Tag Archives: parish priests

Parish Priests, the Saints Among Us

St. John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars, the patron saint of parish priests, apparently believed that no parish priests ever became saints.   Fr. Walter Gumbley, O.P. wrote a little book, Parish Priests Among the Saints, (1947) in correction.

From Gumbley’s introduction, “It has sometimes been stated that, with the single exception of St. John Vianney, no parish priest has become a saint.  Henri Gheon, in his The Secret of the Cure d’Ars, relates that the holy man was ‘terrified to learn that in the long roll of the ages not a single parish priest had been raised to the Church’s altars as a saint.  Popes had been canonized, cardinals, bishops, religious and laymen; but of parish priests not one; not the shadow of one.’”

Gumbley goes on to demonstrate that this is erroneous, listing 31 cases (pre-Vianney) in refutation.  (There are probably additional relevant canonizations since 1947.) But none of his cases are particularly well known, and only a few were canonized for their display of holiness explicitly in the exercise of their regular parish duties. (Most clearly on point was St. Peter Fourier, who died in 1644, and was canonized by Leo XIII in 1897.  But since Vianney died in 1859, he would not have known of his distinguished predecessor.)  Gumbley also points to St. Ivo Hellory, who died in1303 and was canonized in 1347. Ivo was a canon lawyer and ecclesiastical judge, but gave up his law practice to serve as a parish priest (which by itself seems sufficient ground for canonization.)

So the Cure d’Ars was wrong, but not by much.   Parish priests are, to say the least, underrepresented in the lists of saints.  One might wonder why.

In the middle ages, parish priests were the proletarians of the clergy: lowly regarded, criticized as ill trained, lax, or corrupt.  Reform movements usually arose from monastic orders.

But with the rise of structured seminary education, parish priests are now well trained and dedicated, and work longer hours than any labor law would permit.   The expectations of modern parish priests are far higher than any other church’s pastoral duties.

So, maybe the shortage of saints among parish priests is simply because the basic job expectations are so high.  Exceeding those expectations really takes some doing.  (Underachieving, however, appears to be all too easy.)

There probably ought to be a lot more recognized parish priest saints.  There probably ARE a lot more than we will ever recognize, until we meet them in heaven. 

Until then, consider your parish priest.  If he seems to be genuinely Catholic (not a “progressive” modernizer), and he is as hard working as mine, he is probably a saint-in-the-making.  Remember to give thanks to God for him in your daily prayers.