Jean-Marie Vianney was an undistinguished man until his extraordinary gift of psychological insight and skill in individual counseling was revealed in his ministry. His direction, primarily given through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, was characterized by common sense, remarkable insight, and extraordinary knowledge through the power of the Holy Spirit. He was able to sense the deeper truth beyond the words of the person seeking reconciliation and provide guidance. It was said of him that he could see into people's souls. As his fame spread, people came from hundreds of miles to hear him preach and to receive his private counsel.
During the last ten years of his life, he spent from 13 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. His advice was sought by bishops, priests, religious, young men and women in doubt as to their vocation, sinners, persons in all sorts of difficulties, and the sick. By 1855, the number of pilgrims to Ars reached twenty thousand a year.
The irony is that at 29, Jean-Marie Vianney was ordained over the objections of many Catholics in his area, and only after his superiors decided that his zeal and devotion compensated for his "academic under-qualification." He was thought to be so incompetent that he was put under the direction of Fr. Balley, who first recognized and encouraged his vocation. After Fr. Balley's death, Fr. Vianney was appointed parish priest in the small and obscure village of Ars. There he began visiting his parishioners; ministering to the sick and poor; championing campaigns against drinking, dancing and immodest dress, and establishing an orphanage for destitute girls, which became a model for similar institutions throughout France.
In the process of being declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, miracles were attributed through his intercession. However, some feel the greatest miracle was his life, itself. For forty years his food and sleep were insufficient to sustain life. Yet he labored incessantly, with unfailing humility, gentleness, patience, and cheerfulness, in service to the people of God. His life is a reminder that everyone, no matter what their status in life, is capable of doing great things in God's name.
Fr. Vianney was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and made patron saint of clergy throughout the world in 1929. His feast day is August 4th.
For more information on the life and teachings of St. John Vianney (also known as the "Cure of Ars ") see:
- St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney found in The Catholic Encyclopedia on the New Advent Catholic website.
- The texts of the 75 Sermons by St. John Vianney can be found on The Work of God website.
- St. John Vianney's Catechetical Instructions can be found in the Catholic Community Forum website. (Scroll to the bottom of the page for the links.) The Catechetical Instructions contain a Preface and two Parts.
- Encyclical on St. John Vianney, Sacerdotti Nostri Primordia, written by His Holiness Pope John XXIII. Promulgated on August 1, 1959. The text of the Encyclical can be found on the New Advent Catholic Website.