Knights of Columbus guard the incorrupt heart of a saint

It can seem hard to keep faith in the Catholic Church at times. Indeed, these are times of such tribulation for many, as the Church is currently in the midst of another clerical sexual abuse crisis. The faithful find themselves asking how such an atrocity as sexual abuse could come from within the Church, and even more so, how priests, the shepherds of the Church, could neglect their flocks so horribly. It seems to many that the priesthood is broken, that those ordained priests have lost the very heart of that vocation.

Yet, some members of the Church are not standing idly by, but rather are taking action. The Knights of Columbus is one of those active organizations. Recognizing that the true heart of the priesthood seemed lost, the Knights of Columbus initiated the “Heart of a Priest” relic tour. The tour of the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, started in November 2018 and will continue until early June 2019, and made a stop at Notre Dame on Sunday, January 27, for veneration at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The relic is under the protection of the Knights of Columbus for this period and will return to its permanent residence at the Shrine of Ars in France, from which it rarely leaves, after its United States tour has concluded.

There are three classes of relics. A first-class relic can be a part of something directly related to the events of Christ’s life, such as a piece of the Cross, or the physical remains of a saint, like bone or blood. A second-class relic is something that a saint used or owned, such as a piece of clothing or a personal Bible. A third-class relic is something that has been touched against a first- or second-class relic (often religious items such as rosaries, Marian consecration chains, prayer cards, etc.)

Catholics keep relics for veneration. It is important to note that “veneration” and “worship” are two different things. Catholics do not worship relics, as that would be idolatrous. Instead, Catholics venerate relics – that is, they pay them reverence. Catholics venerate relics because they recognize that relics are parts of saints, people who Holy Mother Church has confirmed to be in Heaven. Remembering saints through venerating their relics, is a way for us Catholics to pay respect to and look up to those holy men and women that give examples for how we should live our lives and who have been found worthy to receive the rewards of Paradise.

While venerating relics is always a strong spiritual experience, it is all the more so when you are able to venerate the relic of a personal patron saint. It is for this reason that the Knights of Columbus wanted to allow the faithful and their priests to venerate the relic of St. John Vianney, asking his intercession that God might bless the world with holy priests, priests who remember that the true heart of their vocation is their servitude to God and His people. Wanting to inspire the remembrance of this heart of the priestly vocation, the Knights are exhibiting the Incorruptible Heart of St. John Vianney.

When it is said that a saint’s body, or a portion of their body, is incorrupt it means that, when the Church exhumed the saint’s body after canonization to create relics, it found that the body had not been decomposed or destroyed in any way over time. The fact that a saint’s body has not been corrupted shows us that the saint had reached such a state of holiness that their bodies began to not be touched by time, much as Adam and Eve, prior to eating of the forbidden fruit, lived immortally. St. John Vianney’s incorrupt body remains in the Basilica of Ars, where he served as a Curé, or parish priest. His heart, however, is what the Knights are exhibiting.

The Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus has been reaching out to certain places offering them the honor of hosting the heart for a given period of time. The University of Notre Dame’s Knights of Columbus college council is known by the Supreme Council for their charitable works and strong faith, and as a result they honored the Notre Dame council by asking that they host the heart. On Sunday, January 27th, the Notre Dame Knights of Columbus guarded St. John Vianney’s heart as over 2,500 pilgrims came to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to venerate it.

It was a true honor for the Knights on campus to be asked to carry out this duty. It was also a wonderful opportunity for laity and clergy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend and the clergy of the Congregation of Holy Cross to venerate their patron. The visit also reminds the students and other pilgrims who venerated the heart to remember their priests and seminarians in prayer. Through the example of St. John Vianney, his heart reminds those who venerate it that they must pray for good and holy priests and encourage each other to remain open to God’s call.

As we reflect on the time that St. John Vianney’s heart spent with us on campus, let us remember to keep our priests and seminarians in prayer. Let us remember the men in formation for the Congregation of Holy Cross as well as the men in formation for each of our home dioceses and let us pray that all priests and seminarians remember the words printed on the 2018-19 seminarian poster for the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, the words of the Curé himself, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”

Patrick is a freshman studying mathematics and theology. He enjoys getting into theological debates and eating cookies. He can be reached at and will gladly accept free cookies.