St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan | Fr. John Cihak, S.T.D. | Ignatius Insight
"St. John Vianney's ministry gives parish priests a fundamental blueprint for a pastoral plan for any place and time."
St. John Vianney (1786-1859) is regaining popularity among diocesan seminarians. After a generation of being ignored, if not ridiculed, the patron saint of parish priests is once again finding his way into the hearts and minds of seminarians and priests. The Church names him as patron because this humble priest, assigned to the backwaters of southeastern, post revolutionary France, reveals things perennial about the priesthood and priestly ministry. The pioneering Pope Blessed John XXIII even wrote an encyclical letter on St. John Vianney recommending him as a model for diocesan priests to follow. The new generation of American priests is not discovering St. John Vianney because it simply has nostalgia for what is old, rather because it has a hunger for what perdures. This article is the fruit of this search and the summary of a discussion I had with a group of transitional deacons on the cusp of ordination. By the time this article is published, these men will already be priests.
Their assignment was to examine the beginning years of St. John Vianney's ministry in Ars through the lens of two questions: 1) What was the cultural landscape of his time? 2) What are the basic contours of his pastoral plan? How was it that within eight years of the Curé's arrival to Ars many of the people who were living indifferent and nominally Christian lives became fervent and committed believers? The biography used was Father Francis Trochu's The Curé D'Ars, whose research was based on the Curé's process of canonization. Notwithstanding the literary style of his time, the work is still the most comprehensive treatment of his life in English, and fortunately still in print [Trochu, Francis. The Curé D'Ars, tr. Ernest Graf (Rockville, IL: TAN, 1977)].
The group discovered that St. John Vianney's ministry gives parish priests a fundamental blueprint for a pastoral plan for any place and time. This assertion may strike some readers as naive, but I invite them to risk reading what follows. After all, if we are honest with ourselves and the current spiritual state of our parishes, we know that the various approaches of the last forty years have not borne much fruit, and we often feel that we are grasping at straws in knowing what to do. Perhaps we have settled into mediocrity and have allowed ourselves and our people to drift into lukewarm waters which deep down we know have drastic consequences (cf. Rev. 2:15 16).