There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us
Saint John Vianney was a French Catholic priest, known affectionally as the Cure d'Ars, and is known the patron saint of parish priests.
Saint Vianney was born as Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney on May 9th, 1786, in the town of Dardill, France (nearby to Lyon). He was the fourth of sixth children and both parents were extremely devout Catholics who spent much of their time aiding the poor. The family were forced to travel across France to small and distant farms to attend Mass during the the anticlerical Terror gripping France in the French Revolution. Saint Vianney began to look up to the priests celebrating Mass as true heroes as they risked death every time they did so. The terror was so real that Saint Vianney received his first Holy Communion in a neighbor's kitchen that had their windows covered to ensure the candle light could not be seen from outside the building.
At 20 Saint Vianney left home and attended school at a "presbytery-school" in the nearby village of Ecully. It was there he learned math, history, geography, and Latin, though he struggled with Latin as much of his early education had been disrupted by the revolution. In 1809 this education was again interrupted when he was drafted into the army of Napoleon. Though he had initially been able to receive an exemption as an ecclesiastical student, the exemptions were withdrawn when Napoleon became embroiled deeper in his battles against Spain.
On his way to report for duty, Saint Vianney fell ill and was hospitalized at Lyon. He departed the hospital in January but was again called for a second draft. This time he went into a church for prayer, causing him to fall behind the group. A young man at the church offered to help guide him but instead brought him deep into the mountains of Le Forez to a town known as Les Noes. For fourteen months Saint Vianney lived there and opened a a small school under the name of Jerome Vincent. In March of 1810 an imperial proclamation granted amnesty to all deserters which enabled Saint Vianney to return home.
In 1811, Saint Vianney was tonsured and in 1812 he joined the minor seminary at Verrieres-en-Forez. A year later he joined the major seminary at Lyon. This education culminated on his ordination to the deaconate in June of 1815 and ordination to the priest hood in the Couvent des Minimes de Grenoble on August 12th, 1815. In 1818 he was appointed parish priest of the parish of Ars, a small town of about 230 inhabitants. The town was so small that Saint Vianney actually got lost on his first visit to town and was forced to rely on two shepherds for directions.
The sign of the cross is the most terrible weapon against the devil. Thus the Church wishes not only that we have it continually in front of our minds to recall to us just what our souls are worth and what they cost Jesus Christ, but also that we should make it at every juncture ourselves: when we go to bed, when we awaken during the night, when we get up, when we begin any action, and, above all, when we are tempted.
As the new priest, Saint Vianney very quickly identified that both religious indifference and ignorance had exploded in the wake of the French Revolution and even small towns such as Ars had not been spared. Sundays were no longer set aside for worship and many of the town were instead using the day to drink and dance in local taverns. Saint Vianney focused his initial homilies against blasphemy and excessive drinking and dancing with a heavy focus on time in the confessional. By 1827, word of his homilies and especially of his focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation grew internationally. By 1855 nearly 20,000 pilgrims were visiting a year and Saint Vianney was spending 12 - 16 hours a day in the confessional .
Once a woman came to him devastated that her husband had committed suicide. For hours she stood in line to speak with him but as the day ended the line began to be disbanded. Saint Vianney, a moment of mystical insight, suddenly shouted through the crowd "He is Saved!" . She did not believe Saint Vianney was speaking to her and so he shouted again:
“I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition"
On August 4th, 1859, Saint Vianney died. At his funeral, over 300 priests and 6,000 of the laity attended with the Bishop presiding. Pope Pius IX proclaimed him venerable on October 3rd, 1874. On January 8th, 1905, Pope Pius X declared him Blessed saying that he was truly a model to the parochial clergy. His formally canonization came in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Pope Pius XI also declared him to be the patron saint of parish priests with an feast day to be celebrated on August 9th. The 1969 revision of the calendar, however, moved that date back to August 4th, the date of his death.
Saint Pope John XXIII issued the encyclical Sacerdotii nostri primordia to commemorate Saint Vianney's death in 1959. Saint Pope John Paul II visited Ars in 1986, telling the crowd that Saint Vianney was a
"rare example of a pastor acutely aware of his responsibilities … and a sign of courage for those who today experience the grace of being called to the priesthood."