St. John Vianney Feast Day August 4

Patron Saint of Parish Priests

Jean-Baptist-Marie Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, in the French town of Dardilly, the fourth child of Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluze.

His life was impacted at a young age by the French Revolution, which forced many loyal priests to hide from the government in order to celebrate the Sacraments. Since priests daily risked their lives because of the religious persecution, Vianney’s early life as a Catholic was hidden, having received his First Holy Communion and Confirmation is secret ceremonies in private homes.

When the Catholic Church was re-established in France 1802, John’s father allowed him to begin studies for the priesthood in the neighboring village of Ecully at a school run by Father M. Balley. Although John’s studies were interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon’s armies in 1809 (he never served), he was eventually ordained a priest on August 12, 1815 in the Couvent des Minimes de Grenoble, saying his first Mass the next day. He was appointed to Ecully as assistant to Msgr. Balley, his priest-hero because Balley had remained faithful during the Revolution.

As a parish priest, Vianney realized that the destruction of the Catholic Church during the French Revolution had led to great religious ignorance and indifference. He began to zealously catechize his parishioners, courageously condemn errors and lax moral practices and tirelessly call sinners to repentance, especially through Confession. St. Alphonsus Ligouri (Feast Day August 1) once said, “A priest needs to be a lion at the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.” Vianney fit the bill.

After being appointed as the Cure of Ars (a small city near Ecully) Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began traveling to make their Confession to him. By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year. During the last ten years of his life, he spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day in the confessional.

On 4 August 1859, Vianney died at age 73. His bishop presided over his funeral with 300 priests and over 6,000 people in attendance. In 1925 he was canonized by Pope Pius XI.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Vianney’s death, Pope Benedict XVI declared a year for priests in 2009.