On August 4th, the Roman Catholic Church across the world celebrates the generous and faithful life of a French parish priest, St. John Vianney. He is popularly known, however, as the Cure (parish priest) of Ars.
John Vianney was a man of great faith but not overly endowed academically. He had an extremely difficult time with his studies and failed time and time again as he strived to reach the priesthood. He was ordained in 1815 and appointed a pastor of Ars in 1818. If you want to know the importance of this quiet rural pastor in Southern France, you have to know something about the devastation inflicted on the Church by the French Revolution. That Revolution set out not just to destroy the system of kingship and royalty, but the Catholic Church as well. Hundreds of priests were executed, many others fled the country, some joined the Revolution and renounced their faith. But when early in the 19th century the Church was able to function again, it had been frightfully devastated. When John Vianney took up his parish work, the faith in the area was nearly extinct. Nevertheless, he set out with the difficult task of re-establishing belief in Jesus Christ and His community of faith, the Church. He would then face a terribly hostile environment and continued opposition. However, God worked powerfully through this simple man.
The fact of his holiness soon was legendary and spread quickly throughout France. Pilgrims began to come to the little village to get a glimpse of him, to pray with him to listen to his simple sermons. With his extraordinary kindness to the people, gradually a strong revival occurred and Vianney centered a resurgence for the Church in France that resulted in the French Church’s rebounding to positions of faithfulness and strength.
Not only did the Church blossom and expand in Southern France, but it did the same all over the country even though faced with continued bitter governmental opposition. The renewed faith of the French people would manifest itself in what was an extraordinary explosion in missionary activity. We Texans have been blessed by that French commitment to expanding the Church. Earlier bishops of both San Antonio and Galveston-Houston were from Lyon, France and dozens of priests and many religious communities came to the Lone Star state. We should never forget their generosity and courage.
May God bless the French!