Bruce and Betsy Brooks, Barbara Fallin and Jan Pedone receive the 2009 Pastor's Service Award at St. John Vianney Parish from their pastor, Father Peter Daly, during an Aug. 2 Mass honoring the parish's patron saint.
Photo by Sharon Seckens
Bruce and Betsy Brooks, Barbara Fallin and Jan Pedone receive the 2009 Pastor's Service Award at St. John Vianney Parish from their pastor, Father Peter Daly, during an Aug. 2 Mass honoring the parish's patron saint. Photo by Sharon Seckens
For parishioners at St. John Vianney in Prince Frederick, celebrating the Aug. 4 feast day of their patron saint has become an annual tradition complete with a Sunday Mass and family picnic. This year, they will join Catholics around the world remembering the saint - a simple, yet holy parish priest - as part of a Year for Priests called by Pope Benedict XVI.

"The whole Catholic world is praying for priests under the patronage of St. John Vianney," said Father Peter Daly, pastor of the Calvert County parish. It says a lot of the power of the Holy Spirit that an obscure man from a tiny village in France represents priests everywhere, noted Father Daly. "He thought of his calling to the parish as the highest possible calling."

This past June, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated a Year for Priests as the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney approached. The pope wrote that the year was "meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world." In a letter to priests worldwide, the pontiff quoted St. John Vianney as frequently calling the priesthood "the love of the heart of Jesus."

Today "St. John Vianney is an example not only to priests but to all of us - to go where God calls us," Father Daly said in his homily during Mass last Sunday.

St. John Vianney firmly believed that the faithful encountered Christ in the parish, said Father Daly, who writes the Parish Diary column that is syndicated nationally by the Catholic News Service. "His mission was a mission of love," the priest added.

saint's legacy

A simple, uneducated peasant born in 1786 near Lyons, France, St. John Vianney had difficulties passing his exams. Through the kindness of a sponsor who said, "The Church wants not only learned priests but even more holy ones," St. John Vianney was finally ordained at the age of 29. He was sent to the town of Ars-en-Dombes with less than 250 people "as remote and insignificant a place as his bishop could find," noted one biographer of the saints.

By the time of his death in 1859, St. John Vianney would sit in his confessional up to 18 hours a day to accommodate the vast number of pilgrims journeying to his parish for the sacraments. Special trains were added to help the pilgrims reach their destination. And although St. John Vianney never opened the box, Napoleon III sent the Legion of Honor to the parish priest who earlier in his life deserted the French Army.

Father Daly said through his 44 years of service, thousands came to recognize St. John Vianney as someone who "had the capacity to read souls. He knew what it was they struggled with," the pastor added. What was really clear, Father Daly said, was that every soul, every person mattered to St. John Vianney.

In addition to highlighting St. John Vianney's legacy, Father Daly took a few moments in his homily to thank the parishioners for their service to the community. He praised the more than 250 volunteers for their countless hours of work for the parish. "No parish is the work of one person," Father Daly said. "No one person can do everything for God. Everyone can do something for God."

The pastor outlined the five marks of a vibrant parish, grateful for his own 15 years at a place exhibiting all five characteristics of parish family life. He included prayer, charity, hospitality, education and evangelization, using examples of programs instituted at St. John Vianney Parish.

sister parish

One such outreach program funds and sends teams of volunteers to build homes for the poor in Nicaragua for parishioners of St. John the Baptist in San Juan de Limay. Since last year 19 simple homes have been built for the poorest parishioners in that Central American country, with an additional 10 more homes to be completed by late fall. Father Francisco Bayardo Alfaro Obando, pastor of St. John the Baptist, attended the Sunday liturgy and presented a stone plaque to the parishioners of St. John Vianney. Father Daly translated Father Alfaro's remarks thanking the people of St. John Vianney for their efforts. "It does not make any difference the distance we are from one another or the differences," Father Alfaro said. "We are all children of God." The Nicaraguan priest said he was honored to share the celebration of St. John Vianney.

Parishioner Don Mueller later told the Catholic Standard Father Daly started the project off with one house, and the parish would eventually like to build 100 houses for St. John the Baptist. "We have such a strong parish here," Mueller said, adding, "four years ago, I found a home."

Flor deliz Snyder arrived at St. John Vianney 20 years from her native Costa Rica and now helps as an interpreter with the building project. "Without this parish, my marriage would never have worked," Snyder said. With tears in her eyes, Snyder described St. John Vianney Parish as her surrogate family, helping her adjust to a new country, and always being there for her.

service awards

At the end of the Mass, Father Daly awarded the pastor's service award to four outstanding volunteers in the parish. Religious Education Coordinator Jan Pedone, parishioners Bruce and Betsy Brooks and Barbara Fullin were completely surprised with the plaques commemorating their service to the parish. "I had thought we had done something wrong," said Bruce Brooks upon hearing his name called.

A parishioner for seven years, Brooks said he felt an "overwhelming unity" with other Catholics around the world after attending the Mass and thinking about the pope's declaration of a Year for Priests. He said he learned a lot about St. John Vianney through his work on last year's parish calendar. The calendar featured the building's handcrafted stained glass windows depicting various saints, including a tribute to St. John Vianney housed in a window to the left of the altar.

Even as the skies darkened and a brief summer thunderstorm rolled through Prince Frederick, parishioners young and old gathered under a tent after Mass for food and fellowship including a dramatic presentation of School House Rock, and activities for families.

Deep into the afternoon, the parish continued modeling the words of Father Daly's homily: "A parish is a living, breathing entity. It is a family. It is a collaboration of love."

Pedone, the religious education coordinator there and a parishioner for nearly 30 years, said it wasn't a coincidence that the church was named after St. John Vianney. "This church has been blessed. God had blessed us with the gift of good, holy priests - that's not a coincidence," Pedone said. "St. John Vianney has been looking out for us."