John Mary Vianney was born May 8, 1786, in the small farming town of Dardilly, France. His parents were poor farmers who relied heavily upon John. The French Revolution was a very difficult time for the Catholic Church. Priests were forced to pledge allegiance to the government or be killed. The young Vianney loved prayer and would secretly go to the fields with his parents to pray. He was fascinated by the faith and courage of the priests and began to feel the calling to the priesthood at a young age.
After a long struggle, Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815. Three years later, the Bishop appointed Vianney as the Curé, or pastor, of the small, faithless town of Ars, France. Like much of France, the people of Ars had fallen away from the Church. Within eight years, Fr. Vianney's faith and zeal transformed this parish into a strong faith community. He was credited with being skillful at reading consciences, foretelling the future, curing the sick and converting sinners. At times, he heard confessions for 17 hours a day as people traveled great distances to see him.
John Mary Vianney spent 41 years as the spiritual leader of Ars. In 1827, he helped to establish an orphanage for deserted children. Later, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by the Emperor; he sold the medallion and gave the money to the orphanage. The last 30 years of his life, Vianney was haunted by voices, thought to be the work of the devil. Despite this condition, he remained persistent in his desire to convert souls to God. He died on August 4, 1859.
The saintly Curé of Ars loved the Society of Mary. In 1855, Bro. Babey, a member of the Society of Mary who was hesitant about his vocation, went to the Curé for guidance.
When Bro. Babey told Fr. Vianney that he was a Brother of Mary, Fr. Vianney exclaimed, "Brother of Mary, a religious of the Society of Mary! Oh what a beautiful vocation; what a beautiful Society! This Society is called to do an immense amount of good in God's Church; it will live until the end of the world, and all the religious who die in this beautiful Society will go to Paradise!"
St. John Vianney's admiration for the Society of Mary makes the order proud to name one of their schools after this wonderful saint.