Major relic to be available for public veneration as part of nationwide pilgrimage tour

DETROIT — A major relic of St. John Vianney, an 18th century French priest revered for his holiness and sanctity of life, will visit the Archdiocese of Detroit for a two-day stop March 30-31 as part of a national pilgrimage tour sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

The saint's heart, which has been incorrupt for more than 150 years, will be visible and contained in a special reliquary, with the faithful invited to venerate the relic during two public events. 

St. John Vianney, known as the Curé of Ars, was born in France in 1786 and is highly regarded as a model for priestly holiness, purity and generosity. He is known as the patron of parish priests, having earned a reputation as a compassionate confessor, prayerful shepherd and pastor of souls in a small farming village during the French Revolution. 

“I know many priests and lay faithful are very excited for the opportunity to pray with the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney,” Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of the Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said in a statement. “We are in the midst of a time of great trial and purification in the Church. What better model of priestly holiness and dedication to priestly service can we have than the patron saint of all priests?”

St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, is depicted in a stained-glass window at Our Lady of Victory Church in Floral Park, N.Y. His feast is celebrated Aug. 4. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

On Saturday, March 30, the public is invited to venerate the relic from 2-8 p.m. at St. John Vianney Parish, 54045 Schoenherr Road in Shelby Township, with Mass celebrated at 5 p.m. 

On Sunday, March 31, the relic will be available for veneration at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, 2701 Chicago Blvd., Detroit, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Fr. Tim Mazur, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish, expressed his hope that the relic would inspire faith and devotion in those who visit.

“Our culture is longing for radical, life-changing, genuine love — the kind of love that goes beyond just a good feeling once and a while, but that stays with us no matter what and lifts us up to be our true selves. This love poured from the heart of the Lord to the heart of St. John Vianney,” Fr. Mazur said. “I pray that this time with the relic of his heart will inspire and encourage all of us to open our hearts to that kind of radical love, and let it pour out of us.”

Msgr. Todd Lajiness, rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, echoed Fr. Mazur's sentiments, adding the relic visit will be a “major blessing” for the seminary and the archdiocese.

"St. John Vianney is a model for priestly devotion,” Msgr. Lajiness said. “His life radiated the love and mercy of the Father, and it is that deep love that we pray touches all of our hearts.”

During St. John Vianney's lifetime, the Catholic Church in France was the subject of intense persecution, with anti-Catholic government and civic forces attacking and burning churches, with many clergy dying martyrs' deaths. 

Throughout this time, the humble parish priest became known for his inspirational example in both prayer and work, hearing confessions for up to 18 hours a day and becoming a trusted intercessor for thousands across Europe.

On Aug. 21, 2018, Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced a nationwide relic pilgrimage would take place, with stops in dioceses and churches across the country. 

The tour has been dubbed “Heart of a Priest,” which refers to the physical heart of St. John Vianney that has resisted decay for more than a century and a half, as well as to the good character all priests are called to embrace. 

Worshippers venerate a reliquary containing St. John Vianney's incorrupt heart Dec. 10 in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The relic will be on display at St. John Vianney Church in Shelby Township on March 30, and at Sacred Heart Major Seminary on March 31. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“The possibility of a pilgrimage was offered to us by the Shrine at Ars some months ago,” Anderson said recently, referring to the shrine of St. John Vianney located northwest of Lyons, France, where the major relic is usually kept. “We now welcome as providential this opportunity to invoke the intercession of the patron saint of parish priests, whose holiness and integrity is a singular model for clergy.”

In Catholic tradition, a relic is a physical object associated with a saint that may be offered to the faithful for veneration. The term “incorrupt” refers to part of a human body that has avoided the normal process of decomposition after death. It is a sign — but not a proof — of the person’s holiness, and is sometimes seen in Catholic saints and blesseds.

For more information about the relic pilgrimage, visit kofc.org/vianney


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