Cardinal Donald Wuerl blesses and rededicates a shrine to St. John Vianney at St. Mary Church, Newport,during an Aug. 3 Mass at the Charles County parish. Altar server Morgan Abresch is pictured with the	cardinal. The parish’s original shrine was created in 1931, just six years after St. John Vianney was canonized.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl blesses and rededicates a shrine to St. John Vianney at St. Mary Church, Newport,during an Aug. 3 Mass at the Charles County parish. Altar server Morgan Abresch is pictured with the cardinal. The parish’s original shrine was created in 1931, just six years after St. John Vianney was canonized.
More than 200 people gathered Aug. 3 at St. Mary Church, Newport, to participate in the rededication of the first ever shrine in the United States to honor St. John Vianney.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated Mass and blessed the shrine on the day before the saint's feast day. In rededicating the shrine, the cardinal urged the faithful to emulate the example of the saint and to "follow in the footsteps of Our Lord."

Noting that St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests, Cardinal Wuerl said that "the mystery of the Eucharist and the mystery of the priesthood" are linked together because "there is no Eucharist without the priesthood."

St. John Vianney was ordained a priest in France in 1815. In 1818, he was named the parish priest of Ars, a small French village, where he gained notoriety as a pious priest and a confessor.

He heard confessions of people for up to 16 hours each day. He had a great devotion to St. Philomena - whose feast day is exactly one week after the holy priest's - and built a shrine in honor of the virgin martyr saint. When he was not in the confessional, the future saint spent his time doing acts of charity and working to convert sinners. He died August 4, 1859, and was canonized May 31, 1925. He is the patron saint of parish priests and confessors.

The shrine at the Charles County parish was first dedicated in 1931, just six years after the holy priest was canonized.

"We were established in 1673 - we're one of the oldest parishes on the Eastern seaboard," said Father Mark Ervin, pastor of the parish, "and we are the first parish in the United States to have a shrine to St. John Vianney."

The shrine was created by the then-pastor of the parish, Father William Baldus, who "was deeply devoted to the saint and based his own ministry on Vianney's example," Father Ervin said.

For nearly three decades, the faithful flocked to the Southern Maryland parish to honor St. John Vianney - popularly known as the Curé of Ars. Father Ervin said it was appropriate that the small parish be home to the shrine because "St. John Vianney went to a small rural parish in France and helped the faith grow."

"Little parishes like ours can accomplish what John Vianney did," Father Ervin said. "We can be refuges, where people seeking a sense of the Divine can encounter the same spirit that worked through John Vianney."

He added that "the shrine was dismantled when St. Mary's was rebuilt in the late 1950s."

"We didn't give up on the shrine, it sort of just faded away," the priest said. "The original church in which it was originally erected was torn down, and at that time the shrine was kind of disassembled."

The priest said the decision to reestablish the shrine came "after we had been praying very hard, working very hard to renew the parish."

The shrine, established in the new church to the right of the altar, includes the original statue of the saint, and a first-class relic in an 18-th century reliquary. Opposite the shrine is a statue of John Vianney's beloved St. Philomena.

In rededicating what he called "this wonderful shrine," Cardinal Wuerl called St. John Vianney "the symbol of all priests" and prayed that those who prayed there would be "filled with the Holy Spirit."

During the Mass he celebrated before the dedication, Cardinal Wuerl said that "everyone, whether they know it or not, has a hunger for God. Jesus, the bread of life, gives us something substantial to satisfy our spiritual hunger."

He also urged the faithful to follow the example of St. John Vianney who heeded Jesus's request "to bring forth your gifts, bring forth your talents and give them to me."

After the Mass and rededication, the parish hosted Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and then laid a wreath at the grave of the shrine's original founder, Father Baldus, who is buried in the parish cemetery.

Father Ervin encouraged the faithful to make a pilgrimage to the rededicated shrine because "the saint transformed the faith and changed the religious landscape at a time it was needed."

"When St. John Vianney was sent to Ars, it was a time when the people cared little for religion, and he hoped to turn tide of secularism and the loss of religious sentiment," Father Ervin said. "He (St. John Vianney) reignited the faith when the culture around him was going the other way. And right now we have a culture that is increasingly hostile to religion in general and Catholicism in particular."

The shrine to St. John Vianney at St. Mary Church, Newport, is located at 11555 Saint Mary's Church Road in Charlotte Hall. It is open every day until dusk. For more information, call 301-934-8825.