BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
The interior of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Paducah was filled to capacity the morning of March 13, 2019, and for good reason: this was the day that the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney was arriving to be venerated by the local community.
Mass, presided over by Bishop William F. Medley, began at 10 a.m. with a procession of the bishop and clergy into the church. St. John the Evangelist’s pastor, Fr. Bruce Fogle, walked in the procession carrying the golden reliquary for the incorrupt heart.
Stopping before the sanctuary, Fr. Fogle placed the reliquary on a table adorned with a white cloth and fresh flowers as the church sang “I Heard the Voice of Jesus.”
Bishop Medley explained in his homily that St. John Vianney, who lived from 1786-1859, is the patron saint of parish priests.
“And in our day, in our culture, and in our world, priests need a patron,” said Bishop Medley.
The bishop said St. John Vianney, also known as the Curé (“priest”) of Ars, “spent virtually his entire priestly life” in the obscure French village of Ars.
Despite that, people began to recognize his great holiness and gift as a confessor. The priest would often spend up to 18 hours a day in the confessional. The saint was also known to have fought with the devil, who would attack him for his faithful ministry to the people.
Bishop Medley said that by 1815, tens of thousands of faithful each year were visiting Ars to speak with the future saint.
Fifty years after his death, in 1909, the priest’s body was exhumed and discovered to be incorrupt, including his heart. Along with St. John Vianney’s body, the heart is typically reserved for veneration in Ars.
(Veneration of a relic refers to recognizing that God has worked through a saint, and is not the same as worship, which is for God alone.)
Recently, the Knights of Columbus received permission to sponsor a pilgrimage tour of the saint’s heart across the United States. The pilgrimage began in November 2018 and will conclude in June 2019.
The relic’s stop in Paducah was the only stop within the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky. The parish was added to the tour through the efforts of two local K of C members, Paul Roof and Dennis Herricks.
After Mass, the relic was available for veneration by the faithful until 8 p.m. Knights of Columbus in full regalia stood beside the reliquary as a steady line of pilgrims knelt and prayed. Some even touched their rosaries to the reliquary.
“It’s just good to be Catholic,” said St. John the Evangelist parishioner Michael Vessels, who had played an instrument called the bowed psaltry as part of the music for the Mass.
Cindy Crivello, a parishioner who was serving as a door greeter for pilgrims that day, said “it has been an honor to be a part of it.”
“It is a wonderful experience for our St. Mary students,” Crivello added, referencing the students of St. Mary School System in Paducah who were being bused in shifts throughout the day to venerate the relic.
The Knights of Columbus education, outreach and visitor service manager, Peter Sonski, served as the custodian of the relic – given the responsibility of taking the heart from one pilgrimage stop to the next.
He told the WKC that the journey “is very edifying.”
“People have great hope,” he said in reference to the laity of the Catholic Church. “This occasion is an opportunity for them to give expression of that hope.”
- To learn more, visit kofc.org/vianney.
- Click here for more pictures from the relic’s visit to Paducah.
Originally printed in the April 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic
Watch Bishop Medley’s March 2019 episode of Across the Diocese, in which he talks about the relic pilgrimage, here: