At the time of his death in 1859, over 100,000 people a year visited the little village of Ars, northwest of Lyons, France, and its beloved parish priest, St. John Vianney—known everywhere as the "Curé of Ars." Today over 500,000 people a year visit this simple farming town in the middle of France, where they come to see the incorrupt body of one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church and to visit in prayerful meditation the simple parish church where the holy Curé converted thousands and reconciled to Jesus Christ and His Church tens of thousands of souls.
Yet this is a most improbable story, for here is a saint who, with only two years' formal education before entering upon his priestly studies, had the greatest difficulty passing his examinations and becoming a priest. He had enormous troubles with Latin, as well as other subjects, and he at one time was obliged to give up priestly studies as a result of being drafted for military service (his brother at length volunteered in his stead). And even when he was ordained, he was given one of the poorest, most remote, and most run-down parishes in all of France. But within a few short years, he had reformed his parish and his town, in the process establishing such a reputation that the world began to seek him out to confess to him, witness his preaching, and hear his Masses. Finally they beat a path to his door, coming from all over France and even other nations. He heard confessions 16 to 18 hours a day, healed the sick, divined knowledge of the past and future, and mortified himself to an inhuman degree. The Devil himself once revealed to St. John Vianney that if there were three men like him alive at one time, the diabolical kingdom would be destroyed. Just four years after his canonization in 1925, Pope Pius XI named him "Patron Saint of Parish Priests."
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