Boiled Potatoes and Personal Holiness

St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney, Cure d’Ars


Today is the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests. When we look at the life of a saint like John Vianney, we might be tempted to believe that we can never be a saint. He certainly set the bar high for parish priests, spending almost his entire day in the confessional.  He lived off boiled potatoes and few hours of sleep. The few hours of sleep he did get were occasionally disrupted by the Devil setting his bed on fire, angry about the sinners that Vianney was bringing back to the Church.

It sounds like an awfully dramatic life, and perhaps very far from our own.

“He converted his entire town!” we might tell ourselves. But we must remember Ars was a town of only 215 people in rural France, and it took him ten years to bring everyone to conversion. You know what that means? It means his work was slow, and often fruitless.

His life probably didn’t look so dramatic to him.  In fact, it was probably more often frustrating and dry.  We know that he tried to leave Ars multiple times, desiring a life of solitude. Each time he returned, realizing that parish life—no matter how challenging those 215 people were—was where God wanted him.

While we often focus on the fantastic and dramatic—a diet of boiled potatoes or 18+ hours in the confessional—we have to instead focus on this: St. John Vianney persevered in his daily occupations.

Not all of us are called to fast on potatoes. But we are all called to do today’s work with joy and obedience. Not all of us will have our bed set on fire by the Devil. But all of us will be tempted to give up, to lose our temper, or to waste an opportunity to be kind and patient.

Thousands of people began traveling to his parish by the end of his life—not because of the drama of his life, but because of the daily witness of holiness.  Pray for our parish priests, especially those who are discouraged or who have lost of the joy of their vocation.  And recommit yourself today to a life of personal holiness, one that finds God in fidelity to our daily occupations, no matter how ordinary or fruitless they may seem.


The Memorial of St. John Mary Vianney, Priest (1786 – 1859) is August 4.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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