Blessed Relic: St. John Vianney Heart Visits Our Lady of Providence Seminary

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PROVIDENCE — Priests, sisters and laypeople from across the Diocese of Providence came out to venerate the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, which was at the chapel of Our Lady of Providence Seminary on Monday.

The first class relic is on a 48-state tour organized and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

“It’s an honor to have it here in the Diocese of Providence,” said Michael Dziok, the state deputy. “The response has been excellent all day.”

The heart, held in a reliquary, was available for veneration from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, ending with vespers. Dziok said the event had drawn a steady turnout of clergy, religious and laity throughout the day, including a busload of pilgrims from St. John Vianney Church in Cumberland.

Dziok said the tour is significant because St. John Vianney is the patron saint of priests. He noted that the founder of the Knights of Columbus, Father Michael McGivney also was a parish priest.

“We’re praying for renewal in the Church, praying for priests, praying for bishops,” said Peter Sonski, the education director for the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven. “The Knights of Columbus has always prided itself in being in solidarity with the clergy.”

During the visitation, the Knights took turns standing in full regalia on either side of the reliquary, as pilgrims kneeled to pray in front of the relic.

“It’s a reminder that our Catholic faith places primacy on God’s grace and the possibility that that grace can build on our nature and make saints and that those saints help us to fulfill our vocations,” said Father Christopher Murphy, the rector of the seminary.

St. John Vianney was a nineteenth century priest who discerned a vocation to the priesthood at an early age. He took a simple Christ-centered approach to the priesthood and is remembered for sitting in the confessional up to 18 hours a day. His incorrupt heart had particular meaning for the seminarians at Our Lady of Providence. “I think that John Vianney gives the seminarians a model for what it means to have a truly priestly heart,” Father Murphy said.

“John Vianney obviously is a powerful saint for whole Church but especially for priests and seminarians because you see how the life of one priest can touch so many lives, in fact, so many generations after his death,” said Joe Brodeur, who is in his third year of college at the seminary. He said the saint stood out especially for his ‘real poverty’ and simplicity, through which he showed people the heart of Christ.

“When people see his heart they can see in that the heart of Christ in a very literal way here and that’s what they want to see in every priest,” Brodeur said.

The heart itself carries particular significance as an emblem of the saint’s love. As a Knights of Columbus brochure for the tour states, “The heart is a symbol of love, courage, and commitment, and serves as the most evident sign of life within a person. In the case of St. Jean Marie Vianney, popularly known as the Cure of Ars, his incorrupt heart is also a sign of great holiness that holds a message of hope for those who approach it today for veneration.”

The Knights also provided prayer cards with a painting of the saint that they had specially commissioned for the tour. The image, which depicted the saint in the style of an icon, was made by Italian iconographer Fabrizio Diomedi.

At the end of the day, a number of lay persons were still venerating the relic. Linda Perry, of St. Mary’s Church in Pawtucket, came to the chapel to see the relic. She said she was able to touch her rosary to the reliquary holding the heart, making her rosary a third class relic.

“It just touched my heart,” Perry said. “I think I’m blessed to be able to come here and know about it.”

Perry said she came to pray for priests. “They need our prayers. They need strength to face the challenges of today,” she said.

Brodeur said that St. Jean Vianney had personally affected his journey to the priesthood. “He’s been kind of there from the beginning,” Brodeur said.

He recalled that there is a statue of the saint to the right of the sanctuary in his home parish, St. Pius X Church in Westerly. There is also a statue of the saint in the dorms at Our Lady of Providence.

“He’s kind of followed me around,” Brodeur said.

The relic was loaned to the Knights of Columbus from the Shrine at Arts, France, where St. John Vianney was a parish priest and where his body along with his heart is kept on display.

The relic is not scheduled to make any other stops in Rhode Island. After Providence, the relic was next scheduled to be taken to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River, where it was received with a special liturgy on Monday. The relic was available for viewing and veneration on Tuesday, ending with a noontime Mass.