The 4th August is the feast day of St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, better known as the Curé d’Ars. He is the patron saint of all priests and the subject of Sacerdotii nostri primordia, an encyclical of Pope John XXIII.

Vianney was born in 1786. The disruption of normal life during the French Revolution and, later, the wars of Napoleon, meant that he did not begin his education until the age of 20. Perhaps due to this late start, Vianney found learning difficult, particularly Latin, but was able to enter a seminary.

Vianney’s life and devotion were considered to override his poor scholarship and he was ordained priest in 1815. He was made the parish priest of Ars, a tiny French hamlet, where he proved to be an able preacher and an excellent confessor. Famed for his humility and his gentleness toward others, Vianney was also known “to abstain almost completely from food and from sleep, to carry out the harshest kinds of penances, and to deny himself with great strength of soul.”

Vianney was known for his common sense and for supernatural wisdom – he was able to divine sins which had not been told to him, and his advice was full of simple language and imagery drawn from daily life. People came to him from all over France, and internationally, and his bishop forbade him to attend clergy retreats so that he could hear them. Toward the end of his life, even when he could no longer speak, Vianney heard confessions from sixteen to eighteen hours a day. For the five days he lay on his deathbed, penitents were brought to him there so that he could hear their confessions.

From the age of fifteen Vianney wanted a solitary life, and wished to enter a monastery, but obedience to his bishop kept him at Ars, and he died ‘in harness’ in 1859, at the age of 73.