Learning from a Priest Who Converted a Town

Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the SaintsSaints at Heartand Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.

His newest book is The Saints Devotional Bible, which illuminates the Scriptures with the saints’ own reflections. You can learn more about Bert and his work at BertGhezzi.com.

Today, Bert profiles St. John Vianney, the patron saint of all priests.


St. JohnDo you think of St. John Vianney, the curé of Ars, as a priest of low intelligence who only by extraordinary grace in his confessional converted thousands of people? If so, think again. The saint’s reputed ignorance is greatly exaggerated. Yes, he was an ill-educated farm boy who had difficulty learning Latin and passing his seminary exams. But he possessed superior moral intelligence and Christian wisdom, as shown in these aphorisms from his sermons:

“To content his love, God must give himself to us separately, one by one.”

“A pure soul is with God, as a child with its mother. The child caresses and embraces her, and its mother returns all its endearments.”

“We have nothing of our own but our will. It is the only thing that God has so placed in our own power that we can make an offering of it to him.”

“Our Lord takes pleasure in doing the will of those who love him.”

“You must accept your cross. If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.”

“The way to destroy bad habits is by watchfulness and by doing often those things that are the opposites to one’s besetting sins.”

“God commands you to pray, but he forbids you to worry.”

“Prayer is the conversation of a child with his Father. Of a subject with his King. Of a servant with his Lord. Of a friend with the Friend to whom he confides all his troubles and difficulties.”

“To approach God you should go straight to him, like a bullet from a gun.”

“The interior life is like a sea of love in which the soul is plunged and drowned. Just as a mother holds her child’s face in her hands to cover it with kisses, so does God hold the devout person.”

The care of souls obsessed John Vianney. Appointed in 1817 as pastor to Ars, he soon converted most of the 230 people who lived in the little village. A few minutes in his confessional was enough to turn hardened sinners into saints. People said he could read their consciences, see their past sins and predict the future. For many years 300 penitents a day came to him by train from Lyon, which had to maintain a ticket office just for Ars. He spent 12 to 17 hours a day hearing confessions, stopping only to preach at 11 AM. And the saint disciplined himself harshly as prayer for the conversion of sinners. For example, he ate one meal a day, often only boiled potatoes.

The devil seemed to take notice of the curé of Ars. For thirty years day and night he put up with intrusions he regarded as diabolical, including poltergeists, noises, personal violence and even the mysterious burning of his bed. “The grappin and I are almost mates,” he would say.

John Vianney blended strictness and gentleness. He upheld the commandments with uncompromising severity and loved people with motherly tenderness. His preaching, for example, emptied the pubs of Ars and restored the Sunday observance. And when he wasn’t in the confessional, the curé was rescuing abandoned children. He crowded orphans into the homes of his friends. Once he brought a child to an associate who objected, “But there’s no bed.” “There’s always yours,” he said, and left the child at the door.

Worn out by the constant stream of visitors and by his lifelong austerity, St. John Vianney died at the age of seventy-three.

“Here is a rule for everyday life: Do not do anything which you cannot offer to God.”

— St. John Vianney

(Image Credit: Vultus)

Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.