By – Mike Church
Feature image from Pierre Poschadel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
“We declare Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney to be a Saint and inscribe him in the catalogue of the Saints.” – His holiness of blessed memory Pope Pius XI, May 31st, 1925, Pentacost Sunday – The Beatification of St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney
Abbot Dom Prosper Gueranger begins his biography of Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney. “He whom the whole world was to know and revere under the touching appellation of ‘The Curé of Ars,’ a title than which none could be dearer to himself,” was born on May 8th, 1786, and baptized on the same day. Jean Marie Baptiste was the fourth of a family of six children.
By mistake, while at seminary, young Jean Marie was conscripted into Napoleon’s army but escaped ever having to serve. He was ordained a priest in 1815 after two aged priests took up his cause and personally taught him, the most dear to Jean Marie was M. Balley.
Towards the end of October, 1852, the bishop of Belley arrived unexpectedly at Ars. When his presence was made known to the Saint he issued from his usual abode—the confessional—and came to greet the prelate, in fact, he even made a little speech. Presently the bishop produced a bundle from under his cape which proved to be a Canon’s mozetta which he forthwith tried to put over the Saint’s shoulders at the same time hailing him as Canon Vianney. The poor Cure struggled desperately to shake off the ornament.
Not long after Napoleon III bestowed on him the Legion d’honneur. On being informed of it, the Saint asked: “Is there any money attached to it? Money for my poor?” When told that there was not, he requested the Comte des Garets to return the decoration to the emperor! Only by a ruse could he be induced to open the box containing the cross: he was told there might be relics in it; but he firmly refused to allow the cross to be pinned to his breast—in fact he gave it to the priest who had been deputed to invest him with it: “Take it,” he said, “my friend, and may you have as much pleasure in receiving it as I have in giving it to you!” – Dom Prosper Gueranger – The Liturgical Year
His second assignment was to the tiny village of Ars where he would spend the next 41 years of his life. He would spend long, 16 hour days in the confessional and the tiny village which had only 40 homes in it when he arrived became home to a basilica and 2 schools where poor, abandoned French girls lived and studied, all built under his care.
Heads of the State, army officers, university professors, bishops and priests, all went to him for direction. Toward the end of his life, nearly 20,000 pilgrims visited him every year. He died on the 4th of August, 1859. On the feast of Pentecost, May 31st, 1925, —surrounded by thirty-two Cardinals and two hundred Bishops, Pius XI pronounced to the Catholic world: “We declare Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney to be a Saint and inscribe him in the catalogue of the Saints.”