St. Francis de Sales

(1567 - 1622)

St. Francis de Sales Francis de Sales was born on August 21, 1567 in France, which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was the oldest of six children in his noble family. His father, Francis, was Lord of Boisy, Sales and Novel, and had plans for Francis to have a career as a magistrate, so he attended very highly regarded schools. His mother was also from a noble family. Francis' middle name was Bonaventura, after the great St. Bonaventure.

In 1583, Francis began his studies at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont in Paris. He studied rhetoric and humanities. His privilege allowed him to study with his own servant and priest tutor, Abbe Deage. The next year, Francis became convinced of his own damnation to hell when he attended a discussion about predestination, and his despair continued for the next 2 years, making him physically weak and ill. At times, he was bedridden.

In January of 1587, he visited a church in Paris, where he prayed the "Memorare" in front of a statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance, and consecrated himself to Our Lady. It was here that he decided to dedicate his life to God and took a vow of chastity. He then joined the Minim Order as a tertiary. He pondered God as perfect love and came to the realization that God did indeed want good things for him. This is a meditation that would shape much of his preaching.

In 1588 Francis graduated from Collège de Clermont and took up studies of law and theology at the University of Padua in Italy. He began spiritual direction under Antonio Possevino, a Jesuit priest. After a short time, he decided to become a priest. One day as he was riding a horse, his sword fell to the ground and crossed another sword, making a cross. This inspired him to live a life of sacrifice for Christ and His Church.

Four years later, in 1592, Francis received his doctorate in law and theology. He then took a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy. He then returned home to Savoy without telling his family his desires to become a priest. He became a lawyer for a time and his father used his influence to gain several appointments for Francis, including as a senator. When his father arranged for a wealthy noble heiress as his bride, Francis refused to marry her, preferring to stay committed to his dream of becoming a priest. His father initially refused to accept Francis' desires instead urging a political-military career. After appeal to the Bishop of Geneva, and signing over his inheritance and hereditary title to his younger, he was ordained in 1593. His first appointment was as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva.

It was in this role that he began his spirited evangelism in an area that was almost completely Calvinist. He set out to convert the 60,000 Calvinists to Catholicism. His preaching at first did not win him any good will of the locals. He lived in a fortress with a garrison of soldiers. His life was endangered and several assassinations were attempted on him. He traveled through the countryside, facing threats and inhospitable people all along the way. He once even had to sleep in a tree, tying himself to a branch to avoid falling to the wolves underneath. After three years, he had not won a single convert. Nevertheless, he did not give up and began writing his sermons on paper and slipping them under doors. This is the first recorded use of tracts to evangelize people. By the time he left to go back home, he had converted 40,000 people. He then traveled to Rome and Paris, creating alliances with Pope Clement VIII and King Henry IV of France.

Two years later, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Geneva, and in 1601, he embarked on a diplomatic mission to Henry IV of France, giving Lenten sermons in the Chapel Royal. The King and his court were known to have very low moral standards, but the King grew close to Francis, and stated, "[Francis is]... a rare bird, this Monsieur de Geneve, he is devout and also learned; and not only devout and learned but at the same time a gentleman. A very rare combination."

While in Paris he made the acquaintance of Cardinal Berulle and was Madame Acarie's confessor. He had influence on the introduction of St. Teresa's Carmelites into France and assisted in planning for the reforming of monasteries and convents.

In 1602, Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva, but resided in Annecy because the Calvinists controlling Geneva would not allow him to stay in the city. He inspired the clergy and laity in his diocese. Working with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, the laity in his diocese were some of the best-instructed in Europe. The Capuchins made him an associate of the order in gratitude for his work with them. This is the highest honor possible to a person who is not a member of the group. Francis was a riveting preacher, taking as his motto, "He who preaches with love, preaches effectively." He was well known for his goodness, patience and kindness, likely a result of his ascetic practices.

In Evian, near Lake Geneva, St. Francis of Assisi appeared to him saying: "You desire martyrdom, just as I once longed for it. But, like me, you will not obtain it. You will have to become an instrument of your own martyrdom."

Francis wrote famous books, including "An Introduction to the Devout Life", which was a guide to conversion and deepening one's relationship with God. He also wrote "Treatise on the Love of God", as well as several letters about spiritual direction. His writings served as inspiration to St. John Eudes' devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Francis founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) with the help of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, in Annecy on June 6, 1610.

Shortly before his death, Francis founded a community of men, an Oratory of St. Philip Neri, at Thonon-les-Bains, performing the duties of Provost. On December 28, 1622, Francis suffered a stroke while traveling with Charles Emmanuel I, the Duke of Savoy. After his death, the community he had recently founded dwindled and died out.

Francis' body was buried on January 24, 1623 in the church of the Monastery of the Visitation in Annecy, which he had founded with Chantal, who was also buried there. Many miracles have happened at the shrine. Many miracles have been reported at his shrine. Francis' heart was kept in Lyon until the French Revolution, when it was sent to Venice, where it is venerated today.

Francis was beatified in 1661 and canonized 4 years later by Pope Alexander VII. In 1877, Pope Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church.

St. Francis de Sales' feast day is January 24. He is patron saint of journalists because of the tracts and books he wrote.

Books by St. Francis de Sales

An Introduction to the Devout Life1609An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales is a spiritual classic. It is a compilation of letters and notes used in the spiritual direction of his cousin, using the generic name, "Philothea", meaning "Lover of God".