The incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests and co-patron of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, will be venerated at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 6. The Cathedral will receive the relic at 8:30 a.m. the morning of the Dec. 6. At 11:15 a.m., Confessions will be heard, and at 12:10 p.m., Father Hedderman will celebrate Mass. Bishop Baker, accompanied by priests of the diocese, will hold Solemn Vespers from 5:15-5:45 p.m. The relic will begin its journey to the next stop on the tour at 6 p.m.
The veneration of the relic is part of a tour initiated by the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus. According to a Knights of Columbus press release, "The Shrine of Ars, France, has entrusted to the Knights of Columbus the major relic of St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart for a national tour in the U.S., from November 2018 through early June 2019. The Knights of Columbus welcomes this special opportunity to offer for veneration a major relic of the patron of parish priests, whose holiness and integrity is a model for clergy and laity alike."
The heart relic is classified as a First Class relic - a physical part of a saint (bone, hair, etc.). St. John Vianney's heart was removed from his body to be venerated in recognition of his burning love for the Lord. The heart has remained intact for over 150 years. Relics are meant to bring the faithful closer to God since the soul of the saint is united with God in Heaven.
The veneration is being offered in reparation for the clergy sexual abuse and predation scandals that have shaken the Church recently. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson explained in a letter to K of C chaplains and those who minister to victims of sexual abuse, “The Knights of Columbus — laymen, priests and chaplains together — will have an important role to play in rebuilding the Church. We must commit the Knights of Columbus to work for repentance, reform and rebuilding of the Church.”
Saint John Vianney - biography
John Vianney was born in a small village near Lyon, France in 1786. The Vianneys had six children and were very devout Catholics. When John was a young boy, France suffered the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. During this period the Catholic faith was attacked and many priests and religious had to go into hiding for fear of persecution. Practicing the faith was so dangerous that young John had to study for his First Communion with two nuns in a private home. When the time came to receive his First Communion the windows were covered in order to hide the candlelight. Seeing that the priests of his youth risked their lives so that he and his family could have access to the sacraments, he looked upon them as heroes.
At the turn of the century, Napolean re-established the Catholic Church in France, which led to religious peace. At the age of 20, John's father allowed him to enter the seminary; however, he struggled academically, especially with Latin. He continued to struggle after he went to a major seminary, so the rector at his first seminary had to vouch for his deep longing to become a priest. John was ordained in 1815.
After his ordination Father Vianney was sent to a small farming community called Ars, whose parish consisted of 280 people. Ministering to the community helped Father Vianney to realize that the Revolution had taken its toll on the faithful. The knowledge of the faith was extremely lacking, and townspeople would spend Sundays working or drinking and dancing in the taverns. He gave homilies against such behavior and even refused absolution if the sinners didn't amend their lives.
Father Vianney lived a life of penance and prayer in order to draw people closer to God. He had a gift for wise spiritual counsel, and became widely known, with people traveling long distances to consult him. One record stated that by 1855, 20,000 pilgrims traveled to Ars so he could hear their confession. During the last years of his life, he would spend 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional.
He is also known for his great charity. He built an orphanage for homeless children and received beggars with generosity.
At the age of 73, Vianney died in 1859. Pope Pius IX declared Vianney venerable, and in 1925, Pope Pius XI canonized him. He was declared the patron saint of parish priests in 1929 with a feast day of Aug. 4.