Our Patron Saint
Saint John Vianney
The Life of St. John Vianney
Biography of St. John Vianney from New Advent Encyclopedia
The Secret of His Holiness - A Lesson for Priests and Parents Alike
The Holy Cure and His Message
The Cure of Ars by Dom Ernest Graf (Monk of Buckfast)
St. John Vianney's Teachings
A Summary of the Messages of St. John Vianney
Saint John Vianney's Lessons for Life
St. John Vianney's Homilies
St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan
The Catechism of St. John Vianney
Words of Wisdom from St. John Vianney
Papal Writings about St. John Vianney
The Life of St. John Vianney
Biography of St. John Vianney from New Advent Encyclopedia
Died: August 4, 1859
Canonized: 1925 by Pope Pius XI
Feast Day: August 4
Patron Saint of: parish priests
Also known as: John Baptist Vianney, Jean-Baptist Vianney, Jean-Baptist-Marie Vianney and the Cure of Ars.
Cure of Ars, born at Dardilly, near Lyons, France, on 8 May, 1786; died at Ars, 4 August, 1859; son of Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluze.
In 1806, the cure at Ecully, M. Balley, opened a school for ecclesiastical students, and Jean-Marie was sent to him. Though he was of average intelligence and his masters never seem to have doubted his vocation, his knowledge was extremely limited, being confined to a little arithmetic, history, and geography, and he found learning, especially the study of Latin, excessively difficult. One of his fellow-students, Matthias Loras, afterwards first Bishop of Dubuque, assisted him with his Latin lessons.
But now another obstacle presented itself. Young Vianney was drawn in the conscription, the war with Spain and the urgent need of recruits having caused Napoleon to withdraw the exemption enjoyed by the ecclesiastical students in the diocese of his uncle, Cardinal Fesch. Matthieu Vianney tried unsuccessfully to procure a substitute, so his son was obliged to go. His regiment soon received marching orders. The morning of departure, Jean-Baptiste went to church to pray, and on his return to the barracks found that his comrades had already left. He was threatened with arrest, but the recruiting captain believed his story and sent him after the troops. At nightfall he met a young man who volunteered to guide him to his fellow-soldiers, but led him to Noes, where some deserters had gathered. The mayor persuaded him to remain there, under an assumed name, as schoolmaster. After fourteen months, he was able to communicate with his family. His father was vexed to know that he was a deserter and ordered him to surrender but the matter was settled by his younger brother offering to serve in his stead and being accepted.
Jean-Baptiste now resumed his studies at Ecully. In 1812, he was sent to the seminary at Verrieres; he was so deficient in Latin as to be obliged to follow the philosophy course in French. He failed to pass the examinations for entrance to the seminary proper, but on re-examination three months later succeeded. On 13 August, 1815, he was ordained priest by Mgr. Simon, Bishop of Grenoble. His difficulties in making the preparatory studies seem to have been due to a lack of mental suppleness in dealing with theory as distinct from practice -- a lack accounted for by the meagreness of his early schooling, the advanced age at which he began to study, the fact that he was not of more than average intelligence, and that he was far advanced in spiritual science and in the practice of virtue long before he came to study it in the abstract. He was sent to Ecully as assistant to M. Balley, who had first recognized and encouraged his vocation, who urged him to persevere when the obstacles in his way seemed insurmountable, who interceded with the examiners when he failed to pass for the higher seminary, and who was his model as well as his preceptor and patron. In 1818, after the death of M. Balley, M. Vianney was made parish priest of Ars, a village not very far from Lyons. It was in the exercise of the functions of the parish priest in this remote French hamlet that as the "cure d'Ars" he became known throughout France and the Christian world. A few years after he went to Ars, he founded a sort of orphanage for destitute girls. It was called "The Providence" and was the model of similar institutions established later all over France. M. Vianney himself instructed the children of "The Providence" in the catechism, and these catechetical instructions came to be so popular that at last they were given every day in the church to large crowds. "The Providence" was the favourite work of the "cure d'Ars", but, although it was successful, it was closed in 1847, because the holy cure thought that he was not justified in maintaining it in the face of the opposition of many good people. Its closing was a very heavy trial to him.
But the chief labour of the Cure d'Ars was the direction of souls. He had not been long at Ars when people began coming to him from other parishes, then from distant places, then from all parts of France, and finally from other countries. As early as 1835, his bishop forbade him to attend the annual retreats of the diocesan clergy because of "the souls awaiting him yonder". During the last ten years of his life, he spent from sixteen to eighteen hours a day in the confessional. His advice was sought by bishops, priests, religious, young men and women in doubt as to their vocation, sinners, persons in all sorts of difficulties and the sick. In 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached twenty thousand a year. The most distinguished persons visited Ars for the purpose of seeing the holy cure and hearing his daily instruction. The Venerable Father Colin was ordained deacon at the same time, and was his life-long friend, while Mother Marie de la Providence founded the Helpers of the Holy Souls on his advice and with his constant encouragement. His direction was characterized by common sense, remarkable insight, and supernatural knowledge. He would sometimes divine sins withheld in an imperfect confession. His instructions were simple in language, full of imagery drawn from daily life and country scenes, but breathing faith and that love of God which was his life principle and which he infused into his audience as much by his manner and appearance as by his words, for, at the last, his voice was almost inaudible.
The miracles recorded by his biographers are of three classes: the obtaining of money for his charities and food for his orphans; supernatural knowledge of the past and future; healing the sick, especially children. The greatest miracle of all was his life. He practised mortification from his early youth. and for forty years his food and sleep were insufficient, humanly speaking, to sustain life. And yet he laboured incessantly, with unfailing humility, gentleness, patience, and cheerfulness, until he was more than seventy-three years old.
On 3 October, 1874 Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was proclaimed Venerable by Pius IX and on 8 January, 1905, he was enrolled among the Blessed. Pope Pius X proposed him as a model to the parochial clergy.
Text from New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
Back to Top
The Secret of His Holiness - A Lesson for Priests and Parents Alike
Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney was a religious personality of unusual force. To the incomparable exclusion of everything else he addressed himself to the greater honor and glory of God and the salvation of souls. He accepted his obligation to holiness at an early age, and it took complete possession of him. Every word he uttered was spoken out of the world of religiousness. He brought to a conclusion an achievement which it would be hard for anyone to imitate. From this man there emanated an influence which cannot be overlooked, and the results of which cannot be contested.
St. John Vianney's mother was a woman of great piety, and she led him into the way of religion at an early age. "I owe a debt to my mother," he said, and added, "virtues go easily from mothers into the hearts of their children, who willingly do what they see being done." He was a good-natured boy, with blue eyes and brown hair. In spite of his lively disposition, he admitted much later on in life that "when I was young, I did not know evil. I was first acquainted with it in the confessional, from the mouths of sinners."
It was only after much toil and trouble that St. John Vianney was admitted to the priesthood. At the age of 20, he was having great difficulty in his studies for the priesthood. Mathias Loras, perhaps the most intelligent of Jean-Marie's fellow seminarians, who was assigned to help him in his lessons, was of a nervous and excitable temperament. One day his patience was exhausted by the sheer incapacity of the big young man, and he boxed his ears before all the others. Jean-Marie was also excitable, but he knelt down before the boy of twelve who had treated him so outrageously and humbly asked his forgiveness. Mathias had a golden heart. Suddenly he felt smitten with grief and, his face bathed in tears, he threw himself into the arms of Jean-Marie who was still on his knees. This incident marked the beginning of an abiding friendship. Mathias Loras subsequently became a missionary in the United States, and eventually Bishop of Dubuque, but never could he forget the action of Jean-Marie and the accent with which he spoke on that occasion.
In his assignment as parish priest of Ars, St. John achieved something which many priests would like to have done, but which is scarcely granted to any. Not over night, but little by little, the tiny hamlet underwent a change. The people of Ars were unable to remain aloof for long from the grace which radiated from the remarkable personality of their priest. When a man attacks inveterate disorders and popular vices, he challenges opposition. St. John was not unprepared - he knew the enemy would raise his head. "If a priest determined not to lose his soul," he exclaimed, "so soon as any disorder arises in the parish, he must trample underfoot all human considerations as well as the fear of the contempt and hatred of his people. He must not allow anything to bar his way in the discharge of duty, even were he certain of being murdered on coming down from the pulpit. A pastor who wants to do his duty must keep his sword in hand at all times. Did not St. Paul himself write to the faithful of Corinth: 'I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls, although loving you more, I be loved less.'"
In his early sermons, he thundered against the prevalent vices of the village of Ars: Blasphemies, cursing, profanation of Sundays, dances and gatherings at taverns, immodest songs and conversations. "The tavern," he would say, "is the devil's own shop, the school where hell retails its dogmas, the market where souls are bartered, the placed where families are broken up, where health is undermined, where quarrels are started and murders committed."
Saint John Marie would never consider Ars converted until all of the 200 villagers were living up to the ten commandments of God, the six precepts of the Church and the fulfillment of their duties in life. Was this asking too much in exchange for Heaven? Complete enforcement of the third commandment took eight long years. "You labor, but what you earn proves the ruin of your soul and your body. If we ask those who work on Sunday, 'What have you been doing?' they might answer: 'I have been selling my soul to the devil and crucifying our Lord... I am doomed to hell...' When I behold people driving carts on Sunday, it seems to me I see them carting their souls to Hell."
Undoubtedly though, the most heinous crime in the eyes of this saint, the one that made him weep whenever he heard it or spoke against it, was the taking of the most Holy Name of Jesus in vain. He used to say that it was an astounding miracle that people who did this were not struck dead on the spot. But he warned them, "If the sin of blasphemy is rampant in your home, it will surely perish." Modesty was absolutely required, not only when in church but at all times - no low necks or bare arms.
It took St. John Vianney ten whole years to renew Ars, but the community changed so noticeably and to such an extent that it was observed even by outsiders. There was no more working on Sundays, the church was filled more and more every year, and drunkenness fell off. In the end the taverns had to close their doors since they had no more customers; and even domestic squabbles abated. Honesty became the principal characteristic. "Ars is no longer Ars," as St. John Vianney himself wrote; for it had undergone a fundamental change. Under his guidance the little village became a community of pious people, to whom all his labors were directed. He delighted in teaching the children their catechism and he did this daily. After a while the grown-ups came too and he found that those who were children during the Revolution were in complete ignorance of their religious duties. He taught the people love for the rosary and wanted everyone to carry one around at all times. It is truly astounding to reflect upon what St. John Vianney, with a staff of trained assistants, was able to achieve in the village in the space of a few years. What an immense amount of endeavor underlay his work will best be appreciated by anyone who has had to convert only a few drunkards to sanity.
Jean-Marie sanctified himself whilst at work in the field or in the house. The supernatural world was ever present to him, but for all that he was neither a slacker nor a dreamer, his being a healthy and active temperament. "O what a beautiful thing it is to do all things in union with the good God!" he would say. "Courage, my soul, if you work with God, you shall, indeed, do the work, but He will bless it. You shall walk and He will bless your steps. Everything shall be taken account of - the forgoing of a look, of some gratification - all shall be recorded. There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold they offer their little sufferings to God. Oh! What a beautiful thing it is to offer oneself, each morning, as a victim to God!"
In letters of consolation to a cousin, Frere Chalovet, whom obedience had sent to the Hotel-Dieu of Lyons and who was greatly tempted, he wrote: "My good friend, I write these lines in haste to tell you not to leave, in spite of all the trials that the good God wishes you to endure. Take courage! Heaven is rich enough to reward you. Remember that the evils of this world are the lot of good Christians. You are going through a kind of martyrdom. But what a happiness for you to be a martyr of charity! Do not lose so beautiful a crown. 'Blessed are they that suffer persecution for my sake,' says Jesus Christ, our model. Farewell, my most dear friend. Persevere along the way on which you have so happily entered and we shall see each other again in heaven..." "Courage my good cousin! Soon we shall see it, our beautiful heaven. Soon there will be no more cross for us! What divine bliss! To see that good Jesus Who has loved us so much and Who will make us so happy!"
Often when the Cure was returning to Ars from missionary expeditions, Mayor Mandy, who was anxious about the safety of his holy pastor, would send his son Antoine to accompany him on his journey home. "Even amid the snows and cold of winter," Antoine afterwards related, "we rarely took the shortest and best road. M. le Cure had invariably to visit some sick person. Yet the tramp never seemed really long, for the servant of God well knew how to shorten it by relating most interesting episodes from the lives of the saints. If I happened to make some remark about the sharpness of the cold or the ruggedness of the roads, he was always ready with an answer: 'My friend, the saints have suffered far more; let us offer it all to the good God.' When he ceased from speaking of holy things we began the Rosary. Even today I still cherish the memory of those holy conversations."
St. John Vianney had loved Mary from the cradle. As a priest he had exerted all his energy in spreading her glory. To convince themselves of it, the pilgrims had but to look at the small statues of her that adorned the front of every house in the village. In each home there was also a colored picture of the Mother of God, presented and signed by M. le Cure. In 1814 he had erected a large statue of Mary Immaculate on the pediment of his church. Eight years earlier, on May 1, 1836, he had dedicated his parish to Mary Conceived Without Sin. The picture which perpetuates this consecration, says Catherine Lassagne, is placed at the entrance to our Lady's Chapel. Shortly afterwards he ordered a heart to be made, in vermeil (color), which is, even to this day, suspended from the neck of the miraculous Virgin. This heart contains the names of all the parishioners of Ars, written on a white silk ribbon. On the feasts of Our Lady, Communions were numerous, and the church was never empty. On the evenings of those festivals the nave and the side chapels could barely contain the congregation, for no one wished to miss M. Vianney's homily in honor of Our Blessed Lady. The hearers were enthralled by the enthusiasm with which he spoke of the holiness, the power, and the love of the Mother of God.
The explanation of this mysterious transformation of the village of Ars can only be grasped in the remarkable manner that this simple priest realized that a man must always begin with himself, and that even the rebirth of a community can only be achieved by its renewing itself. We must expect nothing of men which is not already embodied within them. On the basis of this perception St. John Vianney set to work, in the first place, upon himself, so that he could attain the ideal which he demanded of his parishioners in his own person. He took his own religious obligations with the greatest seriousness, and did not care whether the people noticed this or not. And finally the inhabitants of Ars said to each other: "Our priest always does what he says himself; he practices what he preaches. Never have we seen him allow himself any form of relaxation."
The priest of Ars subjected himself to a strict fast. In this way he sought to reduce the requirements of his life to minimum. One meal sufficed him for the whole day. He abstained from alcohol except wine at holy Mass and normally ate only a little black bread and one or two potatoes cooked in water: he would prepare sufficient of these to last him the whole week, keeping them in an earthenware pan, and often they were covered with a coating of mold. Frequently he fasted for a whole day until, overcome, he would collapse from physical weakness. In view of this mode of life he had no need, of course, of a housekeeper - apart from the face that his house stood almost empty anyway. Since he considered that his self-mortification was all too inadequate, he had a special penitential garment made, which he wore next to his skin, and which, by reason of the constant friction against his body, was soon stained a reddish brown. For the most part he slept on a bare mattress when he was not sleeping on a bundle of wood down in the cellar.
St. John Vianney's assiduity in the confessional and the hardships entailed thereby would, of themselves, have sufficed to raise him to high sanctity. However, he thirsted for mortifications as others thirst for pleasure, and he never had his fill of penance. He laid on himself the sacrifice never to enjoy the fragrance of a flower, never to taste fruit nor to drink, were it only a few drops of water, during the height of the summer heat. He would not brush away a fly that importuned him. When on his knees he would not rest his elbows on the kneeling bench. He had made a law unto himself never to show any dislike, and to hide all natural repugnances. He mortified the most legitimate curiosity: thus he never expressed so much as a wish to see the railway which passed by Ars at a distance of a few kilometers, and which daily brought him so many visitors. During the whole of his priestly life he never indulged in any light reading, not even that of a newspaper. The Annals of the Propagation of the Faith are the only periodical that he ever perused.
Regarding mortification, he once said, "My friend, the devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one's food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God. Oh! How often have I experienced it! Whilst I was alone - and I was alone during eight or nine years, and therefore quite free to yield to my attraction - it happened at times that I refrained from food for entire days. On those occasions I obtained, both for myself and for others, whatsoever I asked of Almighty God."
St. John Vianney read much and often the lives of the saints, and became so impressed by their holy lives that he wanted for himself and others to follow their wonderful examples. The ideal of holiness enchanted him. This was the theme which underlay his sermons. "We must practice mortification. For this is the path which all the Saints have followed," he said from the pulpit. He placed himself in that great tradition which leads the way to holiness through personal sacrifice. "If we are not now saints, it is a great misfortune for us: therefore we must be so. As long as we have no love in our hearts, we shall never be Saints." The Saint, to him, was not an exceptional man before whom we should marvel, but a possibility which was open to all Catholics. Unmistakably did he declare in his sermons that "to be a Christian and to live in sin is a monstrous contradiction. A Christian must be holy." With his Christian simplicity he had clearly thought much on these things and understood them by divine inspiration, while they are usually denied to the understanding of educated men.
The conversion of the whole parish was too unusual an occurrence for it to remain unknown. From the year 1827, there began the famous stream of pilgrims to Ars. People went to Ars from all parts of France, from Belgium, from England and even from America. The principal motive which led all these crowds of pilgrims to the priest of Ars was purely the desire for him to hear their confession and to receive spiritual counsel from him. They were driven to his thronged confessional by the longing to meet once and for all the priest who knew all about the reality of the soul. The priest of Ars possessed the ability to see the human soul in its nakedness, freed of its body. This grace is only rarely bestowed on men. He never put his nose into the spiritual affairs of other people. He was entirely free from inquisitiveness. Like St. Francis de Sales, he had the gift of "seeing everything and not looking at anyone." In confessing people this holy man, who had a fundamental knowledge of sin, strove after one thing only - to save souls. This was his ardent desire, and for the sake of it he suffered all the tortures of his daylong confinement in the confessional. This great saint heard confessions from 13 to 17 hours a day, and could tell a penitent's sins even when they were withheld. In order to save souls one must be possessed of that holy love of men which consumed the priest of Ars. He would often weep in the confessional and when he was asked why he wept, he would reply: "My friend, I weep because you do not weep."
"The great miracle of the Cure d'Ars," someone has said, "was his confessional, besieged day and night." It might be said with equal truth that his greatest miracle was the conversion of sinners: "I have seen numerous and remarkable ones," the Abbe Raymond assures us, "and they form the most beautiful chapter of the life of the Cure d'Ars. 'Oh, my friend,' he often told me, 'only at the last judgment will it become known how many souls have here found their salvation.'" "In reality," Jeanne-Marie Chanay writes, "he made but small account of miraculous cures. 'The body is so very little,' he used to repeat. That which truly filled him with joy was the return of souls to God." How many occasions he had for such joy! M. Prosper des Garets relates: "I asked him one day how many big sinners he had converted in the course of the year. 'Over seven hundred,' was his reply." Hence it is easy to understand the wish expressed by a Cure who made the pilgrimage to Ars: "Those of my parishioners who go to M. Vianney become models. I wish I could take my whole parish to him."
One day, under the pretext of sending him on an errand, the Baronne de Belvey dispatched to M. Vianney a hardened sinner, who only set foot in the church at Christmas and Easter. It would seem that he had not been to confession since his first Communion. "How long is it since you were last at Confession?", M. le Cure asked. "Oh, forty years." "Forty-four," the saint replied. The man took a pencil and made a hasty calculation on the plastering of the wall. "Yes, it is quite true," he admitted, overcome with amazement. The sinner was converted and died a good death.
St. John Vianney possessed the gift of being able to understand the soul of a man in an instant, and, without any lengthy explanations, to feel at once what spiritual trouble was afflicting it. He had a clear sighted vision which often enabled him to foretell to a man what would happen to him in the future. This gift of God overpowered the people who visited his confessional, and to whom he granted a word of pardon. The words and advice of the Cure were like darts; they penetrated deeply. He said little, but his little was enough. To a priest who complained about the indifference of people in his parish, St. John Vianney answered: "You have preached, you have prayed, but have you fasted? Have you taken the discipline (a self imposed scourge)? Have you slept on the floor? So long as you have done none of these things, you have no right to complain." To a mother of a large family, who was expecting another child, he said with fatherly kindness and consideration: "Be comforted, my child. If you only knew the women who will go to Hell because they did not bring into the world the children they should have given to it."
Miracles are signs of divine approval, though sanctity may exist without them. Had he wrought not a single miracle, the Cure d'Ars would yet call for our admiration. His life was in itself a daily prodigy. Ribadeneira, writing of St. Bernard in that volume of the Lives of the Saints which the Cure d'Ars was forever reading, says that "the Abbot of Clairvaux was himself the first and greatest of all his miracles." This sentiment of the old hagiographer has been reechoed with no less felicity by one of M. Vianney's contemporaries - namely, the worthy Jean Peretinand, the village schoolmaster, who was likewise the saint's friend and his occasional nurse. "The most arduous, most extraordinary and most prodigious work that the Cure d'Ars accomplished was his own life." And his neighbor of Fareins, the Abbe Dubouis, declares that "without supernatural assistance M. Vianney would have sunk under the crushing weight of his work." "It is humanly inconceivable that, for the space of thirty years, he should have been equal to a task under the weight of which any other priest, however strong he might have been, would have quickly succumbed," says Canon Gardette. "He was visibly helped by God," is the attestation of P�re Faivre. In conclusion we quote the opinion of one of the physicians who attended the holy Cure: "Knowing, as I do, his mode of life, I look upon his existence as extraordinary and beyond the range of a natural explanation," was the verdict of Doctor Michel, of Coligny. Hence we may conclude in the words of Paul Bourget: "No, the era of miracles is not over, but to produce them saints are required - and they are too few."
In the Process of his canonization, Mgr. Mermod, who was Cure of Gex at the time, relates the following incident: "An incorrigible drunkard of Chaleins, my former parish, was converted by M. Vianney. During the three years that he lived afterwards that man never drank a drop of wine, and led an exemplary life. Now a striking thing happened. One day the good man called at the priest's residence; he was quite well, yet he wished to go to confession, giving as his reason that he was going to die. As he persisted in his request, I gave him absolution and Holy Communion. An hour later he was dead."
Mlle. Claudine Venet, of Viregneux, a small village of the canton of Saint-Galmier, in the Loire, was taken to Ars on February 1, 1850. In consequence of an attack of brain fever, she had become completely deaf and blind. M. Vianney had never seen her; no one had introduced her to him. On that February 1, she happened to be standing outside the church as he went by. Without speaking a word, he took her hand, led her into the sacristy and made her kneel down in the confessional. He had hardly given her his blessing when her sight and hearing returned. It seemed to her that she had awakened from a long dream. After her confession, the servant of God made the following amazing prophecy: "Your eyes are healed, but you will become deaf for another twelve years. It is God's will that it should be so!" On leaving the sacristy, Claudine Venet felt her ears closing once more. As a matter of fact, she could no longer hear anything. The infirmity lasted twelve years as foretold on this February 1, 1850. Calm and resigned, enjoying the sight that had been restored to her, the stricken woman awaited the day of her deliverance. Great was her emotion when, on January 18, 1862, she felt perfectly cured.
In 1854, a girl of Montchanin (Saone-et-Loire) of the name of Farnier, came to Ars to beg from M. Vianney the cure of her paralyzed leg. "My child," the saint told her, "you disobey your mother far too often, and answer her back in a disrespectful manner. If you wish the good God to cure you, you must correct that ugly defect. Oh! what a task lies before you! But remember one thing: you will indeed get well, but by degrees, according as you try to correct that defect." As soon as Mlle. Farnier returned home she endeavored to show more obedience and respect to her mother. Her crippled leg, which had been four inches shorter than the other, insensibly grew longer, and at the end of a few years her infirmity had wholly vanished.
His cousin, Marguerite Humbert, came one day to beg his prayers for one of her little daughters who was dangerously ill. "She is ripe for heaven," he said without hesitation. "As for you, my cousin, you need crosses to make you think of God."
Francoise Lebeau, a poor girl of Saint-Martin-de-Commune in the Saoneet-Loire, had become quite blind. She went with her mother on a pilgrimage to Ars. They begged their bread the whole way and slept in stables or sheds. To this poor girl M. Vianney did not fear to disclose something of the divine mystery of suffering, for his inspired gaze had fathomed her valiant spirit. "My child," he said, "you can be cured, but if the good God restores your sight, your salvation will be less assured; if, on the contrary, you consent to keep your infirmity, you will go to heaven, and I even guarantee that you will have a high place there." The blind girl understood; she no longer asked for a cure and left Ars in a state of perfect resignation to God's will. Nor had M. Vianney the courage to pity the mothers whose children died in infancy. "I had the misfortune to lose one of my children aged five years," relates Mme. des Garets. "This is what M. Vianney replied to my brother-in-law who brought the news to him: 'Happy mother, happy child! What a grace for both of them! How is it that this innocent little one has merited that its time of probation should have been shortened, to enable it to enter so soon into eternal bliss?'"
Even in the purely material order Ars appeared to be under a special protection. "I have heard my mother say," Madeleine Mandy-Scripiot relates, "that since 1825, the year she came to live in the parish, until the death of M. Vianney, there never was a hailstorm. She ascribed this protection to the merits of the servant of God, the more so as he himself was in the habit of asking for prayers that we might be spared the scourge. " "It has been remarked, " Mlle. Marthe des Garets adds, "that during the whole time of his ministry at Ars (41 years) no damage was ever done by storms."
Other supernatural favors also - such as are met with in the lives of the greatest mystics - fell to the lot of the Cure d'Ars. Thus he received in a plentiful measure the gift of tears. According to St. Teresa, these tears spring from a sentiment of ineffable tenderness towards God, or from the interior martyrdom endured by the soul when it sees God being offended. "Those tears are caused by God and shed in ecstasy," Lacordaire writes. M. Vianney could never speak of sin and sinners without shedding tears. He sobbed all the time he was making the Stations of the Cross. When he distributed Holy Communion, tears would often trickle down upon his chasuble. In the last years of his life in particular, he could never preach about the Eucharist, the goodness and love of God, the happiness of heaven - those were his favorite topics - without being stopped by his tears.
Those who were in the closest contact with him, those who were most intimate with him were the first to proclaim his sanctity. "They never discovered in his conduct a deliberate venial sin," says a priest of Ars. We have testimony of the Abbe Louis Beau, Cure of Jasans, who knew the saint more intimately than anyone else as he was his confessor during the last thirteen years of his life: "I do not think that he slackened his effort for as much as a day. He discharged his duties as a priest and pastor with admirable delicacy of conscience and he persevered until death in a strict fulfillment of all his duties. I particularly noticed the manner in which he made the sign of the cross, recited grace before meals and the Ave Maria when the hour struck. I am still deeply moved by the remembrance of what I witnessed on those occasions. With what angelic piety he recited his Breviary! I cannot find words to express myself. I do not think it is possible to go any further in the practice of heroic virtues. When I read the Lives of the Saints I fail to discover in them anything exceeding that which I have witnessed in M. le Cure d'Ars. He was surrounded by a halo of sanctity. I cannot express with how much veneration and respect for his person he inspired me. It is my opinion that he had preserved the grace of his baptism, and to that grace he was constantly adding by the eminent sanctity of his life."
On Aug. 4, 1859, Fr. John Vianney gave up his soul to God. He had been parish priest of Ars for 41 years. In 1925, he received the highest honor of the Church by being canonized and placed in the index of the Saints. Today over 500,000 people visit every year this simple farming town where they come to see the incorrupt body of one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. The life of St. John Vianney is the story of a humble and holy man who barely succeeded in becoming a priest, but who converted thousands of sinners.
Most of the material related in this paper is taken from the book The Cure d'Ars - Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, by Abbe Francis Trochu. This 586 page book, which we offer for only $12 (half the retail price) plus $2 P&H no matter how much you order, is based on the acts of the process of his canonization. We urge you to purchase this book (Orders) and assure you that it will be one of the best books you will ever read. If you want to know what the Catholic Faith is about, read the lives of the saints.
Text from Our Lady of the Rosary Library
Back to Top
The Holy Cure and His Message
Jean-Marie Vianney was born on 8th May 1786 in Dardilly near Lyon into a family of farmers and his childhood was deeply influenced by the fervour and love of his parents. However the context of the French Revolution made a powerful mark on his youth : he made his first confession beneath the great clock in the living room of the house in which he was born, instead of in the village church and he received absolution from an underground priest. Two years later he made his first communion in a barn, during a clandestine mass celebrated by a non-juring priest. At the age of seventeen he chose to answer the call of God, saying to his mother Marie Beluze : "I would like to win souls for the Good Lord". Yet his father opposed to this choice for two years for manpower was scarce in his father's house. At the age of twenty he began to prepare for the priesthood with the Abbe Balley, the parish priest of Ecully. His difficulties matured him : he oscillated between discouragement and hope, and went on pilgrimage to La Louvesc to the tomb of Saint Francois Regis. He was forced to become a deserter when he was called into the army to go and fight in the war in Spain. However the Abbe Balley was able to help him during these years of trials. He was ordained priest in 1815 and at first was curate in Ecully. He was sent to Ars in 1818. There he awakened the faith of his parishioners through his preaching but most of all by his prayer and his way of life. He felt his own weakness in the face of the mission he was to accomplish, but he allowed the mercy of God to seize him. He restored and embellished his church, founded an orphanage, "La Providence" and took care of the poorest of the poor.
Very rapidly his reputation as a confessor drew to him many pilgrims who were seeking through his person the forgiveness of God and peace of heart. Assailed by many a trial and battle he kept his heart rooted in the love of God and of his neighbour : his sole concern was the salvation of souls. His catechism lessons and homilies above all proclaimed the goodness and mercy of God. He was a priest who let himself be consumed by love before the Blessed Sacrament and who was totally surrendered to God and given over to his parishioners and to the pilgrims. He died on 4th August 1859 after having surrendered to the bitter end to Love. His poverty was not feigned. He knew that he would die one day a "prisoner of the confessional". He had attempted three times to flee his parish, believing himself to be unworthy of the mission of parish priest and because he thought that he was more of an obstacle to the goodness of God than an instrument of His Love. The last attempt to escape was less than six years before his death. His parishioners caught up with him in the middle of the night and brought him back after having rung the alarm. He then came back to his church and began hearing confessions at one o'clock in the morning. The next morning he remarked : "I behaved like a child". There was a crowd of more than a thousand people at his funeral, including the bishop and priests of the diocese, who had come to the man who was already an example for them.
He was beatified on 8th January 1905 and in the same year was declared "patron of the priests of France". Pius XI canonised him in 1925 (in the same year as Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus) and in 1929 he was proclaimed "patron saint of the priests of the entire world". Pope John Paul II came to Ars in 1986. Today Ars welcomes 450,000 pilgrims a year and the Shrine proposes different activities. A seminary was opened in 1986, and trains future priests under the guidance of "Monsieur Vianney", for there where the saints pass, God goes with them!
Text from the Shrine of Ars website
Back to Top
The Cure of Ars by Dom Ernest Graf (Monk of Buckfast)
Ever since the Sun of righteousness vanished from men's view, the heaven of holy Church has been illumined through the centuries by the shining light of countless Saints; and even as the brightness of the stars increases as the night advances, so, as we recede from the blessed days of His mortal life, Our Lord sends into the world Saint after Saint whose lives seem to shine with ever-increasing lustre. Less than a century ago a tiny village of provincial France was for many years the hub of the religious life of the whole country. Between 18I8 and 1859 its name was upon the lips of countless thousands and so great was the affluence of pilgrims that the railway company serving the district had to open a special booking office at Lyons to deal with the traffic between that great city and the little hamlet of Ars. The cause of all this stir was the lowly yet incomparable priest whose story is to be briefly told in these pages.
Like so many other Saints, Jean Baptiste Vianney enjoyed the priceless advantage of being born of truly Christian parents. His father was one of those sturdy farmer-owners who constitute the backbone of a nation. His mother was a native of the small village of Ecully, which, like Dardilly, the Saint's birthplace, lies within a few miles of the ancient city of Lyons. It would be a huge mistake were we to look upon the Vianneys as rough and ignorant country yokels. No doubt both parents and children were compelled to spend laborious days in field and vineyard, but the consciousness that for several centuries the beloved homestead had belonged to other generations of Vianneys, inspired the family with legitimate pride and they enjoyed the esteem of all who knew them. Kindness to the poor and the needy was an outstanding virtue of the Vianneys. No beggar or tramp was ever driven from their doorstep. Thus it came about that they were privileged, one day, to give hospitality to St Benedict Labre when that patron Saint of tramps passed through Dardilly on one of his pilgrimages to Rome.
He whom the whole world was to know and revere under the touching appellation of "The Cure of Ars," a title than which none could be dearer to himself, was born on May 8th, 1786, and baptized on the same day. Jean Marie Baptiste was the fourth of a family of six children. His pious mother refused to yield to another what is a mother's highest duty and sweetest privilege, viz., that of teaching her children to know and love God. Without exception all responded to her loving solicitude, but the keenest of them all was little Jean Baptiste. As a matter of fact, though an elder sister taught him to read and write, even then his mind was particularly responsive to religious knowledge and his memory, always his weakest point, was more retentive of such teaching than of secular learning.
Almost as soon as he was able to walk, the child accompanied his parents into the fields where he tended the sheep and the cows. Great is the charm of that part of rural France. Years later, when he had become the prisoner of the confessional, the holy cure spoke with gentle wistfulness of the verdant valley of the alive, as its delightful name suggests, with the music of the blackbirds and the murmur of the babbling brook meandering through the meadows, its banks fringed with wild rose bushes and overhung with the branches of ash and elder trees. Here the youthful shepherd would often seek the shelter of some fragrant thicket and, having placed a little statue of Our Lady, which never left him, in a hollow of a big tree, he would kneel on the greensward and pray his little heart out. At other times he would gather other little shepherds and teach them what he had himself learnt at his mother's knee, thus anticipating the wonderful "catechism" which was to be one of the daily, as it was one of the most fruitful, features of his apostolate at Ars. Even at that early age he was wont to cross himself when the clock struck the hour.
This he did without first looking round to see whether or not he was observed. A neighbour of the Vianneys having caught him in the act laughingly remarked to his father: "That little fellow of yours evidently takes me for the devil: he crosses himself when he sees me!"
All this time dark clouds, big with havoc and disaster, had been gathering over the fair land of France. On November 26th, 1790, the so-called "civil constitution" of the clergy was passed by the National Assembly. All ecclesiastics who refused the oath to this constitution within a week were to be deprived of their benefices. By a decree of the Legislative Assembly, two years later, the non-jurors were to be banished. The following year saw the outbreak of a fierce and bloody persecution. However, the prospect of the guillotine, which was working overtime in most parts of the unhappy country, held no terror for a great many priests who, by the adoption of various disguises and by frequent changes of domicile, somehow contrived to minister to the religious needs of the faithful remnant. Two such priests were M. Balley and M. Groboz. Both worked at Ecully, the one as a baker, the other as a cook, and both were destined to help Jean Baptiste towards the fulfilment of his dearest wish, that of becoming a priest.
Jean Baptiste made his first Communion at Ecully, his mother's home. The all-important event took place in the early hours of a summer's day, in a room carefully shuttered for fear of prying eyes. In order to disarm still further any suspicion that might have existed, haycarts had been drawn up beneath the windows and were unloaded with a great show of activity, whilst the solemn ceremony was in progress. The boy was thirteen years old. Even in his old age tears streamed down his cheeks whenever he spoke of that unforgettable day and all his life he treasured the plain rosary beads his mother gave him on the occasion.
A Church Student
Bonaparte's rise to power gradually brought freedom to the Church. Priests returned from exile or cast away their disguises and, as always, the blood of so many martyrs proved the seed of a new generation of fervent Christians. For a short time Jean Baptiste had frequented a very homely village school, but now that he was growing up the labours of the fields claimed his days. It was during those long hours of toil that the conviction grew in his mind that he must be a priest: "If I were a priest I could win many souls for God," he said to himself and to his fond mother. In her he found a ready ally, but the rugged father was not to be won over so easily-the lad could ill be spared. Two years had to go by before the head of the family fell in with his son's aspirations. The new archbishop of Lyons, no less a person than Bonaparte's uncle, realised only too well that his first care must be the training of recruits for the priesthood. Parish priests were instructed to look out for suitable candidates. M. Balley, now parish priest of Ecully, opened a small school for such boys in his presbytery. Here was young Vianney's chance. He could go to M. Balley for lessons whilst receiving board and lodging at the house of his aunt. Even Matthieu Vianney saw the advantages of such a scheme. So to Ecully the lad went.
The future Cure of Ars was twenty years old when he entered on the studies that were to lead him to the foot of the Altar. Alas ! the first steps in his scholastic career proved arduous in the extreme. Not a few writers and preachers have said, in their haste, that Jean Baptiste Vianney was dull, not to say stupid. Nothing could be further from the truth. A look at the Saint's authentic picture still suffice to refute these assertions. Every feature of his magnificent head betokens the fine intellect glowing within. His judgment was never at fault, but his memory had lain fallow for so long that it seemed unable to hold what the hapless student strove so manfully to entrust to its keeping. He himself said that "he could not lodge a thing in his bad head." As he pored, all in vain it seemed to him, over his Latin grammar, pictures rose before his imagination-it was always a vivid one-of the cosy fireside at Dardilly, of his gentle mother, of his beloved brothers and sisters, and the flowery meadows of the valley of Chante-Merle, so that, in an hour of despair, the poor youth almost decided to go home. Happily M. Balley sensed the peril. He bade his pupil go on foot to the shrine of St Francis Regis, at La Louvesc. The pilgrimage proved a turning point. Henceforth his progress was at least sufficient to save him from that awful feeling of discouragement which had so very nearly caused him to give up his studies.
At this very moment an even more formidable crisis arose. Napoleon was astride of Europe, but his brilliant success was paid for with torrents of French blood. More and yet more drafts had to be levied to fill the gaps made in his regiments by their very victories. In 1806 the to which young Vianney belonged was summoned to the colours before its time. Two years went by, but in the autumn of 1809 Jean Baptiste was summoned to join up, though as a Seminarist he was in reality exempt from conscription. It would seem that the Saint's name was not on the official list of Church students supplied by the diocesan authorities. Someone had blundered. The recruiting officer would listen neither to expostulation nor to entreaty. Young Vianney was destined for the armies in Spain. His parents tried to find a substitute. For the sum of 3,000 francs and a gratuity, a certain young man agreed to go in his stead but he withdrew at the last moment. On October 26th Jean Baptiste entered the barracks at Lyons only to fall ill. From Lyons they sent him to a hospital at Roanne where the Nuns in charge nursed him back to a semblance of health. When, on January 6th, 1810, infantryman Vianney left the hospital, he found that his draft had set out long ago. There was nothing for it but to try and catch up with it. His only equipment was a heavy bag. An icy wind chilled him to the bone, and a violent fever shook his emaciated frame.
Soon he could go no further. Entering a coppice which provided some shelter from the wintry blast he sat down on his bag and began to say his rosary: "Never, perhaps, have I said it with such trust," he used to say later on. Suddenly a stranger stood before him: "What are you doing here?" he asked. Poor Vianney explained his sorry plight. Thereupon the stranger shouldered the recruit's bag, at the same time bidding him follow him. By devious paths, through thickets and bushes, the two made their way to the hut of a sabot-maker. Here Vianney lay low for a few days whilst recovering from his fever. As he tossed on his sick bed it suddenly flashed across his mind that, through no fault of his, he was a deserter. He deemed it best to present himself to the mayor of the of Les Noes, one Paul Fayot, who was at that very moment sheltering two other deserters. The worthy mayor told the recruit not to worry: it was too late to join his draft; he was now considered a deserter so that his only care must be not to be discovered by the gendarmes. The mayor himself could not keep him, so he handed him over to the care of his cousin, Claudine Fayot, a widow with four children.
Henceforth Vianney assumed the name of Jerome Vincent. Under that name he even opened a school for the village children. For a time, for the sake of greater security, he lived and slept in the byre attached to the farmhouse. During the winter months the village was almost inaccessible, but as soon as the snows melted the danger from visiting gendarmes was constant. One hot summer's day he nearly died of asphyxiation as he lay hid in a stack of fermenting hay into which one of the gendarmes drove his sword thereby wounding the young man who, as he afterwards confessed, endured such agony that he could not have held out for many more moments. The conduct of all concerned in this affair may seem strange to us, but in those days conscription was not the cast-iron law it subsequently became. Exemptions were numerous and desertion habitual, so much so that in certain parts of France desertion was the rule, obedience to the law the exception and the woods were more densely populated than some of the villages (Cf. Trochu, , page 57, note). In any case young Vianney was not subject to the law. His being called to the colours was a mistake. Evidently our Saint did not carry in his pack the proverbial marshal's baton, but even in those early days a supernatural radiance seemed to form a halo round his noble brow. In 1810 an imperial decree granted an amnesty to all deserters of the years 1806 to 1810.
Jean Baptiste was covered by this decree, so that he was free to return home and to resume his studies. Alas ! his beloved mother died shortly after this happy reunion. He was now twenty-four years old and time pressed. Soon the young man returned to the Presbytery of Ecully: On May 28th, 1811, he received the Tonsure. M. Balley deeming it essential that his pupil should go through a regular course of studies, sent him to the Petit Seminaire of Verrieres. Here young Vianney suffered and toiled much but never shone as a philosopher. In October, 1813, he entered the Grand Seminaire of Lyons. His inadequate acquaintance with Latin made it impossible for him either to grasp what the lecturers said or to reply to questions put to him in that learned tongue. At the end of his first term he was asked to leave. His grief and disappointment were indescribable. For a while he toyed with the idea of joining one of the many congregations of Brothers. Once again M. Balley came to the rescue and studies were privately resumed at Ecully. But the student failed at the examination preceding ordination. A private examination at the presbytery proved more satisfactory and was deemed sufficient-his moral qualities being rightly judged to outweigh by far any deficiencies in his academic equipment.
On August 13th, 1815, Jean Baptiste Vianney was raised to the priesthood-to that ineffable dignity of which he spoke so frequently and with so much feeling: "Oh! how great is the priest!" he used to say. "The priest will only be understood in Heaven. Were he understood on earth people would die, not of fear, but of love." He was twenty-nine years old when, on the morrow of his ordination, he said his first Mass in the chapel of the Seminary of Grenoble where the ceremony had taken place, for Cardinal Fesch had had to flee from Lyons on the fall of his imperial nephew. Two Austrian chaplains of the armies that had invaded France were saying Mass at the same hour at side altars.
On his return to Ecully the Abbe Vianney's cup of happiness was full when he learnt that he was to be curate to his saintly friend and teacher. The diocesan authorities had decided that for the time being he who was to spend the greater part of his life in the confessional should not have faculties to hear confessions. However, M. Balley secured them for him within a few months and himself became his first penitent. Though in the opinion of his favourite sister Marguerite, who came over from Dardilly on purpose to hear him, "he did not preach well as yet, people flocked to the church when it was his turn to preach." Between rector and curate there now sprang up a holy rivalry as to who should outdo the other in fasts and penances. Things came to such a pass that the former reported the latter to the ecclesiastical superiors "for exceeding all bounds." The accused pleaded the example set him by his rector and the Vicar-General laughingly dismissed the two incorrigibles. On December 17th, 1817, M. Balley died in the arms of his beloved pupil who wept for him as one weeps for a father. And he, who was so detached from all things earthly, until the end of his life clung to a small hand-mirror that had belonged to his teacher and father because, he said, "it has reflected his countenance." Not long after M. Balley's death M. Vianney was appointed to Ars-a tiny village sleeping among the ponds and monotonous fields of which he was destined to make famous for all time.
Parish Priest Of Ars: 1818-1859.
Even on a large map Palestine is but a narrow strip of arid, desert like land. Yet all that is really great and worth while happened in that barren hill country. The land was made for ever holy in the blessed hour when the heavens opened above it in order to send down the Light of the world.
La Dombes is an uninteresting district of the of the Ain. The soil is clayey, ponds of stagnant water render the atmosphere moist and heavy, no large woods give colour and life to a landscape of almost unrelieved drabness. Rain is frequent and the climate is soft and enervating. The village of Ars lies in an undulating plain, a knoll rising from its centre and providing as it were a platform for the village church. A small stream, the Fontblin, meanders through the valley and traverses the village. On the west the horizon is shut in by the hills of the Beaujolais. Even today Ars is in no way remarkable, except for the new church, an hotel or two, some charitable institutions and the shops in which is displayed the usual assortment of rosaries, gaudy pictures, and postcards which seem to be the inevitable and commonplace feature of a place of pilgrimage. The inhabitants themselves, for the most part descendants of the good folk who constituted the flock of the most wonderful parish priest the world has known, are seen going about their rustic avocations just as their forefathers did; but the infinitely attractive personality of the immortal Cure seems even now to haunt the streets of the village and the rough tracks-one cannot call them roads-that divide farm from farm.
In 1815 the village consisted of some forty houses. An exceedingly dilapidated church, with no less wretched presbytery, stood on one side of the shallow valley. The only outstanding building was the family mansion of Les Garets d'Ars, but even that structure had lost its turrets and battlements and the moat that surrounded its walls in bygone days had been filled in long ago.
In clerical circles Ars was looked upon as a kind of Siberia. The district was dull, but its spiritual desolation was even greater than the material. It was in the first days of February, 1818, that the Abbe Vianney received official notification of his appointment-it could hardly be called a promotion-to Ars. " There is not much love in that parish-you will instill some into it," the Vicar-General told him. On February 9th, M. Vianney set out for the place that was to be, for the next forty-one years, the theatre of his astonishing and indeed unprecedented activities. He journeyed on foot, the distance between Ecully and Ars being about 38 km. A wooden bedstead, a few clothes and the books left him by M. Balley followed in a cart. A thick, dank mist lay over the fields so that he lost his way repeatedly. When he got his first glimpse of the village he commented on its smallness but with prophetic instinct added: "The parish will be unable to contain the crowds that will flock hither."
Though religion was at a low ebb it would be wrong to imagine that none was left. The mere reopening of the churches could not undo the untold harm wrought by the Revolution. The softness of the climate reacted on the natives, making them flabby and pleasure-loving. The faith, however, was not dead and there was at least a nucleus of fervent souls, chief among whom was the lady of "the great house," Mlle. des Garets, who divided her time between prayer and good works. In company with an old retainer, this wonderful old woman daily recited the whole of the Divine Office.
M. Vianney's first care was to establish contact with his flock. He made a point of visiting every household in the parish. In those first days he still found time to walk in the fields, his breviary in his hand-he was hardly ever without it-and his three-cornered hat under his arm, for he scarcely ever wore it on his head. He would speak to the peasants about the state of the crops, the weather, their families, so as to win their goodwill. Above all he prayed, and to prayer he joined the most awe-inspiring austerities. He made his own instruments of penance, or at least " improved " them by weighting them with bits of metal or iron hooks. His bed was the bare floor, for he gave away almost at once the mattress he had brought from Ecully. Subsequently he used to speak of the terrible penances of those days as his "youthful follies." Happy they who have none other to be sorry for or ashamed of! He would go without food for several days at a stretch. There was no housekeeper at the presbytery. Until 1827 the staple of his food was potatoes, an occasional boiled egg and a kind of tough, indigestible, flat cake made of flour, salt, and water which the people called . Subsequent to the foundation of the orphan girls' school, to which he gave the beautiful name of " Providence," he used to take his meals there. At one time he tried to live on grass, but he had to confess that such a diet proved impossible. He himself reveals his mind, as regards all this, in the words he addressed to a young priest: "The devil," he said, "is not much afraid of the discipline and hair-shirts what he really fears is the curtailing of food, drink and sleep."
The holy Cure was gifted with a noble imagination and a keen sense of the beautiful. He enjoyed the beauty of fields and woods, but he loved even more the beauty of God's house and the solemnities of the Church. He began by buying a new altar, with his own money, and he himself painted the woodwork with which the walls were faced. The vestments were worn to shreds. He set himself the task of replenishing what he called, in a touching phrase, "the household furniture of the good God." Thus it came about that the goldsmiths and embroiderers of Lyons had the amazing experience of seeing a country priest, wearing a shabby cassock, rough shoes, and a battered old hat and who seemingly had not a sou in his pocket, ordering the most expensive articles in their shops. Only the best was good enough for his little village church. The pilgrim to Ars cannot fail to share the wonderment of the craftsmen of Lyons as he reverently contemplates the rows of vestments in the glass cases that line the walls of the Saint's old presbytery.
The most disastrous sequel of the Revolution was the people's religious ignorance. The holy Cure resolved to do his utmost to remedy so deplorable a state of affairs. However, his sermons and instructions cost him enormous pain: his memory was so unretentive! Whole nights were spent by him in the little sacristy, in the laborious composition, and in the even more toilsome memorizing of his Sunday discourse. Sometimes he worked thus for seven hours on end. The sermon was delivered with immense energy, often in a high pitched voice, so that he was utterly exhausted at its conclusion. A parishioner asked him one day why he spoke so loud when preaching and so low when praying: "Ah!" he replied, "when I preach I speak to people who are apparently deaf or asleep, but in prayer I speak to God who is not deaf." The children excited his pity even more than their elders. He began by gathering them in the presbytery and then in the church, as early as six o'clock in the morning, for in the country the day's work begins at dawn. He was a stern disciplinarian and demanded a word for word knowledge of the text of the catechism.
In those days profanation of the Sunday was rampant in rural France. In the morning the country folk worked in the fields; the afternoon and evening were spent at the dance or in the far too numerous taverns. The holy man inveighed against these evils with astonishing vehemence. At that time inns and taverns were definitely looked upon as places of evil resort. "The tavern," the Saint declared in one of his sermons. "is the devil's own shop, the market where souls are bartered, where the harmony of families is broken up, where quarrels start and murders are done." As for the men who own or run a tavern, "the devil does not greatly trouble them; he despises them and spits on them!" So great did his influence eventually become that the time came when every tavern of Ars had to close its doors for lack of patrons. At a subsequent date modest hostels were opened for the accommodation of strangers, and to these the holy Cure did not object.
Even more strenuous, if possible, were his efforts in bringing about a suppression of dancing-an amusement to which the people were passionately addicted but which the Saint knew only too well to be a very hotbed of sin. Here he met with the most obstinate resistance, and his victory was very slow in coming. At times he himself paid the fiddler engaged for a dance as much as, or more than, the fee he would have earned by his playing, on condition that he stayed away. As a counter-attraction he revived Sunday Vespers. In his struggle against dancing, his zeal carried him to surprising lengths. In I895 an old woman told Mgr. Convert, another parish priest of Ars, that from the age of sixteen to twenty-two she did not make her Easter Communion because the Saint refused her absolution. The reason was that once a year when visiting her relatives in a neighbouring village, on the occasion of the fete of the place, she used to dance for a little while on the village green. The woman added that she went to confession on the eve of all the great feasts but the Saint never absolved her. She only received absolution when, after a resistance of six years, she at last made up her mind to forgo this annual fling.
The Saint was determined to suppress dancing as far as his authority and jurisdiction reached. His master stroke in this long-drawn campaign was to persuade the young women to stay away from these entertainments. Instead of the dance they attended some sodality meeting. The Cure's success led to an explosion of rage on the part of his enemies: such a man was bound to make enemies ! Their fury vented itself in the vilest calumnies and the grossest libels against this angel in the flesh, and no persecution was deemed too petty or too coarse where he was concerned. That he was keenly sensitive-to it all we gather from a remark he let fall towards the end of his life-had he known all he was to suffer at Ars, he said, he would have died on the day of his arrival. Yet such was his humility that he was perfectly sincere when he expected to be suspended by his bishop and even to be thrown into gaol: " But," he said, " I do not deserve such a grace." To these external vexations was added the far more searching trial of dryness in prayer, and at times the lowering clouds of despair cast their dark shadow upon the naturally sunny fields of his spirit.
Two years had gone by when news went forth that M. Vianney was to be cure of Salles, in the Beaujolais. Ars was struck with consternation. Mlle. d'Ars, in a letter to a friend, talked of nothing less than strangling the Vicar-General. The mayor headed a deputation which went to Lyons, where it easily secured the cancelling of the appointment to Salles. To make sure of the future the good people obtained that their village should be erected into a regular parish. M. Vianney was appointed parish priest, for until then he had only been a chaplain who could be removed at a moment's notice.
That same year the Cure initiated extensive work on the fabric of the church. A low tower was built, a chancel was added to the vane, several side-chapels were erected, particularly a Lady chapel at whose altar he said Mass every Saturday for forty years, and many statues and pictures were placed along the walls of the lowly sanctuary. All these features may still be seen, for when the new, somewhat pretentious church was erected Pius X strictly enjoined that the old church, sanctified by the holy Cure, should remain as he left it. Thus the new basilica is only a prolongation of the lowly village church so dear to the Saint, as it is to the happy pilgrim to Ars. M. Vianney was no obscurantist. He wished to have good schools in the village. To start with he opened a free school for girls, which he called "Providence." It soon became a boarding school as well as a day school. From 1827 he received none but destitute children as boarders. For them he had to find both food and raiment. More than once God intervened miraculously, multiplying a few grains of wheat in the presbytery attic, or the dough in the kneading trough of the bake-house. The Saint loved the "Providence" above all his undertakings because it existed for the good of destitute children. For the space of twenty years he himself daily came to the establishment to receive the pittance which he dignified with the name of dinner.
In a letter dated November 1st, 1823, to the widow Fayot who had mothered him whilst he lay at Les Noes he wrote that he was in a small parish which was very good and served God with all its heart. Two and a half years had wrought this change. Sunday was now indeed the Lord's day. The whole village attended Vespers. He found it less easy to induce the good folk to frequent the Sacraments. Jansenism, though moribund, was not yet dead. At the end of his life the Saint declared: "I have done all I could to persuade the men to communicate four times a year: if they had but listened to me they would all be saints."
The holy priest dearly loved the ceremonies of the Church. He personally trained his altar servers. Corpus Christi was the climax of the liturgical year. On that day he went so far as to forsake his confessional for a few hours. He could be seen walking round the village, admiring and praising the decorations. He himself carried the Blessed Sacrament. No one was allowed to be a mere spectator: strangers were not suffered to line the processional route but everybody had to fall in, and walk in the procession. On his last Corpus Christi day-only forty days before his death-the mayor of the village, Comte des Garets, had secured, unknown to him, the services of a band. At the first crash of the brass and the drums the Saint trembled for sheer joy, and when all was over he could not find words with which to express his gratitude.
His tender love for Our Lady moved him to consecrate his parish to the blessed Queen of Heaven. Over the main entrance of the little church he placed a statue of Our Lady which is still in position. On the occasion of the definition by Pius IX of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he asked his people to illuminate their houses at night and the church bells were rung for hours on end. What with the blaze visible for miles and the noise of the bells, the surrounding villages imagined Ars was on fire and the fire brigades with their primitive engines were soon on the scene. To this day a silver heart hangs near the statue of Our Lady at Fourvieres containing a parchment on which are written the names of all the parishioners of Ars.
The Saint Attacked By The Powers Of Darkness
It was to be expected that so signal a triumph of religion, as well as the personal holiness of him who was instrumental in bringing it about, would rouse the fury of hell. The Scriptures tell us that Satan at times disguises himself as an angel of light. In our days he is even more cunning: he persuades people, all too successfully, that he does not exist at all. One of the most amazing features of the life of the Cure of Ars is that during a period of about thirty-five years he was frequently molested, in a physical and tangible way, by the evil one.
It should be borne in mind that all men are subject to temptation-for to tempt to sin is the devil's ordinary occupation, so to speak-and temptation is permitted by God for our good. Infestation is an extraordinary action of the devil, when he seeks to terrify by horrible apparitions or noises. Obsession goes further: it is either external, when the devil acts on the external senses of the body; or internal, when he influences the imagination or the memory. Possession occurs when the devil seizes on and uses the whole organism. But even then mind and will remain out of his reach. Most of the Cure of Ars experiences belong to the first category, viz., infestation.
The powers of darkness opened the attack in the winter of 1824. In the stillness of a frosty night terrific blows were struck against the presbytery door and wild shouting could be heard coming, so it seemed, from the little yard in front of the house. For a moment the Cure suspected the presence of burglars so that he asked the village wheelwright, one Andre Verchere, to spend the following night at the presbytery. It proved an exciting night for that worthy. Shortly after midnight there suddenly came a fearful rattling and battering of the front door whilst within the house a noise was heard as if several heavy carts were being driven through the rooms. Andre seized his gun, looked out of the window but saw nothing except the pale light of the moon: "For a whole quarter of an hour the house shook-and so did my legs," the would-be defender subsequently confessed. The following evening he received another invitation to spend the night at the presbytery but Andre had had enough.
These and similar disturbances were of almost nightly occurrence. They happened even when the Saint was away from home-in the early years when he was still able to lend a hand to his clerical neighbours. Thus on a certain night during a mission at St Trivier, the presbytery shook and a dreadful noise seemed to proceed from M. Vianney's bedroom. Everybody was alarmed, and rushing to the Saint's room the priests found him in his bed which invisible hands had dragged into the middle of the room. M. Vianney soon perceived that these displays of satanic humour were fiercest when some great conversion was about to take place, or, as he playfully put it, when he was about to "land a big fish." One morning the devil set fire to his bed. The Saint had just left his Confessional to vest for Mass when the cry, "Fire! fire!" was raised. He merely handed the key of his room to those who were to put out the flames: "The villainous !" (it was his nickname for the devil) "unable to catch the bird, he sets fire to the cage!" was the only comment he made. To this day the pilgrim may see, hard by the head of the bed, a picture with its glass splintered by the heat of the flames. It must be remembered that at no time was a fire lit in the hearth and there were no matches in the presbytery.
These molestations were both terrifying and ludicrous. The holy man ended by getting inured to them, so much so that he often poked fun at their author who showed himself in a very poor light indeed. With a smile the Saint once remarked: "Oh! the and myself-we are almost chums." As a sample of Satan's sense of humour the following is characteristic of one whom somebody called "God's ape." The devil would go on for hours producing a noise similar to that made by striking a glass tumbler with the blade of a steel knife; or he would sing, "with a very cracked voice," the Saint said, or whistle for hours on end; or he would produce a noise as of a horse champing and prancing in the room, so that the wonder was that the worm-eaten floor did not give way; or he would bleat like a sheep, or miaow like a cat, or shout under the Cure's window: "Vianney! Vianney! potato-eater." The purpose of these horrible or grotesque performances was to prevent the servant of God from getting that minimum of rest which his poor body required and thus to render him physically unfit to go on with his astonishing work in the confessional by which he snatched so many souls from the clutches of the fiend. But from 1845 these external attacks ceased almost entirely.
The Saint's constancy amid such trials was rewarded by the extraordinary power God gave him to cast out devils from the possessed. Nevertheless, horrible as may be the condition of one whose body is possessed by the devil, it is as nothing by comparison with the wretched plight of a soul which, by mortal sin, sells itself, as it were, to Satan. The holy priest may be said to have spent the best part of his priestly career in a direct contest with sin through his unparalleled work in the confessional. The Cure's confessional was the real miracle of Ars, one that was not merely a passing wonder, or the sensation of a few weeks. Great as were his penances, assuredly the greatest of them all was the endless hours spent by him within the narrow confinement of a rugged, comfortless, unventilated confessional. This miracle went on for forty years. The astonishing thing about M. Vianney is that he himself personally became the object of a pilgrimage, people flocking to Ars in hundreds of thousands just to get a glimpse of him, to hear him, to exchange but a few words with him, above all, to go to confession to him.
The Pilgrimage To Ars
The afflux of strangers-the pilgrimage as it soon came to be called-began in 1827. From the year 1828 onward the holy Cure was utterly unable to go away, were it but for one day. Unknown to themselves Saints exercise an irresistible attraction, and however anxiously they may seek obscurity, somehow the children of the Church-and others too-have a knack of discovering them. " Oh, how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory ! for the memory thereof is immortal, because it is known both with God and with men! when it is present they imitate it, and they desire it when it hath withdrawn itself" (Wisdom iv. 1, 2). For all that, no man, perhaps a Saint least of all, can hope to be spared criticism. Thus the Cure's practice and love of poverty were attributed to avarice: some peculiarly sharp-eyed critics thought they could see in him traces of hypocrisy or a secret desire of notoriety. His meekness and humility ended by winning over his very fault-finders. On one occasion, when his professional competence was questioned by some brother priests, the bishop of the diocese sent his Vicar-General to look into the matter and to report to him. The report was more than favourable. Madame des Garets once remarked in the hearing of the bishop-Mgr. Devie-that people thought M. Vianney was not very learned. The answer was remarkable: "He may or he may not be learned, but I do know that he is enlightened by the Holy Ghost." The same prelate requested the holy Cure to send in written solutions of his most difficult cases of conscience. In ten years he sent in two hundred admirable solutions.
It may be said that the confessional was M. Vianney's habitual abode. Even in the depth of winter he daily spent from eleven to twelve hours in that penitential box. The peak of the "pilgrimage" was reached in 1845. At that time there were, on an average, some three to four hundred visitors each day. The railway tickets issued at Lyons had to be made available for eight days, for it was well known that a visitor often had to wait all that time before he could hope to speak to the Saint. In the last year of the Cure's life the number of pilgrims reached the amazing total of 100 to 120 thousand persons. Parties of pilgrims often camped in the open, for there were only five hostelries in the village and these self-styled hotels could only accommodate some 150 guests between them.
No priestly function is apt to become a greater weariness to the flesh and the spirit than a protracted sitting in the confessional. This arduous duty M. Vianney discharged for many hours, day by day, year in, year out, when chilled to the bone by the hard winters of central France or when all but overcome by the stifling heat of the long summer days. Even his hard-working parishioners had their days of rest-for him alone there was no repose, no respite, no holiday. At all seasons his working day consisted of twenty hours out of twenty-four. In summer he spent as much as fifteen and even sixteen hours in the confessional. Yet he loved the beauty of nature. How he would have revelled in the sunshine, the charm of mellow autumn days, the fragrance and colour of blossoming orchards and flowery meadows! But all he had to look forward to, day after day, was the same confinement in the dark, ill-ventilated wooden box which was for him what the was for the martyrs of Cochin-China.
God alone knows the miracles of grace wrought within that rough confessional which stands to this day where he himself placed it in the chapel of St Catherine; or in the tiny sacristy where he usually heard the men. It v as there that his prophetic intuitions and illuminations were most in evidence. In dealing with souls he was infinitely kind. His exhortations were brief and to the point. He said little, only a word or two-but coming from him it meant so much: "To Heaven!" was all he said to a certain priest and when his bishop knelt at his feet he merely said: "Be kind to your priests."
One day he was hearing confessions in the sacristy. All of a sudden he came to the door and told one of the men who acted as ushers to call a lady at the back of the church, telling him how he could identify her. However, the man failed to find her. "Run quickly," the Saint said "she is now in front of such a house." The man did as he was told and found the lady who was going away, bitterly disappointed at not having spoken to the Saint. When reproached with excessive leniency, he replied that he could not be hard on people who had undergone so many hardships merely to see him. At times he came out of the confessional and summoned certain persons from among the crowd and those so selected declared that only a divine instinct could have told him of their peculiar and pressing need.
Of his gift of prophecy one instance must suffice-it is of enormous interest to us in England. On May 14th, 1854, Bishop Ullathorne called on the holy man and asked him to pray for England. The bishop of Birmingham relates that the man of God said with an accent of extraordinary conviction: "Monseigneur, I believe that the Church in England will be restored to its splendour." May this prophecy receive a full and speedy fulfilment-not least through the prayers of him who made it !
No account of the life of the Cure of Ars would be complete without at least a passing mention of his singular devotion to St Philomena, the celebrated Virgin and Martyr of the early Church, whose tomb was found in the Roman catacombs at the beginning of the last century. Between the austere priest and the youthful Martyr there existed a friendship of extraordinary tenderness. Maybe there are across the centuries spiritual affinities between the Saints to which we have not the key. Be this as it may, the holy Cure looked upon St Philomena as his special guardian: his "agent with God," as he used to say. He erected a chapel and a shrine in her honour when he undertook the restoration of the village church. This shrine may be seen to this day. In May, 1843, he fell so ill that the end seemed at hand. He promised to have a hundred Masses said at the Saint's shrine. On May 12th, whilst the first of them was being said, he entered into a trance or ecstasy during which he was heard to murmur repeatedly: "Philomena!" Presently he exclaimed: "I am cured!" He attributed his recovery to St Philomena. There can be no doubt that he used the Saint as a kind of screen for his own humility, for he attributed to the Martyr the miracles he himself performed. In his wonderful single-mindedness he imagined that the world would be as simple as himself and would not see through this pretty device of his modesty.
"Flight" from Ars
One temptation pursued the man of God almost all through his career at Ars, viz., a longing for solitude. There can be but little that, in sheer despair of hurting him in any other way, the devil played on this craving with his wonted astuteness. The Saint's very humility egged him on towards a step which is almost incomprehensible. In all sincerity M. Vianney deemed himself utterly unfit for his office. The year before his death he said to a missionary: "You do not know what it is to pass from the cure of souls to the tribunal of God." In 1851 he begged his bishop's leave to resign. The letter was signed: "J.M.B. Vianney, the poor parish priest of Ars." On three separate occasions he actually left the village. The first "flight," as the attempt was called, occurred in 1840-but he returned almost before he had reached the outskirts of the village. In 1843 he had a severe illness-the result of his "youthful follies." He seemed doomed-but he retained his sense of humour: "I am putting up a grand fight," he said. "Against whom, M. le Cure?" "Against four doctors! if a fifth joins them I am lost." He recovered. Again he "fled." This time he got as far as Dardilly, but after a few days he realized that God wanted him at Ars. In 1853 he made a last attempt, this time with the intention of entering a Trappist monastery. But those on whose assistance he relied betrayed the secret! he was stopped . After some parleying he abruptly turned round, took the road to Ars, went straight into the church, put on his surplice and stole and entered his confessional. He realized at last, as he himself confessed, that there was something intemperate in his craving for solitude. Henceforth he was resolved to live and die as Cure of Ars.
Men of the moral stature of the Cure of Ars need no adventitious title or dignity to enhance their personality nor are they ever in danger of attaching undue value to such things. Towards the end of October, 1852, the bishop of Belley arrived unexpectedly at Ars. When his presence was made known to the Saint he issued from his usual abode-the confessional-and came to greet the prelate, in fact, he even made a little speech. Presently the bishop produced a bundle from under his cape which proved to be a Canon's mozetta which he forthwith tried to put over the Saint's shoulders at the same time hailing him as Canon Vianney. The poor Cure struggled desperately to shake off the ornament. Meanwhile the bishop intoned the and a procession was formed to escort the unhappy recipient of the honour to the steps of the Altar. All the time the mozetta was hanging precariously from the shoulders of the new dignitary. Not many days later he sold it for fifty francs and wrote to the bishop, thanking him for his providential gift, for just then he needed that much money to complete the sum required for a Mass foundation.
Not long after Napoleon III bestowed on him the . On being informed of it, the Saint asked: "Is there any money attached to it? Money for my poor? "When told that there was not, he requested the Comte des Garets to return the decoration to the emperor! Only by a ruse could he be induced to open the box containing the cross: he was told there might be relics in it; but he firmly refused to allow the cross to be pinned to his breast-in fact he gave it to the priest who had been deputed to invest him with it: "Take it," he said, "my friend, and may you have as much pleasure in receiving it as I have in giving it to you!"
Forty-one years had gone by since the blessed day on which M. Vianney had come to Ars. They had been years of indescribable activity. The lowly priest had become famous not only throughout France-his name had reached the ends of the earth. Eternity alone will reveal the extent of the achievement of those years, so fruitful and blessed for others, but so laborious and exhausting for himself. The end was now in sight. After 1858 he often said: "We are going; we must die; and that soon!" There can be no doubt that he knew the end was at hand. In July, 1859, a devout lady of St Etienne came to confession to him. When she bade the Saint farewell he said: "We shall meet again within three weeks." Both died within that time and thus met in a happier world.
The month of July of the year 1859 was extraordinarily hot, pilgrims fainted in great numbers, but the Saint remained in his confessional. Friday, July 29th, was the last day on which he appeared in his church. That morning he had entered his confessional about 1 a.m. but after several fainting fits he was compelled to rest. At 11 he gave his catechism-for the last time. That night he could scarcely crawl up to his room. One of the Christian Brothers helped him into bed but, at his request, left him alone. About an hour after midnight he summoned help: "It is my poor end," he said; "call my confessor." The illness progressed rapidly. In the afternoon of August 2nd he received the Last Sacraments: "How good God is," he said; "when we can no longer go to Him, He comes to us." Twenty priests with lighted candles escorted the Blessed Sacrament-but the heat was so suffocating that they put them out. Tears were trickling down the Saint's cheeks: "Oh! it is sad to receive Holy Communion for the last time!" he said. On the evening of August 3rd, his bishop arrived. The Saint recognized him though he was unable to utter a word. Towards midnight the end was obviously at hand. At 2 o'clock in the morning of August 4th, 1859, whilst a fearful thunderstorm burst over Ars, and whilst M. Monnin read these words of the "Commendation of a Soul": "May the holy angels of God come to meet him and conduct him into the heavenly Jerusalem," the Cure of Ars gave up his soul to God.
The funeral of the servant of God was a triumph, though all eyes were filled with tears. More than three hundred priests walked before the coffin. So many were the visitors to Ars that provisions gave out and many pilgrims had to go without food. Miracles soon confirmed the reputation for sanctity the man of God had enjoyed during his lifetime. On January 8th, 1905, Pius X, that other lowly yet incomparably great priest, beatified the Cure of Ars. It was reserved for another Pope who bore the name Pius to set the seal upon the heroic virtues of the most wonderful parish priest the world has ever seen. On the feast of Pentecost, May 31st, 1925, amid unparalleled splendour and in the presence of an immense multitude representative of all mankind-for it was the year of Jubilee-surrounded by thirty-two Cardinals and two hundred Bishops, Pius XI pronounced the solemn sentence which amplifiers carried to the furthermost corners of the great basilica: "We declare Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney to be a Saint and inscribe him in the catalogue of the Saints."
The words were hailed with loud applause; the "Te Deum" was sung with enthusiasm, all the bells of Rome rang a joyful peal and at nightfall the greatest church of Christendom was illumined with many thousands of lamps whose flickering light appeared to the beholder as so many symbols of the countless souls now shining in heaven, thanks to the heroic toil and self-sacrifice of the new Saint.
1 Pronounced Arz. From -burnt.
2 viz., something that takes the edge off one's hunger.
The Cure of Ars (St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney), by Dom Ernest Graf. Published by the Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, London, 1952.
Provided Courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network
Text from the EWTN website
Back to Top
St. John Vianney's Teachings
A Summary of the Messages of St. John Vianney
A man of prayer
Long periods spent in front of the tabernacle, a true intimacy with God, a total surrender to His will, a face transfigured� all elements that touched deeply those who met him and made the depth of his prayer life and union with God perceptible. They were his greatest joy and the ground for a true friendship with God : "I love you, oh my God, and my only desire is to love you until my dying breath". This was a friendship that implied a reciprocity which M. Vianney compared to two pieces of wax which are melted together and can no longer be separated or identified as distinct from one another ; it is thus for our soul with God when we pray.
At the heart of his life, the Eucharist celebrated and adored
"He is there", the Holy Cure would exclaim as he stared at the tabernacle. He was a man of the Eucharist celebrated and adored ; "There is no reality greater than the Eucharist", he used to affirm. What touched him most deeply perhaps was the realisation that his God was there, for us, present in the tabernacle : "He awaits us !" The awareness of the real presence of God in the Blessed sacrament was perhaps one of his greatest graces and one of his greatest joys. Giving God to men and men to God, the eucharistic sacrifice, very quickly became the heart of his day and of his pastoral life.
Tormented by the salvation of mankind
It is perhaps this which summarises best who the Holy Cure was during his 41 years as a priest in Ars. He was tormented by his own salvation and that of others, most especially that of those who came to him or for whom he was responsible. As a priest, "he was accountable to God" he used to say. That each person taste the joy of knowing and loving God, of knowing how much He loves us� this was what M. Vianney strove relentlessly to achieve.
A martyr of the confessional
As from 1830 thousands of people came to Ars to go to confession with him, and more than 100,000 in the last year of his life�. The Cure of Ars was a true martyr of the confessional, John Paul II declared, for he spent up to 17 hours a day 'imprisoned' in his confessional in order to reconcile men with God and among themselves. Smitten by the love of God, filled with wonder at the vocation of mankind, he had grasped the full measure of the folly in wanting to be separated from God. He wanted each person to be freed in order to be capable of receiving a taste of the love of God.
At the heart of parish, a man with a social awareness
"We cannot imagine what the Holy Cure did not accomplish by way of social work" one of his biographers comments. He saw the Lord present in each of his brothers and sisters and did not rest until he had assisted them, brought relief, appeased their suffering or soothed their wounds, and enabled each one to be free and happy. Nothing was beyond him�starting an orphanage, setting up schools, being attentive to the poorest and the sick, tireless builder of the Church that he was. He accompanied the families and sought to protect them from all that destroy them (alcohol, violence, egoism�). At the heart of his village he sought take into account each of the dimensions of the human person (human, spiritual, social).
The patron saint of the priests of the whole world
He was beatified in 1905, and in the same year on April 12th he was declared patron saint of the priests of France by Pius X. In 1929, four years after his canonisation, Pope Pius XI declared him "patron saint of the priests of the whole world". Pope John Paul II said no less by repeating three times that "The Cure of Ars remains an outstanding and unparalleled model for all nations both of the accomplishment of the ministry and the holiness of the minister". "Oh, how great a reality lies in the priest !" Jean-Marie Vianney would exclaim, for he can give God to men and men to God ; he is the witness of the tenderness of the Father for each person and the artisan of salvation.The Cure of Ars, an elder brother in the priesthood, is the saint to whom every priest in the world can come in order to entrust his ministry or his priestly life to the Cure's intercession.
A universal call to holiness
"I will show you the path to Heaven" he replied to the little shepherd boy who showed him the way to Ars. By this he meant 'I will help you to become a saint'. "There where the saints go their way, God goes with them", he would remark later on. Ultimately he invited each and everyone to let themselves be sanctified by God, to seek the means to achieve this union with God here on earth and for all eternity.
Back to Top
Saint John Vianney's Lessons for Life
The life of Saint John Vianney is an inspiring example of how we should live our own lives. He taught by word and action that there were several areas of great importance for salvation. These teachings don't contain secret truths or startling revelations on how to get to Heaven. Instead, they provide simple, attainable lessons that we can follow in our everyday lives.
Devote Sunday to God
Attend mass every Sunday and avoid unnecessary work. Reorder priorities to keep Sunday a holy day.
Talk with God several times a day. Your prayers don't have to be fancy; they just need to come from the heart.
Spend time at Eucharistic Adoration
Don't miss the chance to sit in Jesus' presence, to feel His power and love, and to listen to what He has to say to you.
Go to confession
The forgiveness of sins is an amazing gift. Make a daily examination of conscience and attend confession often.
Study the Catechism
It is the responsibility of all Catholics to not only know their faith, but to live it, defend it, and pass it on. Know what the Church teaches and why by reading the Catechism.
Remember the poor
Christ calls us to care for each other. Saint John was devoted to the poor and many of his miracles centered on charity.
Pray the Rosary
Set aside some quiet time to contemplate the life of Jesus and the love and faithfulness of His mother, Mary.
Saint John believed it was a miracle that those taking the Lord's name in vain were not struck dead on the spot.
Read the lives of the saints
Seeing how the saints lived and what they endured gives us perspective on modern life and strength to do God's will.
Persevere in the face of hardship
Doing what is right is often difficult, but Saint John Vianney shows us that with faith and prayer all things are possible.
You can't please both God and the modern world
"If people would do for God what they do for the world, what a great number of Christians would go to Heaven." -Saint John Vianney
Back to Top
St. John Vianney's Homilies
Read what St. John Vianney preached about lukewarm souls, the world, our works, anger, parenting and more.
Sermons of the Cure of Ars
Back to Top
St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan
See how St. John Vianney is influencing priests and parishes today.
Homiletic and Pastoral Review
Back to Top
The Catechism of St. John Vianney
In Ars, St. John Vianney found many Catholics who didn't know their faith. To rectify this situation he developed catechetical instructions to teach about God, salvation, prayer, confession and more.
St. John Vianney's Catechtical Instructions
Back to Top
Words of Wisdom from St. John Vianney
"If people would do for God what they do for the world, what a great number of Christians would go to Heaven." -Saint John Vianney
"You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God." -Saint John Vianney
"I tell you that you have less to suffer in following the Cross than in serving the world and its pleasures." -Saint John Vianney
"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." -Saint John Vianney
"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." -Saint John Vianney
"We should consider those moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament as the happiest of our lives." -Saint John Vianney
"Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself." -Saint John Vianney
"For God is quicker to forgive than a mother to snatch her child from the fire." -Saint John Vianney
"God does not require of us fine prayers, but prayers which come from the bottom of our hearts." -Saint John Vianney
"Virtue demands courage, constant effort, and above all, help from on high." - St. John Vianney
"I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master." - St. John Vianney
"All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man." - St. John Vianney
"Every Consecrated Host is made to burn Itself up with love in a human heart" - St. John Vianney
Of adoring Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament St. John Vianney has written: "When we speak to Jesus with simplicity and with all our heart, He does like a mother who holds her child's head with her hands and covers it with kisses and caresses." -St. John Vianney
"When you awake in the night, transport yourself quickly in spirit before the Tabernacle, saying: 'Behold, my God, I come to adore You, to praise, thank, and love you, and to keep you company with all the Angels,' " - St. John Vianney
"The many wonders of creation can only fill us with astonishment and admiration. But when we speak of the most holy Eucharist we can say that here is to be found the miracle of divine love for us.... Has there been, or will there ever be, a nobler or more magnanimous love than that which He has shown us in the sacrament of love?" - St. John Vianney
"Without the Holy Eucharist there would be no happiness in this world; life would be insupportable. When we receive Holy Communion, we receive our joy and our happiness. The good God, wishing to give Himself to us in the Sacrament of His Love, gave us a vast and great desire, which He alone can satisfy. In the presence of this beautiful Sacrament, we are like a person dying of thirst by the side of a river - he would only need to bend his head; like a person still remaining poor, close to a great treasure - he need only stretch out his hand. He who communicates loses himself in God like a drop of water in the ocean. They can no more be separated," - St. John Vianney
"What does Jesus Christ do in the Eucharist? It is God who, as our Savior, offers himself each day for us to his Father's justice. If you are in difficulties and sorrows, he will comfort and relieve you. If you are sick, he will either cure you or give you strength to suffer so as to merit Heaven. If the devil, the world, and the flesh are making war upon you, he will give you the weapons with which to fight, to resist, and to win victory. If you are poor, he will enrich you with all sorts of riches for time and eternity. Let us open the door of his sacred and adorable Heart, and be wrapped about for an instant by the flames of his love, and we shall see what a God who loves us can do. O my God, who shall be able to comprehend?" - St. John Vianney
"The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls," - St. John Vianney
St. John Vianney writes of Adoration of Jesus in the Most the Blessed Sacrament: "If we really loved the good God, we should make it our joy and happiness to come and spend a few moments to adore Him, and ask Him for the grace of forgiveness; and we should regard those moments as the happiest of our lives." -St. John Vianney
"If we could comprehend all the good things contained in Holy Communion, nothing more would be wanting to content the heart of man. The miser would run no more after his treasures, or the ambitious after glory; each would shake off the dust of the earth, leave the world, and fly away towards heaven," - St. John Vianney
"When we go before the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our heart; our good God will open His. We shall go to Him; He will come to us; the one to ask, the other to receive. It will be like a breath from one to the other," - St. John Vianney
"Jesus Christ, after having given us all he could give, that is to say, the merit of his toils, his sufferings, and bitter death; after having given us his adorable body and blood to be the food of our souls, willed also to give us the most precious thing he had let, which was his holy Mother" - St. John Vianney
"A mortal man, a creature, feeds himself, satiates himself, with his God, taking him for his daily bread, his drink... O miracle of miracles!... O love of loves!... O joy of joys!" -St. John Vianney
"If something uncharitable is said in your presence, either speak in favor of the absent, or withdraw, or if possible, stop the conversation." - St. John Vianney
"When anyone has really given up his sins, he must not be content simply with bewailing them. He also must give up, leave far behind, and fly from anything which is capable of leading him in the direction of them again. In other words, my dear brethren, we must be ready to suffer anything rather than fall back into those sins we have just confessed. People should be able to see a complete change in us; otherwise, we have not merited Absolution and it could be possible that we have indeed committed sacrilege!" - St. John Vianney
"Sin is the executioner of the good God, and the assassin of the soul. It snatches us away from Heaven to precipitate us into Hell. And we love it!" - St. John Vianney
Back to Top
Papal Writings about St. John Vianney
On the 100th anniversary of St. John Vianney's death, Pope John XXIII wrote an encyclical devoted entirely to the saint and his example for all priests.
Sacerdotii nostri primordia
In 1986, on the 200th anniversary of St. John Vianney's birth, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to all priests extolling the virtues of St. John Vianney.
Letter of the Holy Father To All the Priests of the Church for Holy Thursday 1986
Back to Top