The Bicentennial Ordination Anniversary of St. John Vianney

He was raised up by Divine Providence in the same generation as St. Catherine Laboure and St. Peter Julian Eymard. He shares a birthday with Bishop Fulton Sheen and St. Peter Canisius. He was a contemporary of President Lincoln and Queen Victoria. Six Popes sat in Peter’s Chair during his lifetime, including the longest serving Pope who defined the Immaculate Conception and opened the First Vatican Council. While London was the largest city in the world at the time of his ordination, his fellow countrymen in France boasted of their thirty million royal citizens under King Louis XVIII. Exactly two hundred years later, for those who have ears to hear, heavenly voices are saying:

Almighty God
Creator of Heaven and Earth
Supreme Sovereign of the Universe
The Most Glorious Virgin Mary
Queen of the Court of Heaven
Announce the Bicentennial Ordination Anniversary of St. John Vianney
Who Was Ordained on Earth on the 13th day of August in 1815
At The Royal Command Of Jesus Christ,
King of Kings and Lord of Lords

In honor of his heavenly entrance, Catholics throughout the world celebrate the life of this humble French priest, who was hard on himself but gentle with others. Divine Providence has given friends of the Galilean the annual feast of August 4 to celebrate the life of St. John Vianney since he was visited by the Angel of Death in 1859 on August 4, almost six years before the last breath of President Lincoln in America.

On a Sunday morning, which in 1815 was the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Father John Vianney was ordained on August 13 in the Grand Seminary in Grenoble, France by Bishop Simon. As God Almighty himself announces the bicentennial anniversary of the ordination of Father Vianney, it is worth recalling the practical wisdom of Pope St. Pius X, “We will not say anything that you have not already heard before, nor anything that will be completely new to anyone, but rather we will concentrate on recalling things that everyone ought to remember.” And one spiritual treasure worth remembering is that the calendar provides for a bicentennial anniversary novena. One can begin a novena from the Feast of St. John Vianney on August 4, until his Ordination Anniversary on August 13, exactly nine days, or anytime during the bicentennial anniversary.

One way of approaching the bicentennial anniversary is for Christians to observe a Novena, which for generations has been in our Church’s spiritual treasury. A Novena is a period of 9 days of prayer to obtain a special grace, to implore a special favor, and to make special petitions. Since we believe as Christians in the miracle of the Resurrection, and since we believe that St. John Vianney is numbered among those who now enjoy the Light of seeing Jesus Christ face-to-face in Heaven, now is a tremendous time to invite the holy French priest to help Jesus save souls from his heavenly home.

When he walked in the church door for the first time in Ars, France, St. John Vianney begged God when he prayed, “My God, make the sheep entrusted to me come back to a good way of life. For all my life I am prepared to endure anything that pleases You.” Having relied upon the 400 books in his nineteenth century personal library, and his total commitment to spending time before Jesus in the Tabernacle, St. John Vianney admitted 41 years later, “If I had known when I came to the parish of Ars what I would have to suffer, the fear of it would certainly have killed me.” In the twenty-first century, posterity will record that we are kindred spirits of this holy priest with the current circumstances which are flourishing like a swarm of killer bees: looseness in morals, a spirit of unbridled lust, the power of money, greed of possession, the allure of pleasures of the senses, a thirst for pleasure, too great an esteem for technological advancement, and the temptation to despair. From Hollywood to Wall Street to Capitol Hill, news reports are ubiquitous of those who are entrusted with authority in our culture of failing the ultimate test of leadership: to be consecrated in truth. From his daily experiences in the confessional, St. John Vianney received an unmistakable picture of the terrible havoc that plagued folks who desperately wanted to be friends of the Galilean. St. John Vianney, a kindred spirit for our generation who can help us in the Third Millennium, often reminded souls that “God is quicker to forgive than a mother to snatch her child from the fire.” When many are turning their eyes and minds to Christians today for answers in our upside-down world, this Bicentennial Anniversary Novena is a tremendous opportunity to meet the desired goal of God for his children: Christian perfection.

Some non-Catholics will wonder and ask us, “what is the biblical basis for the Novena?” One of our responses might include a reference to Acts 1:12-14 and the mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord. Our Blessed Lord gives His Apostles the great commission, tells them to return to Jerusalem, and to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. Nine days later the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, which for posterity after Pentecost, was an inspiration to set aside a time of prayer in what became known some time later as a Novena (which derives from the Latin novem meaning nine). The Novena is a pious, spiritual exercise to allow the grace from Jesus Christ to intensify the faith of any individual. It is fundamental to remember that the Novena always is offered in reliance upon the goodness of the Lord, who answers all of our prayers in accord with his divine will. As we prepare for graces to be afforded by God in honor of the Bicentennial Ordination Anniversary of St. John Vianney on August 13, 2015, we are humbled to recall his advice, while initially offered to someone in French, now universally understood as follows, “You do not need many words when you pray. We believe on faith that the good and gracious God is there in the Tabernacle; we open our souls to Him; and feel happy that He allows us to come before Him; this is the best way to pray.”

Bicentennial Anniversary Novena for August 2015
The Novena is simply praying for 9 consecutive days, following the Feast of St. John Vianney on August 4. Prayers may be offered to obtain a special grace or to implore a special favor or to make a special petition. The grace or favor or petition is offered to Jesus Christ; the role of St. John Vianney is simply one of intercession, as Hebrews teaches us in Chapter Seven, “he always lives to make intercession for them.” The Novena begins on the Feast of St. John Vianney and is prayed for 9 consecutive days, concluding the day before the bicentennial anniversary of St. John Vianney, which Christians have confidence in being a special day of graces, favors and petitions to be granted.

Many souls have wondered “what was his secret?”—what was the secret of St. John Vianney’s holiness. He answered, simply but sincerely, “My secret is easy to learn. It can be summed up in these few words: give everything away and keep nothing for yourself.” This is a tremendous example from the saint himself of what grace or favor or petition to ask for during the Novena. For example, one could say for 9 consecutive days: “Jesus, through the intercession of St. John Vianney, in honor of the Bicentennial Anniversary of his ordination, grant me the favor of giving everything away and keeping nothing for myself.”

On another occasion, St. John Vianney said, “If there were not very innocent souls to please God and make up for our offenses, how many terrible punishments we would have to suffer!” The Novena could include for 9 consecutive days, “Jesus, through the intercession of St. John Vianney, in honor of the Bicentennial Anniversary of his ordination, answer my petition to be innocent of heart for Your glory.”

St. John Vianney said, “The souls in Purgatory can do nothing for themselves, but they can do much for their benefactors.” The Bicentennial Anniversary is a tremendous opportunity to offer a Novena for the priest who baptized me and has since passed away—to pray for the repose of his soul. The Novena could also include prayers for the priest who gave me the Bread of Life at my First Holy Communion and has since passed away—to pray for the repose of his soul. The examples are many, the intent is the same: to pray for 9 days for a priest who has died who has been a special blessing in my life; to pray for a loved one for 9 days who has died and is need of my prayers; to pray for the soul of someone on the nightly news who has been killed tragically. Saint John Vianney consoled many by teaching, “My brethren, the good God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the bottom of the heart.” This is key for the Novena—simple, sincere, straight-from-the-heart prayers which are offered for 9 consecutive days asking for concrete, specific, real-life needs.

Perhaps someone fears going to Confession. This Bicentennial Anniversary is an opportunity to pray for ourselves to overcome these fears by saying, “Jesus, through the intercession of St. John Vianney, make blind and confused the demons who attack me with fears of going to confession.” The holy French priest taught his congregation in nineteenth-century France that “when you go to confession, you must understand what you are about to do; you are about to un-nail Our Lord.”

One of the evident virtues in the life of St. John Vianney was humility. He taught us, “Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is to a rosary: take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility, and all virtues vanish.” The Novena could echo his wisdom: “Jesus, through the intercession of St. John Vianney, increase humility in my heart.”

Father Vianney taught his flock in France, “When you see a priest, you should say: ‘there is the one who has made me a child of God … one who has cleansed me from my sins, who gives nourishment to my soul.” By his own example, and in his words, St. John Vianney proclaimed, “The priest is above all a man of prayer.” And since the days of Judas Iscariot, we know that Father Vianney was not far from the Kingdom when he said, “When one wants to destroy religion, one begins by attacking the priests.” With logic and conviction, the saint from France preached, “The thing that keeps us priests from gaining sanctity is thoughtlessness. It annoys us to turn our minds away from external affairs; we don’t know what we really ought to do. What we need is deep reflection, together with prayer and an intimate union with God.” The Bicentennial Anniversary is a grace-filled opportunity to pray for every priest; for every priest to be granted from Jesus Christ, through the intercession of St. John Vianney, a thoughtful heart towards God and neighbor.

On March 13, 1943, Pope Pius XII said, “If you want the faithful who are entrusted to your care to pray willingly and well, you must give them an example and let them see you praying in church. A priest kneeling devoutly and reverently before the Tabernacle, and pouring forth prayer to God with all his heart, is a wonderful example to the Christian people and serves as an inspiration.” This wisdom offered during World War II by our Holy Father was a part of the priestly example of Father Vianney during his priesthood. This same wisdom was encouraged by Saint John Paul the Second when he asked an American priest one day, “Why are you so afraid to take that inner journey into the Heart of Christ?” The Novena is a time to pray for every priest, that St. John Vianney would intercede for every priest to not be afraid to take that inner journey into the Heart of Christ.

We know from the Fathers at the Second Vatican Council that not all the faithful are expected to adopt the kind of life that Father Vianney lived—for there are many rooms in the Father’s House. But we also know from the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council—fathers like Cardinal Wojtyla of Poland and Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany—that there has never been a time when the Church did not have some priests who did not hesitate for a moment to enter on this same path of sanctity as did Father Vianney. His only motives were love of God and the desire for the salvation of souls. One of the Mexican martyrs, Father Miguel Pro, who was ordained the same year that Father Vianney was canonized, said himself, “I want to be this kind of saint: a saint who eats, sleeps, plays practical jokes and works many miracles!” When he was ordained in 1925, Father Miguel Pro said, “They have given me the Mass!” Although he died a martyr’s death, Father Pro, and Father Vianney before him, understood the goal which God has for every Christian in salvation history, when he said upon his 1925 ordination, “Prepare your petitions for Heaven because I will be your best advocate.” This is at the heart of the Bicentennial Anniversary: to take holy advantage of our advocates in Heaven who want to reach down and bend low to hear our prayers through intercession so that we can be happy, healthy, holy and heroic for Jesus Christ in this twenty-first century.

On the centennial anniversary of Father Vianney’s death, in 1959, Pope Saint John XXIII said that “this athlete of Christ fought off the powers of hell.” Father Vianney explained the reality of the spiritual warfare that our good God permitted in his life, “It is the grappin. He cannot hurt you; as for me he torments me in sundry ways. At times he seizes me by the feet and drags me about the room. It is because I convert souls to the good God.” This bicentennial anniversary is a divine celebration that demons fear because they can no longer harm Father Vianney. Demons know he is eternally secure at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. This bicentennial anniversary is feared by demons because they know that special graces, favors and petitions may be afforded by our good God to those who take advantage of the opportunity to pray for 9 days in celebration of a reality that has biblical consequences: that St. John Vianney can help souls in 2015 be filled with immense happiness, intense consolations and divine joy from Jesus! Blessed Pope Paul VI said humbly in 1972, “What are the greatest needs of the Church today? Do not let our answer surprise you as being oversimple or even superstitious and unreal: one of the greatest needs is defense from that evil which is called the devil.” One of our greatest weapons of defense is St. John Vianney. As the Galilean said to his friends, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Editor’s note: The photo above depicts the statue of St. John Vianney in the Shrine of Ars, France.

Fr. Nicholas Federspiel


Fr. Nicholas Federspiel, ordained in 2004 for the Diocese of Rockford, IL, obtained his B.A. in History and B.A. in English from Texas Tech University and his Masters in Divinity from Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.

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