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St. Jean Baptiste Vianney

St. Jean Baptiste Vianney

The French priest St. Jean Baptiste Vianney (1786-1859) served as the curé of Ars and worked tirelessly for his people. He was known for his personal holiness and his ability to help the troubled.

Jean Baptiste Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, into a peasant family in the village of Dardilly near Lyons in southeastern France. He was a quiet, patient, and deeply religious young man who wanted to become a priest but found it nearly impossible to learn Latin. His life was interrupted when he was drafted into the French army. On his way to join his assigned unit he stopped in a church to pray. The regiment left for Spain without him, and Jean Baptiste had to hide for two years until he was no longer wanted for the army. In 1811 he entered a seminary. Three years later he was dismissed because he was unable to grasp the theological subtleties he was supposed to study. But the bishop of Grenoble was sufficiently impressed by Vianney's firm character and level-headed judgment to ordain him a priest in 1815. After a three-year testing period, Vianney was assigned to the village of Ars as pastor.

The new curé brought a mixture of kind understanding and personal strength to the people of Ars. In the beginning his sermons were directed against drinking, swearing, and dancing. He tried to show his parishioners the value of resting from work on Sunday and of going to church regularly. His rigorous fasts and his prayers that lasted well into the night proved to the people that he was more strict with himself than with them. Gradually the spirit of Ars changed. It became a model of Christian behavior. More and more frequently visitors from other towns asked the curé of Ars to hear their confessions. His spiritual vision had grown to the point where his insights into their problems were very helpful. By 1845 Vianney was patiently spending more than 12 hours a day in the little confessional box of the parish church, while people who had come to Ars from all over France waited in long lines to ask his advice.

Vianney's success as a confessor was accompanied by increased personal difficulties. During the few hours of rest he allowed himself at night, he was disturbed by strange noises, sometimes by such discomfort that he felt he was being physically beaten. Once his bed caught fire. He understood these troubles to be persecution by the devil and reacted by intensifying his own prayers and penances. He was 73 when he died on Aug. 4, 1859. The curé of Ars was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 and declared heavenly patron for all parish priests in 1929.

Further Reading

There are many helpful biographies of Vianney in English. Margaret Trouncer, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, Curé of Ars (1959) is a readable story of his life. René Fourrey and René Perrin, The Curé d'Ars: A Pictorial Biography (1959), contains some excellent photographs of the curé's surroundings in Ars. Francis Trochu, The Curéd' Ars: Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney According to the Acts of the Process of Canonization (1949), presents the story of his life as seen by his contemporaries.

Additional Sources

Cristiani, Leon, The village priest who fought God's battles, Saint John Mary Vianney (1786-1859), Boston: St Paul Editions, 1977.

Gallery, David, St John Vianney: parish priest of Ars, 1786-1859, Dublin: Irish Messenger Publications, 1977. □

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Vianney, Saint Jean-Baptiste

Saint Jean-Baptiste Vianney (zhäN-bätēst´ vyänā´), 1786–1859, French parish priest, popularly known as the Curé d'Ars, b. Dardilly, near Lyons. He came of poor, peasant stock and received scant education until, as a youth, he struggled through the seminary. As a young curé he was sent to the little village of Ars. Vianney found that the people there had lost their faith, and he vowed to make the community "the property of God." He beautified the church, lived like the poorest of the poor, and fasted and prayed for the people. His skill as a confessor drew people from outside his parish, and neighboring priests complained and sought to have him removed. Vianney himself signed their petitions. He began an orphanage for girls that served as a model throughout France. Many miracles were attributed to him during his lifetime, and in his last years thousands from all over France came annually to his confessional. He was canonized in 1925. In 1929 he was made universal patron of parish priests. Feast: Aug. 8.

See biographies by H. Ghéon (tr. 1929) and J. de la Varende (1959).

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Vianney, Jean-Baptiste Marie, St

Vianney, Jean-Baptiste Marie, St (1786–1859). French priest, better known as the Curé d'Ars, because of his pastoral ministry in that village. He was born near Lyons and received little formal education. He was dismissed from two seminaries in his attempt to become a priest, but was eventually ordained at Grenoble in 1815. In 1818 he began his ministry in Ars-en-Dombes, a village of about 230 of those whom he regarded as souls, not people. The life of the village was transformed, and soon penitents came to him in vast numbers: during his last years, he spent up to eighteen hours a day in the confessional. He was made patron of parish priests in 1929.

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