An unlikely candidate for the priesthood

From Paul Thigpen’s recently published Saints Who Battled Satan (TAN Books, 2015):

It was in fact a young soldier in Napoleon’s army who was to become the most famous spiritual warrior of post-Revolutionary France. John Vianney had been born during the Revolution and raised in a devout Catholic family of farmers that had traveled to distant farms in order to celebrate Masses in secret. He grew up admiring priests as spiritual war heroes because they risked their lives to minister to the people.

Not surprisingly, then, at the age of twenty, John enrolled in a school to be trained for Holy Orders. But he struggled with his studies, especially Latin. In 1809, he was drafted for the army, even though ecclesiastical students in most areas of the country were exempt from the draft. Unable to put his heart into Napoleon’s ill-advised wars, he deserted and hid from the authorities until the emperor issued an amnesty for deserters.

John resumed his studies, yet he continued to struggle. His teachers had serious doubts about his intellectual competence to become a priest. But at last he was ordained and eventually appointed as the parish priest in a little village named Ars, a town of about 230 residents. He spent the rest of his life there.

In time John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, became one of France’s most beloved and sought-out pastors. After a life marked by unstinting effort and heroic humility and penitence, he died in 1859 at the age of 73. He was canonized in 1925 and is the patron saint of pastors and confessors. May his example inspire Catholics to pray and work for a resurgence of the Faith in all nations, especially those in which the Church and Her faithful are most threatened.

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