Villa Brea, a ‘little Ars’
The Priest of Ars, St John Baptist Mary Vianney (1786-1859) and Venerable Brother Gabriel Taborin (1799-1864) are two prominent figures of the French Church of the 1800s, called to testify the love of the Father in a land marked by the hatred and the responses of the great revolution. Pastor in the priestly life, the former; founder of a Congregation of consecrated life, the latter. Two “friends of God”, a friendship –deep, real, sincere and caring for the needs of their time.
Meeting (in the year 1837), encouraging mutually, interpreting and carrying out the dreams and desires of the other in following of events, reciprocal confidence, letters, total trust in God despite the hard trials of life: this has been the natural and simple journey of these two souls.
Brother Gabriel, as much as he could, tried to satisfy the desires of the Priest: To have in Ars a school for boys directed by the Brothers of the Holy Family. And not only that: the Brothers sent to Ars did far exceeded the project or better the charism of their Founder: To devote totally themselves to the education of the children and youth in the privileged fields of catechesis in the parish, liturgy and in the school.
The Holy Priest, on the other side, felt very near a young Congregation that was in the first steps, sometimes uncertain or hesitant: He continually encouraged the Founder to follow the path he started; he praised the Brothers who worked in an exemplary manner in the functions of teachers and catechists; he sent more than forty candidates to the Novitiate of Belley; he even supported financially the Founder when in debt.
When the Holy Priest, on 4 August 1859, flew to heaven, his last word was “Brother”, addressing to Brother Jerome who during many years took care of him with affection, defended of the assault of the crowds and cared in his needs. It was for the Brother a moment of great pain the loss of the dear Priest whom together with Brother Athanasius, he wanted to call with the sweet and intimate expression “my comrades”.
Aware of the sanctity of the Priest, the Brothers hastened to collect and protect some objects: dresses, writings, pictures, souvenirs… that had belonged to the Saint or had been used by him in their Community or in the school, where he often went to instruct the children and speak to the Brothers. To these objects, we have to add other that Fr. Vianney gifted to the Brothers (monstrance, chalice, sacred ornaments…) and others guarded zealously by the Religious, for example, some drops of blood of the Saint… Everything had been placed in the Mother House of Belley where the Founder resided.
In the year 1903 the Brothers, as many religious Congregations, were expelled from France. A part of the Brothers of the Holy Family was established in Chieri, a village in Villa Brea (Italy), property of the Jesuit Fathers. With the furniture transported by train, they also came the relics of the Holy Priest, which were place in a glazed cupboard beside the altar of the Chapel-sanctuary of Villa Brea.
On 9 August 1932, Cardinal Maurilio Fossati, Archbishop of Turin, authenticated the relics with his seal.
Finally, in the year 2009-2010 dedicated to the priestly life by the Pope, who proposed the Holy Priest of Ars as universal model, and with the event of the exhibition of the Shroud of Turin, it made us to share with all the priests and Christian’s faithful the gift of the relics of Fr. Vianney, with a permanent and open exhibition.
It is for us a way of remembering the two great friends, Fr. Vianney and Br. Gabriel, and, at the same time, to assimilate and deepen the spirituality of love that they have left as heritage.