A major relic of the saint who is held up as the ideal of what a Catholic priest should be is set to visit the Diocese of Phoenix May 5-6 as part of a national pilgrimage sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
The incorrupt heart of St. John Marie Vianney, contained in a special casing making it visible to the faithful will be available for veneration at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear May 5, and at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert and St. Joan of Arc Parish in Phoenix May 6.
‘Heart of a Priest’
St. John Vianney Relic Pilgrimage
Sunday, May 5
9 a.m.-2 p.m., Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix
Mass at 9 a.m. (televised), 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (Spanish)
4-7 p.m., St. John Vianney Parish, 539 E. La Pasada Blvd., Goodyear
Mass at 5 p.m.
Monday May 6
8-10 a.m., St. Anne Parish, 440 E. Elliot Rd., Gilbert
Mass at 8 a.m.
7-10 p.m., St. Joan of Arc Parish, 3801 E. Greenway Rd., Phoenix
About St. John Vianney
Born in 1786 in France, John Vianney came of age during the French Revolution, when the faith was attacked, churches destroyed and many bishops, priests and religious martyred. He entered seminary after the Napoleonic wars and struggled with academic formation.
Knowing the young man to be earnest and prayerful, according to a Knights of Columbus biography of the saint, the vicar general asked the seminary rector some simple questions: “Is he pious? Has he a devotion to Our Lady? Does he know how to say his rosary?” The rector admitted that John was “a model of piety.” The vicar general said that he should continue his studies and “the grace of God will do the rest.” At John Vianney’s ordination in 1815, the vicar general said, “The Church wants not only learned priests but, even more, holy ones.”
Considered uneducated, Fr. Vianney was assigned to the small farming community of Ars, whose parish consisted of 260 people. Walking along the road, towing a few possessions in a cart, he thanked a local boy who pointed him the way, saying, “You have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven.”
The political turbulence, anti-clericalism and religious skepticism of the age had taken their toll on the village, and the practice of the faith was poor. Known for his wise spiritual counsels and the gift of reading hearts, he soon became a “prisoner” of the confessional, hearing confessions for up to eighteen hours a day, as people came from across Europe and beyond to see him.
He also built an orphanage for homeless children and received beggars with an open heart and hand.
John Vianney died on Aug. 4, 1859, at the age of 73. Nearly 1,000 people attended his funeral, including the bishop and priests of the diocese. On Oct. 3, 1873, Pope Pius IX proclaimed him Venerable, and on Jan. 8, 1905, St. Pius X beatified him. St. John Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 31, 1925. In 1929, the Holy Father declared him patron of parish priests.
In 1909, 50 years after his death, his body was exhumed and inexplicably found not to have decayed. Soon after, his heart was placed in a separate container and has been venerated with his body in Ars.
Impact of Relics
Baltimore was the first stop of the national relic tour Nov. 10-11 of last year. Fred and Ellen LeGare, parishioners of St. Joseph Parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland, brought six of their 10 children to pray in the presence of the relic.
“I knew it would be a very powerful way to pray for our priests, especially Archbishop (William E.) Lori,” Ellen LeGare shared with the Catholic Review, the news outlet for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Archbishop Loris is also chaplain for the Knights of Columbus’ Supreme Council. “We decided to do a family pilgrimage.”
Fred LeGare recognized the significance for his children.
“It’s something I want them to experience, to have reverence for the treasures of the Church, the relics of the saints,” he said. “St. John Vianney is a very powerful saint. We’ve known about him for a long time, and when we heard about this we wanted to bring everybody and pray.”
The LeGare family prayed the Rosary together before saying personal prayers in front of the relic.
“Before we left home, we asked the kids what intentions they wanted to bring in their pilgrimage,” Ellen LeGare said. “I think each had their own personal intentions, but collectively, we wanted to pray for Archbishop Lori.”
In the few moments she spent up close and personal with the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney during its visit to St. Elisabeth of Hungary Church in Van Nuys, California, Feb. 22, Milagros “Lally” Guiao only asked the legendary saint for one thing, reported Angelus News, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“Give us holy priests.”
There were plenty of other things Guiao could have asked the French saint’s intercession for during the relic’s only stop in the San Fernando Valley during its Feb. 20-26 tour through several parishes of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
But as the reawakening clergy abuse crisis continues to afflict the Catholic Church, Guiao and her husband, Rey, a deacon at Our Lady of Peace Church in North Hills, believe the relic’s visit could not have come at a better time.
“Becoming a priest at this time in our church is not easy; there are a lot of challenges and difficulties,” said Dcn. Guiao, who noted that St. John Vianney himself suffered and faced persecution during his life.
“We want our priests to remain faithful to their vocations, to continue to encourage and strengthen the parish and the flock that they were given,” added the deacon.
“A relic is a visible, tangible connection to the earthly temple of one whom we know to be in heaven. It serves as a sign of our spiritual communion with the saints. We don’t treat the relics superstitiously,” explained Bishop James V. Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, “but as a real sign of our connection to those who belong to God in heaven and their fellowship with us on earth.”
Bishop Johnston preached at a Solemn Vespers service March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, when thousands came to venerate the relics at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, according to the Catholic Key, the diocese’s news outlet.
“The best part of it is that it is bringing everyone together for the heart and for the Church,” explained Kayla Ueligger, a mother of two, ages six and three. “It helps us remember we are all part of the same church.”
— Portions of this story were taken from Angelus News in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Catholic Review in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Catholic Key in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Kansas.