Now considered the patron saint of priests, Saint John Vianney looked up to other priests as his heroes while he was growing up in France during the time of the French Revolution. Born in Dardilly, France in 1786 as the fourth of six children, John and his family had to travel to distant farms in order to attend Mass. At the time it was illegal for priests to carry out the sacraments in their parish.
As a young man John was drafted into Napoleon’s army while he was an ecclesiastical student, although he never made it to the front lines. With the help of others, he was able to return to the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1815. He was eventually appointed the parish priest of the tiny village of Ars, a town of about 230 people. By this time the French Revolution had ended and priests no longer had to go into hiding to practice their faith, but the effects of the French Revolution had taken their toll. The villagers preferred to spend their Sundays drinking and dancing, and some even mocked Father Vianney for wanting the people of Ars to come back to God and the Commandments.
Eventually people living in the surrounding area began to see the gift Father Vianney had to remain to to his faith and to consult with others. He came to be known internationally and people from distant places began traveling long distances to see him. By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached twenty thousand a year, and the French government built a special railroad line to Ars just to acoommodate all the pilgrims.
During the last ten years of his life, St. John Vianney would spend at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional during winter, and up to 16 hours a day in the summer. Many were inspired by his devotion to St. Philomena. In 1843, Vianney became ill and thought that he was near death, and he asked St. Philomena to cure him and promised to say 100 Masses at the shrine he had built for her. Twelve days later, Vianney was cured and he attributed his cure to St Philomena. People considered him to be a holy man long before he died in 1859, and in 1925 he was canonized. The feast day of St. John Vianney is August 4.