Today is the feast of Jean Vianney, Often known as the Curé D'Ars. All of his life was shaped by the French Revolution, which occurred when he was a very young child. A member of a devoutly Catholic family, most of Vianney's earliest memories of Catholic life would have been of his family secretly attending the Masses that had been made illegal throughout France, and of priests constantly risking a great deal to do even simple catechesis. The Catholic Church was again restored in France after Napoleon's Concordat of 1801 with Pius VII; Vianney was a teenager at the time. This finally made it possible for Vianney to begin studying for the priesthood (with which he struggled, having started his education late in life), but this was interrupted in 1809 when he was drafted into Napoleon's army. He then lived for a time with a community of deserters under the name Jerome Vincent, until in 1810 an amnesty was declared for deserters, allowing him to return home safely. With so many interruptions to his education, he was almost not ordained, but his seminary teacher made the case that he made up for it in many other ways.
As a priest, Vianney began to have a first-hand experience with the desolation in Catholic life caused by the anti-Catholic elements of the French Revolution. Vianney himself had been fortunate. An entire generation had not been catechized properly. Nominally Catholic, they knew almost nothing about Catholic thought and life; when he was assigned to Ars he found that most of the Catholics in the town spent their Sundays working, dancing, or drinking and brawling in taverns. Vianney approached the problem forcefully, delivering fiery sermons that must have seemed somewhat odd coming from such a quiet and reserved man, and refusing communion and absolution to the impenitent. He also, however, devoted hours and hours a day to hearing confessions (late in his life he sometimes spent as many as sixteen hours a day in the confessional) and became famous for ceaselessly working to help his parishioners, founding many charities. He also became widely known as a priest who was virtually impossible to deceive in the confessional and who could be trusted to give excellent advice.
His parishioners developed a profound respect for him, and his fame spread widely by word of mouth. But Vianney wasn't wholly happy. He loved his parishioners, but he didn't like the life of a parish priest, which he thought was the sort of life that would virtually guarantee that a man could not become holy. Because of this he tried to run away to a monastery several times in his career. Each time he was forcefully brought back to his little parish. And so he remained at the little hamlet of Ars until his death in 1859.