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Saint John Vianney
The Curé of Ars

May 8, 1786 – August 4, 1859

Feast Day: August 8




The humble nineteenth-century French priest, who has endeared himself to Catholics around the world, began life in 1786 as the son of a poor farmer in the small village of Dardilly, France.  During his childhood St. John Vianney worked as a shepherd and helper in the fields and was unable to begin his education until he was twenty years of age. While an ecclesiastical student, he was called for military service and became a delinquent conscript, more or less because of illness, and was obliged for a time to hide in order to escape Napoleon’s police.

Knowing nothing of philosophy and finding it difficult to learn Latin, he twice failed the examinations required before ordination.  He was eventually ordained a priest at the age of thirty but was thought to be so incompetent he was placed under the direction of Father Balley, a holy priest in the neighboring village of Ecully, for further training.  After the death of this good priest, he was transferred to the small village of Ars, where he spent the rest of his years on earth.

The Saint lived an austere life, ate the simplest of foods, wore old clothing and slept on a hard bed.  It was a known fact that the two hours of sleep he allowed himself each night were frequently interrupted by the devil, who assaulted him with deafening noises, insulting conversations, and physical abuse.  These diabolical visitations were occasionally witnessed with alarm by the men of the parish, but the pious Curé accepted the attacks as a matter of course and often joked about them.

This holy priest was the possessor of many heavenly gifts, such as the power of healing and the ability to read the minds and hearts of his penitents.  It was this latter gift which caused his fame to spread throughout France, inducing crowds of troubled souls to seek guidance from the humble priest who knew their secret sins and hidden past.

The frail Curé began hearing confessions at the unlikely hour of one o’clock in the morning, and it has been reported that he spent from thirteen to seventeen painful hours a day in the cramped, stifling confessional.

Completely exhausted by apostolic labors and by the additional penances he inflicted on his thin, sickly body, the Saint died peacefully on August 4, 1859, after receiving the final consolations of his religion. Forty-five years later, on June 17, 1904, his body was exhumed because of his impending beatification and was found dried and darkened, but perfectly entire. Only his face, which was still perfectly recognizable, suffered a little from the effects of death. After the viscera were removed:

The precious remains were wrapped in bands of fine linens and clothed in the following vestments: a tunic of white watered silk, a black cassock, a rochet edged with fine lace, and a stole of cloth of gold embroidered with lilies and roses of the same material. A rosary of jasper beads was twined round the darkened fingers, and the face was covered with a wax mask which reproduces the features of the servant of God. When on April 2, 1905, the old men of Ars, who had known St. John Vianney well, were shown the relic as it is seen today by pilgrims, they burst into tears and exclaimed with one voice: “Oh how truly like him!”

During the year of his beatification, his perfectly preserved heart was removed and enclosed in a beautiful reliquary, which was placed in a separate building called The Shrine of the Curé’s Heart.

The magnificent reliquary which contains the body of the Saint was donated by priests around the world and is situated above an altar of the basilica which was annexed to the old parish church.  Before this golden reliquary, which exposes the relic to view, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is continually offered during the summer months by pilgrim priests.

Preserved at Ars are the living quarters of the Saint, which have been kept exactly as they were on the day of his death and on whose walls can be seen the pictures which the Curé himself had hung.  Also kept there are his personal articles, his breviary, the rosary he frequently used, a blood-stained discipline, and the bed which had been set on fire during one of the devil’s frequent visitations.

St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, who as a student had such difficulty being accepted for the priesthood, but who exercised his vocation in such an edifying manner, was canonized in 1925 and was named later the Patron of Parish Priests throughout the world.

This article is taken directly from the book, The Incorruptibles, by Joan Carroll Cruz.

Other books of interest are:

The Sermons of the Curé dé Ars
Little Catechism of the Curé of Ars
Curé of Ars

These books (all by Mary Fabyan Windeatt) are available through www.fatimashoppe.org.

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