Last Saturday the Bishop of the French Diocese of Belley-Ars celebrated his seventy fifth birthday. Tomorrow, Wednesday, will be the twenty second anniversary of the foundation of the Societe Jean Marie Vianney by Mgr Bagnard.
Mgr Guy Marie Bagnard was chosen by John Paul II in 1987 to be the new Bishop of Belley-Ars. At that time Mgr Bagnard had been the rector of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial. This shrine is a focal point of the love of Christ because it was here that He revealed the whole teaching about the love of His heart, a love which Christ's priests are called to be channels of.
In 1988 Mgr Bagnard founded the new seminary in the village of Ars, the village of St John Vianney. Two years later he founded the priestly fraternity Societe Jean Marie Vianney. Looking back now, we can see what was in this new bishop's heart as he took up his pastoral office: to form priests and to uncover the beauty of the Priesthood.
As a member of the Societe I have met Mgr Bagnard on many occasions; each time I have been aware of the fatherhood of this holy bishop, and I have glimpsed how both an international seminary and an international priestly fraternity have been prayed into being by his priestly heart.
On one of the many visits to Ars which Fr Julian and myself have made, we took part in a Holy Hour in the large seminary chapel at which were present the seminarians and many priests and lay people of the Societe. While a deacon exposed the Blessed Sacrament and led the adoration prayers, Mgr Bagnard was in the front pew, deep in prayer throughout the whole hour. We could feel the power of his fatherly love and prayer. It was as if Jesus was pouring grace into the Church through the praying heart of this bishop.
May God continue to use Mgr Bagnard to form His Church, may He continue to bless the seminary and the priestly fraternity.