St John Vianney

Patron saint of parish priests. Saint John Vianney - 'the Cure D'Ars' - was the son of a farmer. Born in 1786, he grew up during the aftermath of the French Revolution when clergy were outlawed and many schools were closed. He had little education, but at the age of 20,

began training for the priesthood. His studies were interrupted by military conscription. Like many others, he deserted and got back to the seminary.

He found academic study difficult and just got through to his ordination because he was so devout.

The vicar-general said: "the Church needs not just learned priests but holy ones too."

After serving as a curate for two years in Ecully, he was sent to the woebegone village of Ars-en-Dombes as parish priest. This was to be his home for the rest of his life.

St John lived simply, on a diet mainly of potatoes. He preached vigorously against drinking, swearing and immorality. His homilies were so successful that many village inns were closed for lack of business. St John also showed a rare gift for listening and counselling, both in and out of the confessional. Soon people were coming to see him from miles away. Rumours spread of miracles including the multiplication of food at an orphanage he had founded. He tried to attribute these to St Philomena, and set up a shrine to her. But people were not taken in.

Every day he preached at 11am and then heard confessions for as long as 12 hours a day to begin with and then sixteen in his last years.

St John was quite strict as a young priest, but as he got older, he became more sympathetic to human frailty. Some stories would reduce him to tears.

Three times he left Ars to become a monk. Three times he came back. He refused state honours and promotion, except reluctantly becoming a canon. He sold those robes and gave the money to the poor.

Worn out by an endless stream of visitors asking for his advice, he died at the age of 73 in 1859. He was canonised in 1925.