The ordination of Jean-Marie Vianney, curé of Ars

The ordination story of the patron saint of parish priests, the curé of Ars, is told by Patrick H. Daly, a parish priest in the Diocese of Birmingham.

The majority of Catholic priests, both at the present time and throughout history, have belonged to the secular clergy, incardinated in a diocese and directly subject to their bishop. Vatican II calls all priests ‘co-workers’ of the bishops. Those who fulfil this role assignment most closely in terms of their apostolate and their spiritual, institutional and legal relationship with Church hierarchy are those priests we call ‘secular’. That is true today and historically was the case in the generations after initial evangelisation by missionaries in all places where dioceses were established and bishops were settled in their cathedrals. Thus most of those men ordained throughout the history of the Church were secular priests.

It is odd therefore that so few secular priests were ever canonised saints. In the Middle Ages it was bishops or mendicant friars who were canonised, in the Counter-Reformation period and afterward it was founders or reformers of Religious Orders. Jean-Marie Vianney (1786–1859)1, universally known as the curé (parish priest) of Ars, was the first secular priest to be raised to the altars of the Church as a confessor and, perhaps because he had no rivals or quite simply because of his amazing virtue and his pastoral zeal, he became patron of the secular clergy of his native France when beatified by Pope Pius X in 1905. Subsequently he was made patron of all parish priests in 1929 by a decree of Pope Pius XI four years after he had canonised him a saint.

Even today the curé of Ars continues to be proposed to the secular clergy as a role model. It is known that Pope John Paul II had a devotion to Jean-Marie Vianney since his earliest days as a young priest and, in his teaching on the priesthood (a subject which he held particularly dear and to which he regularly returned during his pontificate), the Polish pontiff regularly encouraged priests, young and old, to model their lives and the pattern of their pastoral ministry on that of the late parish priest of Ars.

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