Saint John Vianney and the Immaculate Conception

by Fr. Yulito Q. Ignacio, S.T.L

Did you know that Saint John Vianney, the Patron of all Priests, is very much devoted to the Immaculate Conception and that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him?

The Blessed Virgin Mary herself appeared to Saint John Vianney on 8 May 1840. A devout woman who was bringing the Curé of Ars a gift for his charities was a witness of this apparition, which she later described at length to the prelates who were investigating the Ars cause. The story is best told in her own words.

“The clock had just struck one o’clock in the afternoon,” she said, “and the Curé was alone in his room. Catherine Lassagne opened the door of the presbytery to me, and I had already started to climb the stairs when I heard the Abbe Vianney talking as if there was someone with him. I went up on tiptoe and I listened. Someone was saying to him in a gentle voice: ‘What do you want?’"

‘My sweet mother,’ I heard the Curé’s voice answer. ‘I want the conversion of sinners, the consolation of mourners, and the relief of my sick, and especially of one of them who has been ill for a long time and who is praying that she may either die or be cured.’

The other voice replied: ‘She will be cured, but later.’ At these words, I suddenly entered the room, for the door was standing just ajar. As I was suffering from cancer, I was certain that the last words had been about me. What was my surprise when I saw standing in front of the fireplace a lady clad in a dress of dazzling whiteness sown with golden roses. Her shoes seemed to me as white as snow, round her head was a crown of stars which shone like the sun and I was almost blinded. When I was able to lift my eyes on her again, I saw she was smiling most kindly, ‘Dear mother,’ I blurted out, ‘take me to heaven.’

‘Later,’ was all she said.

‘Oh my mother it’s time now!’ I answered.

‘You will always be my child and I will always be your mother,’ she said, and with these words she disappeared. For a moment I was riveted where I stood, I was so dumbfounded at the privilege I had been granted. When I came to myself, I saw the Curé clasped on his breast. I was terrified lest he might be dead, so I went up to him and pulled him by a fold of his cassock.

‘My God,’ was all he said, ‘is it You?’

‘No, Monsieur l’Abbe, it’s me,’ I replied, and as I spoke he came to himself and seemed to shake off his rigidity. ‘Where were you all these time, Monsieur l’Abbe?’ I went on. ‘What did you see?’

‘I saw a lady.’

‘I saw her, too,’ I said. ‘Who is she, this lady?’

‘If you say a single word about it,’ the Abbe Vianney replied sternly, ‘you’ll never set foot here again.’

‘May I tell you what I thought, Monsieur l’Abbe?’ I said, ‘I thought it was the Blessed Virgin.’

‘You weren’t mistaken either. So you think you saw her, too?’ ‘Yes, I saw her and I talked to her,’ I answered. ‘But now you tell me what sort of state you were in when I thought you were dead.’

‘No, no. I was simply so happy seeing my Mother.’

‘Monsieur l’Abbe,’ I said, ‘it’s only thanks to you that I’ve seen her. When she comes back, consecrate me to her, so that she may consecrate me herself to her divine Son.’

The servant of God promised he would, and then added: ‘You’ll get better.’

‘When, Monsieur l’Abbe?’ I insisted.

‘A little later. Don’t press me too hard.’ Then in a gentler tone he added: ‘What with the Blessed Virgin and St. Philomena, we know each other quite well.’”

The celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Vianney (1859) follows upon the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions of Lourdes (1858). In 2008, we celebrated the 150th year of Our Lady of Lourdes’ apparition. This year, in 2009, we are celebrating the 150th year of death of Saint John Vianney.

Blessed Pope John XXIII noted that shortly before the Curé of Ars completed his long and admirable life, the Immaculate Virgin appeared in another part of France to an innocent and humble girl, Bernadette Soubirous, and entrusted to her the message of prayer and penance which continues, even a century later, to yield immense spiritual fruits. The life of this holy priest whose centenary we are commemorating in a real way anticipated the great supernatural truths taught to the seer of the Grotto of Lourdes.

Saint John Vianney was greatly devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. In 1836, he had dedicated his parish church in Ars to Our Lady Conceived Without Sin and he greeted the dogmatic definition of this truth in 1854 with deep faith and great joy. The Curé of Ars would always remind his faithful that “after giving us all he could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us his most precious possession, his Blessed Mother”.

Saint John Vianney had a love for the Blessed Virgin that was as tender as it was fervent, as filial as it was tender. He celebrated all her feast days as if it had been his own Mother whom he could see before his eyes. One evening, he took the opportunity of recounting from the pulpit all the things he had done for the glory of the Queen of Heaven. “If it were possible to sell myself in order to give something else to the Blessed Virgin, I would sell myself,” he concluded.

The day when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed in Rome – Friday, 8th of December 1854 – Saint John Vianney organized in his village of Ars “an enormous demonstration of joy”. In the morning, he insisted on singing the High Mass himself in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He robed himself for the occasion in magnificent vestments of blue velvet embroidered with gold. In the evening, the whole village of Ars was illuminated and Saint John Vianney himself sounded the big bell to give the signal for the rejoicing. That evening, he “took a holiday”: he abandoned the confessional and “strolled happily by the light of the torches amid the priests who were there and the Brothers.”

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we are reminded of Saint John Vianney’s response to Our Lady’s call to prayer, penance and conversion as she presented herself to us as the “Immaculate Conception” – “full of grace” – the “graced one” – the “highly favored of God”. Mary, full of Grace, encourages us always to remain in the state of grace. Mary gave total space for God in her life. Like Mary, may we give total space for God in our lives and say our “Totus Tuus” to Jesus through Mary.

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