“On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 - a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy -, I have decided to inaugurate a ‘Year for Priests’ in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the dies natalis of John Mary Vianney, the Patron Saint of parish priests worldwide???” With these words on 16 June 2009, Benedict XVI officially marked the beginning of the year dedicated to priests. Jean-Marie Vianney was born in 1786 in Dardilly, near Lyon, France. He came from a large, poor family, which did not favour his idea of entering the seminary. He lived during a time when the French Revolution was still underway and anticlericalism was very strong. In spite of this reality, as a young man he felt he had a vocation to priesthood. He once told his mother “I would like to win souls over to the Good Lord”. Thanks to the kindness and tenacity of Abbot Charles Balley in Écully, who strongly believed in his intentions and helped him during his studies, Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815. During his early years, he served as Abbot Balley's vicar. Right after the Abbot died, he was transferred to Ars-en-Dombes, a small town with few inhabitants. It was here that for forty years he humbly carried out his priestly ministry spending his days celebrating Mass and hearing confessions tirelessly, even up to 17 hours a day. Already considered a saint, he died in 1859. Ars had become a pilgrimage destination even when he was still alive. In 1925 Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a Saint and in 1929 he was declared “universal patron of priests”, given his extraordinary dedication throughout his pastoral ministry.