Two decades after the French Revolution inspired massacres of 300 priests in France, there was a desperate need for priests. But no one seemed to want an admitted 'blockhead' and poor student such as John Vianney. Even when he obtained permission to be ordained, he had to walk to Austria for his ordination in 1815. Three years later he was made parish priest of Ars, a remote French hamlet.
He wasn't wanted there either. In a village of 40 houses, there were 4 taverns. Church attendance was very low, the farmers worked on Sunday, everyone spend their time drinking and swearing. It was a 'punishment parish' and the people laid bets on how long this new priest would last. But the new Cure of Ars surprised them all.
Someone peeked in his window and saw that he prayed all night. Others noticed that he removed all the fine furniture from the rectory and turned the parlour into a woodshed. He gave his clothes away to the poor and ate only two potatoes a day. Others reported that though his voice seemed to hurt their ears, his sermons stirred their hearts. He became part of the village life as well, visiting all the homes, and helping the villagers with their daily lives. He helped a shop owner with his bookkeeping, prescribed remedies for whooping cough, and when a tavern closed for lack of business, raised money for the owner to buy a farm, then tore the tavern down.
Twelve years later, people would say 'Ars is no longer Ars.' Everyone went to the three hour masses. The farmers prayed the rosary as they worked in the fields. When Father Vianney heard confessions, people would stand in line for hours.
It was as a confessor that his true talents lay. His spiritual directions and hearing of confessions was distinguished by common sense, remarkable insight, and supernatural knowledge. He would sometimes know what sins had been withheld in an imperfect confession. People travelled for miles and from around the world to make a confession to him. Sinners were converted at a few words from him. By the end of his life, he spend 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional, and he was mobbed whenever he appeared. He heard 20,000 confessions a year, up to 300 a day.
Accustomed to the most severe austerities, beleaguered by swarms of penitents, and besieged by the devil, this great mystic manifested a imperturbable patience. He was a wonderworker loved by the crowds, but he retained a childlike simplicity, and he remains to this day the living image of the priest after the heart of Christ.
In a country that had murdered great numbers of its priests, and discouraged the practicing of the Catholic faith John Vianney moved like a bright light, restoring faith and healing hearts. He died August 4, 1859, and was canonized May 31, 1925.
Prayer for Parish Prieststext from Catholic Online and Domestic Church
Dear Saint John Vianney, your childhood dream was to be a Priest, to win souls for God. You endured years of toil and humiliation to attain the Priesthood. You became a Priest truly after God's own heart, outstanding in humility and poverty; prayer and mortification. Totally devoted to the service of God's people. The Church has exalted you as model and patron saint of all Parish Priest, trusting that your example and prayers will help them to live up to the high dignity of their vocation to be faithful servants of God's people, to be perfect imitators of Christ the Savior Who came not to be served but to serve, to give His Life in ransom for many.
Pray that God may give to His Church today many more Priests after His own Heart. Pray for all the Priests under your patronage, that they may be worthy representatives of Christ the Good Shepherd. May they wholeheartedly devote themselves to prayer and penance; be examples of humility and poverty; shining models of holiness; tireless and powerful preachers of the Word of God; zealous dispensers of God's Grace in the Sacraments. May their loving devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to Mary His Mother be the Twin Fountains of fruitfulness for their ministry. Amen.