Vianney, Jean Baptiste Marie, St.

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The Curé d'Ars; b. Dardilly near Lyons, France, May 8, 1786; d. Ars, Aug. 4, 1859. He was the fourth of six children of Matthieu and Marie (Beluse) Vianney. Because of the unsettled times of the French Revolution he received only a few months of formal education and was then sent to herd cattle. His family, except for a short time, remained loyal to the priests who refused to take the oath supporting the civil constitution of the clergy; and so Jean had to make, in secret, his first confession (1794) and first Communion (1796). At 18 he began to study privately for the priesthood with Abbé Bailey, pastor of Écully. Lacking natural ability and earlier schooling he found study, particularly of Latin, most difficult. The youth gained encouragement to pursue his vocation from a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. John Francis regis at La Louvesc (1806) and from the reception of Confirmation (1807). As an unregistered ecclesiastical student he was called for military service (1809). Illness prevented his departure with his unit for the Spanish campaign, and he failed to join a second unit at Roanne because he stopped to pray in a church. Trying to catch up with his detachment, Jean met another defaulter from military service, who led him to asylum in the remote mountain village of Les Noës. There he remained in hiding until a general amnesty was proclaimed (March 25, 1810). He then began the course in philosophy at the minor seminary in Varrieres (1811), and in theology at the major seminary in Lyons (1813). But his inability to understand the Latin lectures led to his dismissal (1814). Abbé Balley resumed private tutoring and won two special examinations for Vianney. The seminary officials were highly impressed by Jean's goodness and common sense, and he was ordained at Grenoble (Aug. 13, 1815).

His first assignment was as assistant to his old friend and benefactor Balley at Écully. In 1818 he moved to Ars-en-Dombes, a village with 230 inhabitants. Jean had previously lived very ascetically, but in Ars he intensified his prayers and penances. For years he subsisted on little more than potatoes. The village was not notoriously immoral or malicious but was seriously lacking in a true sense of religion, especially in its profanation of the Lord's Day. Jean started by restoring the church, visiting every family, and teaching catechism. From the pulpit he upbraided his flock for drunkenness, blasphemy, profanity, obscenity, dancing, and working on Sunday. After eight years he had completely reformed the religious tone of Ars and, through guilds for men and women, had Christianized homes. In 1821 Ars became a parish with Vianney as first pastor. In 1824 with Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet he established a home for girls called La Providence.

Vianney's greatest fame came as a confessor. Owing to his apparent ability to read hearts, his reputation soon spread beyond the neighborhood of Ars. Beginning in 1827 penitents by the thousands came from afar to his confessional. Vianney regularly heard confessions from shortly after midnight until early evening, except for brief interruptions for his Breviary, meals, or special interviews.

He became an honorary canon of Belley and member of the Legion of Honor, but he sold the insignia of these honors to buy bread for the poor. For 30 years after 1824 he was disturbed by strange phenomena, such as nocturnal noise, cruel beatings and, once, a fire in his bed. These he attributed to the devil. His own austerity intruded into his preaching a rigorism that was severely criticized, sometimes justifiably, by other priests. His devotion to St. philomena was more trusting than modern hagiographical research permits. Exhausted by spiritual ministrations and penances, Vianney died at the age of 73. He was beatified (Jan. 8, 1905) and canonized (May 31, 1925). In 1929 the Holy See declared him heavenly patron of parish priests. Devotion to him has been particularly strong among the diocesan clergy throughout the world.

Feast: Aug. 4.

Bibliography: f. trochu, The Curé d'Ars, St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney 17861859, tr. e. graf (London 1927). h. ghÉon, The Secret of the Curé d'Ars, tr. f. j. sheed (New York 1948). j. genet, L'Énigme des sermons du curé d'Ars (Paris 1961). a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York 1956) 3:285292. a. laperchin, Satan and Saint: Chronicles of the Life of Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney (Pittsburgh 1999). g. w. rutler, Saint John Vianney: The Cure d'Ars Today (San Francisco 1988).

[t. f. casey]