. For hours the devil would make sounds like glass breaking, whistling, horses trotting, even screams below the saints window saying: Vianney, Vianney, eat potatoes.
The devils purpose of all this was not to allow the saint to sleep so he can get tired and not spend all those hours in the confessional where he would save so many souls. By the year 1845 the attacks ceased almost completely. The perseverance of the saint against these trials was rewarded by the Lord in an extraordinary way, granting him the grace to expel demons from possessed people.
We can say the holy priest spent his life in a continuous battle with sin in his priestly ministry in the confessional. The miracle of Ars was the confessional.
Thousands came to the village of Ars to see the holy priest, especially to confess with him.
Pilgrimages to Ars
The influx of pilgrims started in the year 1827. Since 1828, the holy priest was not able to leave even for a day.
He was not exempt from criticism, his work and love for the poor were attributed as avarice. Some critics said they were able to see in him hypocrisy and a secret desire to excel. His meekness and humility overcame all this criticism.
On one occasion, his professional competence was even doubted by his own brother priests. The bishop of the diocese sent his General Vicar to investigate and give a report. The report given to the bishop was more than favorable. This helped to give an account of his life. The confessional was his habitual dwelling place, he would spend 11- 12 hours in the confessional.
The pilgrimages reached its highest point in 1845 with 300-400 daily visitors. On the last year of the holy priests life the number of pilgrims reached to an surprising amount of 100 - 120 thousand people.
No priestly ministry is so exhausting for the flesh and the spirit than sitting in the confessional. Only God knows the miracles of grace that occurred in the confessional of St. John Vianney, which is in the same place where he left it in St. Catherines Chapel or in the sacristy where he had also heard confessions.
His way of dealing with souls was with infinite gentleness. His exhortations were brief, direct, and to the point.
The Cure of Ars also had the gift of prophecy. On May 14th, 1854, the bishop of Ullathorne called the saint and asked him to pray for England. The bishop of Birmingham narrates that the holy man said with extraordinary conviction: Monseigneur, I believe the Church in England will be restored to its full splendor.
He also had great devotion to St. Philomena, calling her my agent with God. He constructed a chapel in her honor and also a sanctuary.
On one occasion he became very ill. Seeing his end approaching he promised St. Philomena to offer 100 Masses in her honor in his sanctuary. During the offering of his first Mass, he entered in ecstasy and was heard murmuring: Philomena, and repeated it several times. Coming out of ecstasy he exclaimed: Im healed, and attributed his healing to St. Philomena.
Escape from Ars
A temptation followed him almost all his life in Ars, the desire to be in solitude. With all sincerity, Fr. Vianney felt incapable for his office in Ars. The year before his death he said to a missionary: You dont know what it is to be a priest of souls in Gods tribunal. In 1851 he pleaded to the bishop to allow him to resign. On three occasions he left the village, but always returned.
41 years passed since the first day the Cure arrived at Ars. They were many active and indescribable years. After 1858 he said frequently: We are leaving, we are to die, and very soon. There is no doubt he knew his end was near.
In July 1859, a very devout woman from St. Etienne came for confession. On her departure he said to her: We will see each other again in three weeks. Both died around the same time, and met in another much more joyful world.
The month of July 1859 was extremely hot; the pilgrims would faint in great numbers, but the saint of Ars remained in the confessional. July 29th was the last day he appeared in the Church. He entered the confessional that morning about 1:00am. After fainting several times, he was asked to go rest. At 11:00 he gave catechism for the last time. That evening he crawled to his room with much difficulty. One of the Christian Brothers helped him get in bed, but the saint requested to be alone.
Approximately one hour after midnight he asked for help: It is my poor end, call my confessor. The illness progressed rapidly. In the afternoon of August 2nd, he received the last sacraments: How good is God- when we no longer can go to Him, He comes to us.
Twenty priests with lighted candles escorted the Blessed Sacrament, but the heat was so suffocating that the candles had to be turned off. With tears in his eyes he said: How sad it is to receive Holy Communion for the last time.
On the evening of August 3rd, his bishop arrived. The saint recognized him, but was unable to utter a word.
The end was approaching. At 2:00 am, Saturday August 4th, 1859, when a storm struck the village of Ars, the Bishop M. Monnin read these words: May the holy angels of God come for you and lead you to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Cure of Ars commended his soul to God.
On January 8th, 1905, Pope Pius X beatified the Cure of Ars on the Feast Day of Pentecost. On May 31st, 1925, in the presence of a great multitude, Pope Pius XI pronounced the solemn sentence: We declare John Baptist Vianney to be a saint and to be written in the catalogue of the saints.
Pray for us, St. John Mary Vianney.
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Pope: There's an Answer to Empty Confessionals [Catholic Caucus]
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Sermons of St. John Vianney - Cure of Ars: The Dreadful State of the Lukewarm Soul (Catholic Caucus)
Play about life of St. John Vianney to tour U.S. in 2009
Aug 4, St. John Marie Vianney - Patron of Parish Priests
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Saint's heart to go on display
Excerpts from the Sermons of the Cure of Ars
St. John Vianneys Pastoral Plan
Relics of Curé of Ars Make Stop in Papal Chapel
HOMILY by St. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars CHARITY
St John Vianney, Patron of Parish Priests(1786-1859)[Cure of Ars]
News from the Apostolic Administration of St. John Vianney Fall 2002, Volume 1 - Number 1
The Cure Of Ars: Jean-Marie Vianney
Oh, how great is a priest!" [The Curé d'Ars regarding bishops/priests)
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