Saint Vianney was born as Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney also known as John on 8 May 1786, in the French town of Dardilly, France (near Lyon), and died on the 31st May 1859.
His parents, Matthieu Vianney and his wife Marie were both Catholics and the family often helped the poor. They had six children, of whom John was the fourth child. John Vianney received little education because of the French Revolution and given the anticlerical sentiment of the Hébertists during the Reign of Terror, he was forced to make his first communion and confession secretly and was impressed by the heroism of the nuns and priests who risked their lives for their faith. He felt called to pursue the priesthood but struggled with Latin and needed private tutoring to supplement his lack of formal education. His studies were interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon’s armies in 1809. He was separated from his squadron and ended up in a rural village with a number of army deserters in 1810. When the deserters were granted amnesty, John returned to Écully and resumed his ecclesiastic studies. He was ordained in 1815 and was made assistant priest in Écully, France.
In 1818 he became priest of the small village of Ars. His Vicar told him that the village -of around 200 inhabitants- lacked piety. You will need to bring it back, he said. On the way to the little village he saw a little boy and asked him for directions. After that he gave thanks and told the boy: “you have shown me the way to go to Ars; I will show you the way to go to Heaven”.
True enough, he made a model parish after he spent hours in prayer and offered sacrifices for his people. “Lord, grant me the conversion of my parish”, he used to pray. He visited the parishioners, and managed to clean and improve the condition of the little Church. Right away the reports of his holiness and his heroic life of dedication to people in the Confessional spread all over France.
Vianneys were devout Catholics who helped the poor. He was also known for his devotion to the Virgin Mary and to St. Philomena and was dedicated to the sacrament of reconciliation for his parishioners.
It is believed that from 1824 he suffered attacks that he believed were caused by the devil. On one occasion the devil even set fire to Vianney’s bed. By 1827 the small village of Ars had become a pilgrimage site: thousands were found queuing for hours and sometimes for days in order to be able to confess with him, until Vianney’s death. It is said that Vianneny would spend as many as 12 or 15 hours daily in his confessional.
Saint John Vianney would often say: “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire, it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”
He was canonized by Pope Pius X on the 31st May 1925.