Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
January 31, 2019 // Diocese

Heart of St. John Vianney visits Notre Dame

Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

Once again, as during his own lifetime, crowds of the faithful stood in lines waiting to pray with their beloved Cure of Ars. At the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, the first-class relic of the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney (1786-1859) was venerated throughout the day on Sunday, Jan. 27. This visit was one on a tour led by the Knights of Columbus.

In prayer-filled silence, a peace permeated the space. From 10 a.m., through all the morning Masses until Vespers in the late evening, hundreds of people stood in line to pray with the relic of St. John Vianney, both in the Basilica and in the parish crypt below. He is the patron saint of parish priests, a renowned confessor, simply educated priest and humble, holy man. A certain calm solemnity and urgent petitioning plea of the people quietly filled the air, during this time of turmoil in the Church, as the snow and cold fell outside. Although not still beating, there remained a warmth and love of his heart which radiated God’s love so clearly for years and still drew people close to their Creator.

Jose Mendez and son traveled from St. Michael Parish, Plymouth, on a pilgrimage to pray with the relic of St. John Vianney. Their extended family of aunts, uncles and grandparents joined them. — Photos by Jennifer Miller

Father Brian Ching, CSC, assistant rector of the basilica and chaplain to the Notre Dame Knights of Columbus Council No. 1477, explained, “John Vianney was a contemporary of Father Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross (the Order of Priests and Brothers that founded the University of Notre Dame), so it seemed especially appropriate to welcome his heart onto campus. Also, basilicas are meant to be places of pilgrimage and hosting the relic allows it to welcome pilgrims from throughout the region for this special event.”

“It can be easy to find the idea of a relic, especially a relic like the heart of John Vianney a little unsettling. It is a very physical, tangible sign of our connection to someone holy. Yet at the same time, that’s the beauty of a relic, that it allows us to recall the life of someone who has lived the faith well and it inspires us to do the same. To be close to the heart of a man who spent 12-15 hours in the confessional each day, dispensing God’s love and mercy was incredibly moving.”

“Although our world may look different from St. John Vianney’s, his love and charity and desire to bring God’s mercy into the world speaks volumes to the modern Catholic. In our world, which is often fought with division and where winning one’s point seems to take pride of place over charity, the Cure d’Ars life is a reminder that it is love and mercy that move the life of faith. His priestly charity is still something for the modern priest to aspire to and is a profound witness to the power of the sacraments lived with charity in our Church,” Father Ching said of the special visit.

The faithful waited in patient prayer to venerate the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, Jan. 27. Many especially came to pray for their priests and Church bishops.

Families, religious, clergy and single people alike all visited to venerate the relic.

St. Matthew parishioner, wife and mother Zhutian Zhang came with her three high school-aged children. She reflected: “When I just found out about the news that St. John Vianney’s incorruptible heart was coming to Notre Dame, I was so overwhelmed with joy. This is such a special gift that God has given to me, to my family and friends, but most of all, to the suffering Church of America. The patron saint of priests, his heart is coming to the bishops and priests of America in this most difficult time of crisis of the Church! What a powerful and comforting sign the Lord has given to us!”

Zhang and her family came to the basilica for Mass, and at first were dismayed to discover that the only available seats were right up front.

“After I sat down and looked up, I saw the relic right in front of me,” she said. “I whispered a big ‘thank you’ to the Lord, and had the privilege to gaze upon the heart through the Mass. This simple parish priest, his life stories, his struggles, his sacrifices, his gentleness and obedience, and above all his Love as a shepherd for his sheep all came to my mind. I begged him to pray for me, that my heart of stone may be changed to a heart like his, meek and humble. I prayed for my husband and my children, I prayed for many of my friends that are suffering. But above all, I prayed for our priests and bishops, that they may truly be good shepherds for the flocks that the Lord has entrusted to them. I pray that the Church of America may be purified and renewed through the Mercy and power of the Lord,” she said.

During the 10 and 11:45 a.m. Masses, Father Peter McCormick, CSC, offered the homily on the power of God’s love to transform our lives. Reflecting on both the witness of St. John Vianney and Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday was celebrated this past week, he preached: “Rejoicing in the Lord must be our strength. We do not look to power, privilege or worldly possessions for our strength. We do not fear that we are somehow falling behind or that someone else is getting ahead. The invitation now, and always, is to rejoice in the Lord.” 

Father McCormick described the world when St. John Vianney lived, one of indifference at best to God, how he was the fourth of six children, educated and received the sacraments of Eucharist and confession in secret and how his priesthood was outstanding. He made himself available to the souls in his care, daily and without reservation. Father McCormick featured a quote of St. John Vianney’s, which spoke to how the saint was able to witness; “When the heart is pure and simple it cannot help loving, because it has discovered the source of love which is God.”

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