Heart of a priest: St. Jean Vianney’s heart inspires diocese’s faithful

North Texas Catholic
(May 22, 2019) Local

Margery Pyle, of St. John Paul II Parish in Denton, kneels before the relic of St. Jean Vianney at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, May 16, 2019. (NTC/Ben Torres)

FORT WORTH — When a friend told Anndra Mann a major, first-degree relic of St. Jean Vianney was on display in St. Patrick Cathedral May 16, she shepherded her six children into the family van and made the one-hour trip to downtown Fort Worth.

The homeschool mom, who attends St. John the Baptizer in Bridgeport, said viewing the incorrupt heart of the 19th century French saint was a teaching moment for her family.

“We’re always learning more and more about our faith, so we can incorporate it into our daily life,” Mann explained. “We pray for our priests and hope to get some graces from coming here.”

More than 1,500 Catholics visited the cathedral to venerate the relic, encased in a 17th century French reliquary. After kneeling before the incorrupt heart in prayer, many stayed for a 6 p.m. Mass concelebrated by Bishop Michael Olson and several diocesan priests.

The relic’s stop in Fort Worth is part of a multi-city U.S. tour sponsored by the Knights of Columbus titled “Heart of a Priest.” Organizers hope reading about the life and challenges faced by the humble pastor after the French Revolution will inspire prayer and support for today’s clergy.

People began gathering inside St. Patrick an hour before the relic arrived from St. Mary Cathedral in Austin.

“It’s a great sign of support for our priests,” said Knights of Columbus General Agent Chris Stark. “I think our Church is in need of this.”

Seeing so many young families in the crowd pleased the event coordinator.

Christine Baird, 4, holds a rosary as she stands in line to visit the relic of St. Jean Vianney at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, May 16, 2019. (NTC/Ben Torres)

“Parents want to share the faith with the next generation and that’s hopeful for our Church,” Stark asserted. “Praying to the saints will harvest new Catholics.”

Bruce Mallory, diocesan deputy for the Knights of Columbus, said the state deputy wanted the relic displayed in as many Texas cities as possible.

“We’re delighted that a relic of the patron saint of parish priests is here and hope it inspires more vocations,” he added. “Now more than ever we need to have faith in our saints, and the bishop as our shepherd, to lead us through these troubled times.”

Welcoming the congregation at the start of Mass, Bishop Olson called the presence of St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart in the cathedral a great occasion in the life of the diocese.

Christ sent His disciples into the world to proclaim the Good News of God’s mercy and love.

“And this is what Jean Vianney did simply, humbly, and unceasingly in his ministry as a parish priest,” the bishop pointed out.

When Father Vianney arrived in the small farming community of Ars, France, shortly after his ordination in 1815, few villagers practiced the faith. The priest’s gentle manner and wise counsel soon brought souls back to Christ.

He sometimes heard confessions for 18 hours a day as people from across Europe came to seek guidance from a man gifted with reading hearts.

“People went not to see Jean Vianney, they went to see Christ and they met Him in the confessional and the altar,” Bishop Olson insisted. “And [Jean Vianney] cared for them not as himself, but as Christ’s humble steward.”

Bishop Michael Olson kneels before the heart of St. Jean Vianney (NTC/Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)

The patron saint of priests was an earthen vessel who suffered difficulties in his early life and later rejection and apathy from others.

“But through his dedication to ministry, St. Jean Vianney showed his heart to his people and he showed them Christ,” the bishop continued. “It was a heart that beat with the heart of Jesus Christ to whom he always gave gentle but sincere priestly witness.”

Growing up in Ireland, Patrick McGowan learned about St. Jean Vianney from his father who had a devotion to the “Curé d'Ars.”

“There were only 260 people in his parish and his work with them was enough to make him a saint,” said the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner. “He was born during the French Revolution and, just like today, there was a lot of persecution of the Church. Back then it was physical and violent persecution. Now it’s spiritual.”

As people waited in line to view the relic, the atmosphere was peaceful and soothing, he observed.

“This is a living miracle, so it deserves honor and respect,” McGowan added. “It’s certainly supernatural in the divine sense.”

For Catholics, a relic is a physical object associated with a saint that is venerated but not worshipped. Praying before a relic is recognition that God worked through the saint. A first-class relic is part of a saint’s body, such as a lock of hair or bone fragment.

The Shrine of Ars, France, where St. Jean Vianney’s incorrupt heart and body is normally displayed, entrusted the heart to the Knights of Columbus for its nationwide tour ending in June.

“This is what the Knights do — we defend the faith and support our priests,” Stark said.

For more information on the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, visit kofc.org.

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