Vianney was born on 8 May 1786, in the French town of Dardilly, and was baptized the same day. His parents, Matthieu Vianney and Marie Beluze, had six children, of whom John was the third.
John Vianney was a famous confessor, and was loved and revered by his parishioners. People travelled for miles and stood for hours in the rain just to speak to him for a few minutes, or hear him preach.
Yet he almost didn't become a priest at all. First his father was reluctant to let him leave the family farm. Then he was forced into Napoleon's army, and by a series of mistakes was accused of deserting and had to hide for nearly two years. When he returned, he had terrible trouble with his studies, especially Latin. Then he failed the entrance exam for the seminary. When he was finally accepted into the seminary, he failed the final exams because he couldn't write well enough and became confused and tongue-tied in the oral exams.
It took a special appeal to the representative of the bishop of France to get permission to be ordained. The bishop's representative asked "Is he pious?" Yes, he was undoubtedly pious. "Ordain him,' the bishop's representative(vicar-general) decided, "The grace of God will do the rest."
Father John Vianney was sent to Ars, 18 miles from his birth town of Darilly, a remote French village of some 40 houses, there were 4 taverns. Church attendance was very low, the farmers worked on Sunday, everyone spend their time drinking and swearing. It was a 'punishment parish' and the people laid bets on how long this new priest would last. Someone peeked in his window and saw that he prayed all night. Others noticed that he removed all the fine furniture from the rectory (Place where parish priest lives.) and turned the visiting area into a woodshed. He gave his clothes away to the poor and ate only two potatoes a day. Others reported that though his voice seemed to hurt their ears, his sermons stirred their hearts. He became part of the village life as well, visiting all the homes, and helping the villagers with their daily lives. He helped a shop owner with his bookkeeping, prescribed remedies for whooping cough, and when a tavern closed for lack of business, raised money for the owner to buy a farm, then tore the tavern down. Twelve years later, people would say 'Ars is no longer Ars.' Everyone went to the three hour masses. The farmers prayed the rosary as they worked in the fields. When Father Vianney heard confessions, people would stand in line for hours.
It was as a confessor that his true talents lay. His spiritual directions and hearing of confessions was distinguished by common sense, remarkable insight, and supernatural knowledge. He would sometimes know what sins had been withheld in an imperfect confession. People travelled for miles and from around the world to make a confession to him. Sinners were converted at a few words from him. By the end of his life, he spend 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional, and he was mobbed whenever he appeared. He heard 20,000 confessions a year, up to 300 a day.
It wasn't all smooth and easy. Fellow priests envied his success and accused him of 'excessive display of poverty.' Parishioners, angered by the reform of the parish, vandalised his home and spread rumours about him. At nights, he was tormented by and wrestled with the devil. But he calmly, patiently and faithfully persisted in the life God had called him to and continued to serve his people.
Saint John Vianney remains to this day the living image of the priest after the heart of Christ. He died on August 4, 1859 and was canonized on May 31 1925.