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St. Jean Vianney: The Parish Priest who Performed Miracles

Saint John Vianney, patron of parish priests

Perhaps you know about St. Jean Vianney. If so, you might know him as the patron saint of parish priests. Or you might know that he often heard confessions for many hours a day. In fact, he was such a popular confessor, that people would wait in long lines to give their confessions in the same way that today people line up outside a store prior to the release of some new product of technology. Or you might know that he helped turn a town around as the parish priest. However, he is also known as a miracle worker. Here are some stories about how he helped bring about a couple of miracles.

Early Life During the French Revolution

First, it might be good to share some background about St. Jean Vianney.

He was born in the year 1786 to Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluzein in the village of Dardilly, in the area of Lyons in France. Jean was the fourth of six children His family were farmers, and when he was old enough, he was given charge of the sheep.

As a shepherd, he had time to think and to pray. One practice which he had was to take a little image of the Virgin Mary which he had made and put it in the hollow of a tree, adorn it with flowers, and kneel before Our Lady's image to pray the Rosary. This practice attracted the attention of the other shepherd boys, and Jean was able to explain who the lady is and what he was doing. He found that he enjoyed teaching about the Faith.

It must be understood that at this time the French Revolution had begun and the Catholic Faith was being suppressed. The boys with whom Jean spoke might not have been to mass in years because their families had given up the practice of their faith. And, in fact, what Jean was doing was actually illegal in the eyes of the government.

The priest in the local parish had taken an oath of fidelity to the French Republic with its commitment to secularism so families stopped going to mass. And many families, including Jean's companions, had abandoned anything to do with the Catholic Faith.

Jean's family did not stop going to mass. Instead, they went to masses which were held secretly in places like a family's barn. The priests who celebrated the mass there had remained faithful, and, consequently, they were wanted men. And families took the risk to go to mass and to hide the faithful priests. For young Jean, his first impression of priests were men who risked their lives to serve the people by administering the sacraments.

In light of that, it soon became clear at a fairly young age that Jean had a vocation to the priesthood. It was just about at that time that the ban on religious practice was lifted. All the same, Jean worked for about five years on his family's farm continuing to grow in his faith and develop virtues such as patience, gentleness, and perseverance through the hard work of plowing, cultivating, and harvesting.

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Following his Vocation

In the year 1806, a parish priest in the neighboring village of Ecully opened a school for students to prepare for the priesthood. Jean's parents made the sacrifice and sent him to the school. Unfortunately, for Jean, he was not a very good student. Jean found learning all of the information difficult. His studies were math, geography, history, and Latin which was particularly difficult for him. Nonetheless, despite his educational struggles, his vocation was considered to be genuine.

The priest sent Jean off to be examined for minor orders. Jean proceeded to fail the exam not once, not twice, but three times. The matter might have been left at that, but events moved Jean forward to the priesthood. The cardinal of the area was to review the situation, but when the Emperor of France abdicated, the cardinal suddenly left because he feared he was not in a good position from a political point-of-view. The Vicar General was left in charge of the diocese and his primary criteria for priests was their personal holiness. The parish priest would vouch for Jean's holiness, and the Vicar General was eager to ordain him a priest to help fill the gap in priests which had been caused by the effects of the Revolution.

Jean's first assignment was as a curate for M. Bailley who was the parish priest who had taught him and advocated for him. It was well that this was the case because Jean had not yet received all of his faculties--he could not hear confessions--and under any other priest he might have been found seriously wanting. The fact is that Jean lacked the formal training expected of priests but he made up for it in spades by his actual experience in the spiritual life. His relationship with Christ enabled him to serve the people. And the people responded by recognizing his holiness. Accordingly, Jean spent three valuable years serving under the senior priest.

Assigned to Ars

Then Jean, after receiving full faculties as a priest, was sent to Ars which was considered a backwater town and a place that could only go up from where it was in its spiritual state. In other words, for the officials who assigned Jean there, and who were still not sure what to make of him as a priest, there was little danger in this assignment.
Thus, Fr. Jean began his ministry in which he helped turn a town around from being one of little faith to one of much greater faith and fidelity to living the Gospel. And that brings us to the stories of two of his miracles.

Fr. Jean came from peasant stock, and he had maintained a simply and trusting heart. Consequently, he had deep trust in God, and probably the "secret" to his ministry was that trust which led Fr. Jean to simply do what was needed to help his people lead lives of holiness. If hours of confession were needed, he would do it. If lack of sleep was needed, he would do that. If taking on additional penances was needed in order to help his penitents, he would do it.

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If He did it on Earth, Why not from Heaven?

After only being in Ars for six years, Fr. Jean decided that there should be a girls' school so he started one. First, he bought a somewhat run-down house with what money he had and then he selected three women to run the school. The house consisted of one classroom and two bedrooms. When the classes first began, there were 15 students. The numbers started to grow because the school was providing a good education and the school was free.
The school was called La Providence, and for the students it truly was because these were girls who could not be supported by their families. They were virtually orphans or abandoned by their families.

To accommodate the girls the top floor of the house became a dormitory. And when that became too small to house the girls, the home was enlarged. Fr. Jean would start building and the money would come in as God provided it. Fr. Jean would beg far and wide to provide for the school, and over time, the school continued to grow and be sustained from donation to donation.

However, in 1829, the harvest was very poor, and the granary was empty. Fr. Jean had tapped out his donors, and he knew he could not ask them for more. All the same, he had to feed 60 girls who were counting on him. He increased his prayers to his favorite saints including his patron St. John the Baptist, but nothing happened to ease the lack of food. He was about to give up and send the girls away.
Then, he decided in his straightforward way to ask for help from a saint who had provided food for others. St. Francis Regis (1597 - 1640) was a Jesuit priest in France who had established a granary which was know to have miraculously refilled. Fr. Jean reasoned if he could do it while he was on earth why could he not do it from Heaven?
Fr. Jean first took a relic of St. Francis and placed it under a handful of grains in the home where the girls lived. Then he asked all of the girls to pray to St. Francis Regis. At that point, he felt a calm he had not experienced yet.
A few hours later, Fr. Jean asked one of the three women who was in charge of the food to go to the storage room and bring out what was there. When she attempted to open the door to the loft where the grain was kept, the door would not open. She pulled with all of her strength and out poured grain because the loft was full to its roof! She ran to Fr. Jean and told him of the miracle. He rejoiced and reminded himself that he almost sent the girls away because he had not trusted in God's providence.

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Dough More than You Think You Can

Only four or five years later, the school faced the same crisis with a lack of flour and corn. The granary was empty due to the drought. The miller had failed to deliver the flour because the miller had none. Fr. Jean told the school's baker to put the yeast in the little flour she had and tomorrow to act as if she had all that she needed. The next day the baker went to work with the dough and it began to grow. She could not add water fast enough to the mixture.

The dough filled up the trough that was used for a full bag of flour. It kept growing and was about to spill on the floor. Eventually, the dough grew enough for her to make 10 huge twenty pound loaves which were baked in the local oven to the astonishment of all.
Later when noting that God had always provided for him, St. Jean said, "I have always had enough to go on with. I have observed that those who have an income are always complaining, there is always something that they lack. But those who have nothing, have nothing even to lack ... It is is trust that God wants more than anything. When He alone is charged with all our concerns, it touches His justice and His goodness to aid us."

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