I was delighted to discover that this humble priest was the patron saint for priests. Little Jean-Marie Vianney, born in 1786, did not immediately show promise. Born near Lyons, France, he became an average student but had difficulty with Latin. His teachers did not doubt his vocation but Jean-Marie would hit a slight snag on his way to becoming ordained.
In 1807, Napoleon needed more recruits to wage his war against Spain and lifted the exemption on drafting ecclesiastical students. Although young Vianney's father tried to find a substitute, he could not and Jean-Marie was conscripted for the military service. Through a series of mishaps, Jean-Marie ended up missing his departing comrades, was led to a group of deserters, and was pressed into service as a local schoolmaster. After fourteen months, Jean-Marie was able to communicate with his father, who was none too pleased that his son had not fulfilled his obligation. (He wanted his son to turn himself in but Jean-Marie's brother prevailed by convincing their father that he would take his place and was accepted to do so.)
After struggling through seminary, he was finally ordained at the age of 29 on August 13, 1815. In 1818, after the death of the parish priest in Ars, Fr. Vianney was sent to replace him. It was in this small French town that Fr. Vianney would become the "Curé d'Ars." Curé means "clean" in French.
During the 40 years of his service, Fr. Vianney lived an extremely spartan life. Only getting by with the bare minimum of sleep and food, Fr. Vianney transformed a small village with few attending church; to a vibrant Christian community that had people traveling from all over the world for him to hear their confession. How did he do it?
He first started visiting the parishioners, especially the sick and poor. He spent time praying before the Blessed Sacrament. He did penance and led his parish by example. It was the love of his heart, his humility, and his spiritual gifts which included the gift of discernment, prophecy, and miracles; that touched all around him and drew them to God.
During the last ten years of his life, he spent 16-18 hours in the confessional. His spiritual counsel was sought by bishops, priests, religious, among others. In 1855, the number of pilgrims to hear his instruction had reached to 20,000 a year. He helped guide the vocations of many, including Mother Marie de la Providence foundress of the Helpers of the Holy Souls.
Fr. Vianney's teachings were simple, filled with examples from the country life, but it was his love for his Creator that drew people by the thousands. Finally, on August 4, 1859, he passed away. He was 73.
St. John Mary Vianney was presented as the model for priests recently by Pope Benedict. After reading about his life, it is abundantly clear why our Holy Father, and many priests, love this saint so much.
Pray for our priests, St. Jean-Marie Vianney!