Hundreds venerate St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart, pray for renewal in the Church

| Sam Patet | June 7, 2019 | 0 Comments
Maria O’Brien of Holy Family in St. Louis Park approaches a reliquary containing the heart of St. John Vianney May 30 with guidance from Father Joseph Johnson, pastor of Holy Family, during an event at the church to honor the saint and venerate his incorrupt heart.

Maria O’Brien of Holy Family in St. Louis Park approaches a reliquary containing the heart of St. John Vianney May 30 with guidance from Father Joseph Johnson, pastor of Holy Family, during an event at the church to honor the saint and venerate his incorrupt heart. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

When St. John Vianney died in 1859, he was one of the most well-known priests in France. Tens of thousands of pilgrims traveled annually to meet him, drawn by his sanctity and ability to read souls in the confessional.

Today, he’s still attracting droves of pilgrims, as recent events in the Twin Cities demonstrate. On May 30 and 31, hundreds of people from across the archdiocese came out to venerate the saint’s incorrupt heart, which was on view at Holy Family in St. Louis Park and then the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. Normally enshrined in Ars, France, the relic has been on a nationwide tour since November under the care of the Knights of Columbus for the renewal of the Church and its priests.

Named the patron saint of parish priests in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, St. John Vianney has special ties to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that likely include his knowing several of the early missionary priests who served the fledgling St. Paul Diocese, such as Bishop Joseph Cretin and Msgr. Louis Caillet, first rector of The St. Paul Seminary.

“If I can’t go to France to see his incorrupt body, I’m blessed to see his incorrupt heart,” said Betty Rockwell, a parishioner of Holy Family who attended the public veneration there May 30. “Having it (his heart) coming here for the purpose of renewing the priesthood … is just wonderful.”

Events at Holy Family included evening prayer, or vespers, at 7 p.m. and public veneration through the night. The next day, Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrated Mass at the Cathedral while the relic was there for veneration.

On May 30, Holy Family pastor Father Joseph Johnson carried the reliquary containing the saint’s heart to the front of the church, then led vespers. Priests, seminarians, more than a dozen altar servers and members of the Knights of Columbus fourth-degree honor guard preceded Father Johnson in the procession.

In a reflection, Father Johnson told the congregation that many of St. John Vianney’s contemporaries thought he didn’t have the human qualities needed to be a priest. Yet he had a heart that trusted completely in God, which is what all Catholics — priests and laity — are called to cultivate, Father Johnson said.

“He comes to remind us that even when the challenges of the world around us — even when the challenges within the Church — seem overwhelming, trust the Lord and do not fear,” Father Johnson said.

He encouraged everyone to ask St. John Vianney to intercede for the priests who had impacted their lives, as well as for men considering a priestly vocation.

Both of those intentions were on Deanna Lelemsis’ heart as she prayed before the relic. A parishioner of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, Lelemsis attended vespers with five of her eight children.

“I tried to recall and pray for not only the priests who gave me the sacraments, but [for those] who have been there to baptize my children, give them their first Communion and hear their confessions,” she said. She also prayed for her four sons, “that they’d be able to follow their vocation, especially if they … might be called to the priesthood.”

Venerating St. John Vianney’s heart was especially meaningful for seminarian Joe Wappes, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony who’s entering his fourth year at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. He and the other seminarians who assisted at vespers prayed privately with the relic before the event began.

“It’s great to see all these people praying for our priests,” Wappes said. “As Father was preaching and during the prayer, I was really moved with … how amazing John Vianney’s love for the people was.”

His love for God’s people, though, isn’t bound by time. Father Johnson noted that the saint desires to bring hope and healing to the Church in America today.

“He comes to each one of us wanting to speak heart to heart, to remind us that the answer to problems is not a program, but a saint,” Father Johnson said. “God’s answer to the problems of the world — the crisis within the Church — is that each one of us becomes a saint.”

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