St. John Vianney
John Mary Vianney was born in Lyons, France, in 1786. As a child he took care of his father's sheep. He loved to pray but he also loved to play horseshoes. When John was eighteen, he asked his father's permission to become a priest. His father was worried because John had become a big help on the family farm. After two years, Mr. Vianney agreed. At twenty, John studied under Father Balley. The priest was very patient but Latin soon became a major problem for John. He became discouraged. It was then that he decided to walk sixty miles to the shrine of St. John Francis Regis, a popular saint in France. We celebrate his feast on June 16. John prayed for help. After that pilgrimage, he had as much trouble as ever with his studies. The difference was that he never again grew discouraged.
John was finally able to enter the seminary. Studies were hard. No matter how much he tried, he never did very well. When the final examinations came, they were spoken, not written. John had to face a board of teachers and answer their questions. He was so upset that he broke down in the middle of the test. Yet, because John was a holy man, he was full of common sense and he understood what the Church taught about the subjects. He knew the right answers when asked what should be done in this case or that. He just couldn't say those answers in the complicated style of Latin text books. John was ordained anyway. He understood what the priestly vocation was and his goodness was beyond question.
He was sent to a little parish called Ars. Father Vianney fasted and did hard penance for his people. He tried to stop them from sinning. They drank too much, worked all day Sunday and never went to church. Many used terrible language. Eventually, one tavern after another closed down because business became so slow. People began to worship regularly on Sundays and attended weekday Mass. The swearing was not so frequent. What had happened in Ars? "Our priest is a saint," the people would say, "and we must obey him."
God gave John the power to see into people's minds and to know the future. Because of this gift, he converted many sinners and helped people make the right decisions. Pilgrims began to come to Ars. In time, it was hundreds a day. St. John Vianney spent twelve to sixteen hours daily hearing confessions. He wanted so much to spend the rest of his life in a monastery. Instead, he stayed forty-two years at Ars and died there in 1859 at the age of seventy-three. St. John Vianney was proclaimed a saint in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
"Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there; if you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that."-St. John Vianney