Today’s saint is St. John Vianney, one of the greatest parish priests in the history of the Catholic Church. Many might be surprised that he struggled in school, because he is such a beloved priest and saint in our church. But he did, and his story of perseverance is inspiring.
Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was born and baptized on May 8, 1786 in France. He was raised in a Catholic home, and his family was often found helping the poor.
During the French Revolution, Jean (John) was prevented from going to school. At the time, priests were forced to work in secrecy, and therefore, John believed priests to be heroes. His family illegally traveled great distances to attend Mass. During this time, he also received his catechism instruction in private by two nuns who lost their convent in the Revolution. When he was 13, John made his First Holy Communion in secrecy.
In 1802, the Catholic Church was re-established in France. John was sent to school, where he struggled in his studies, particularly with Latin. He was teased because of this, but he always worked hard to learn. Because John’s deepest desire was to be a priest, he persevered.
John’s studies were interrupted in 1809, when John was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. Two days into his service, John became sick and hospitalized. Once he was well again, he entered another draft. He went to church to pray and fell behind the group. As a result, he met a man who offered to help him but instead led him into a place of seclusion, where he lived for more than a year.
Once he was free to return to his studies, John entered the seminary. He was considered “slow,” but his piety overcompensated for anything he lacked in terms of academic skill. He was ordained a priest on Aug. 12, 1815.
Three years later, Fr. John Vianney was appointed parish priest of the Ars parish. It is said that on the way to Ars, he got lost trying to find the town. He ran into a young boy and asked, “Do you know how to get to Ars?”
“Sure!” the boy answered. “I live there!”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” replied Fr. Vianney. “You show me how to get to Ars, and I’ll show you how to get to heaven.”
When he began his priestly duties, Fr. Vianney realized many were either ignorant or indifferent to religion as a result of the French Revolution. He spent much time in confession—11 to 12 hours each day—working to reconcile people with God. Fr. Vianney became very well known, and people came from great distances to hear him preach and go to Confession with him.
On Aug. 4, 1859, Fr. Vianney died at the age of 73. On Oct. 3, 1873, Pope Pius IX declared him as “venerable,” and on Jan. 8, 1905, Pope Pius X beatified him. Finally, St. John Vianney was canonized a saint on May 31, 1925. His feast day is Aug. 4, and he is the patron saint of priests.
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