John Mary (Jean-Marie-Baptiste) Vianney grew up in the midst of a persecuted French church. During the French Revolution, many priests went into hiding. The Vianney family farm was a refuge for fugitive priests. They would come to the barn and celebrate Mass in secret.
Young John revered these priests and desired to join them. He entered seminary, but he was a poor student. He failed his classes, but his superiors could see that he was a serious student of prayer and the works of mercy.
John was ordained and sent to serve as the parish priest in Ars, a village where, he was told, “There is not much love.” John’s vicar general cautioned him, “You must put some love into it.”
He preached and lived God’s mercy.
John took those words to heart. He visited every single family in the parish. He started religious education classes for children and adults. He began a parish school and opened an orphanage.
But the people of Ars, who had grown cynical about the church and indifferent to its priests, saw his care most clearly in the way Fr. Vianney heard confessions. He was tireless, sitting in the cramped confessional from dawn to dark daily. Fr. Vianney would be in the confessional from 12 to 16 hours every day, welcoming penitents and assuring them of the love and welcome of God. He preached and lived God’s mercy.
Fr. Vianney served the same people in the same parish for 41 years. His counsel was simple and wise. He told them, “You pray. You love. And there you have happiness on earth.”
This priest, who might have flunked out of seminary, is held up today as the model for all parish priests. His fidelity in a little known and difficult parish continues to inspire servants of Christ.