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John Vianney: The Saint Who Read Souls at a Glance
Greg Heffernan
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Thursday, August 4, 2011
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A statue of St. John Vianney is seen at Cure of Ars Church in Merrick, N.Y.
John Baptiste Vianney, affectionately called the “Curé of Ars,” is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of parish priests. If you travel across the United States, chances are you will find a parish named after John Vianney (1786-1859) in almost every diocese.

He was a champion of the poor as a Third Order Franciscan and a recipient of the coveted French Legion of Honor. Vianney’s remarkable sanctity and commitment to his small rural parish in France drew over 100,000 pilgrims each year. People journeyed from all over Europe to attend his Masses or sit in his confessional where he spent up to 16 hours a day hearing penitents.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting France, and decided to research this unique, holy pastor. John Vianney’s parish in Ars is situated along the Rhone River, a 30-minute drive from Lyon, in France’s magnificent Beaujolais wine region. Vineyards, lovely birch trees, elms and willows line the gently rolling hills.

Pope John Paul II himself visited Ars in 1986 at the 200th anniversary of John Vianney’s birth and referred to the great saint as 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.”

The pope also emphasized the numerous hardships John Vianney overcame in his life to become a great priest, the first being his expulsion from the Grand Seminary in Lyon because he could not master Latin. It was only through the goodness of Father Balley, a family friend and local pastor who personally tutored Vianney, that the bishop of Lyon finally agreed to ordain him.

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