Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, known as John in English, was born May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, France and was baptized the same day. He was the fourth of six children born to Matthieu and Marie Vianney.
In 1790, when the anticlerical Terror phase of the French Revolution forced priests to work in secrecy or face execution, young Vianney believed the priests were heroes.
In 1802, the Catholic Church was reestablished in France and religious freedom and peace spread throughout the country. Unfortunately, in 1809, John was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies. He had been studying as an ecclesiastical student, which was a protected title and would normally have excepted him from military services, but Napoleon had withdrawn the exemption in some dioceses as he required more soldiers. Two days into his service, John fell ill and required hospitalization. As his troop continued, he stopped in at a church where he prayed. There he met a young man who volunteered to return him to his group, but instead led him deep into the mountains where military deserters met. John lived with them for one year and two months. He used the name Jerome Vincent and opened a school for the nearby village of Les Noes’ children.
John remained in Les Noes and hid when gendarmes came in search of deserters until 1810, when deserters were granted amnesty. He returned to Écully and resumed his ecclesiastic studies. He attended a minor seminary, Abbe Balley, in 1812 and was eventually ordained a deacon in June 1815. He became a priest August 12, 1815 in the Couvent des Minimes de Grenoble. His first Mass was celebrated the next day and he was appointed assistant to Balley in Écully.
In 1818, Fr. John Vianney was appointed parish priest of the Ars parish. With help from Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lerdet, La Providence, a home for girls, was established in Ars. Fr. Vianney spent much time in confession and often delivered homilies against blasphemy and dancing. Finally, if parishioners did not give up dancing, he refused them absolution.
On October 3, 1873, Pope Pius IX proclaimed Fr. Vianney as “venerable” and on January 8, 1905, Pope Pius X beatified him. St. John Vianney was canonised on May 31, 1925.