St. Francis de Sales Biography
St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis was born in France on August 21, 1567, to aristocratic parents. Francis’ father desired for him to attend college in hopes that Francis would someday be a magistrate. For years Francis felt God calling him to the priesthood, though he never mentioned it to his family.
He attended the colleges of La Roche and Annecy and then studied at the college of Clermont, Paris, under the care of Jesuits from 1583 until 1588. While at Clermont he studied theology. In 1592, Francis received a doctorate in law. His father even picked a wife for him, but Francis made it clear that he was determined to be a priest. Then the Bishop of Geneva obtained for Francis the high position of Dean of the Chapter of Geneva. Francis received Holy Orders in the year 1593.
Soon Francis came to realize what God had called him to do. He was living during the time of the Protestant Reformation near Switzerland — Calvinist territory. Thousands of Swiss Catholics had left the Church to follow John Calvin and become Protestants. Francis decided that he needed to convert these souls back to the true Church. Francis went to Switzerland and spent the next three years having doors slammed in his face, spending nights out in the freezing cold, and sleeping wherever he could find shelter. He would not give up; however, and began writing his sermons on pieces of paper and sliding them under doors. By the time Francis returned to France, it is estimated that he had converted over 40,000 souls back to Catholicism.
In 1602, Francis was appointed Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland — the heart of Calvinist territory. In 1604 Francis noticed a woman who was listening intently to one of his sermons. After his sermon, Jane de Chantal approached him about being her spiritual advisor. Three years after meeting Jane, Francis decided they should form a new religious order. A stranger came and donated a convent to them. This came to be known as the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Francis was tireless in his evangelization. He spent hours answering letters and preaching to lay persons. So many came to him for instruction in the faith that he hardly had any time for himself. This was a time when only monks and nuns would receive instruction on the way to holiness. But Francis decided that all people should be allowed to know how to become holier and gave of his time to people from all walks of life. He believed that even those who were very active in occupations could still lead holy lives. His most famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, was written in 1608 for the ordinary people. Francis advised busy people of the world to “retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart and pray, even while engaged in discussions or transactions with others.”
Francis died three days after Christmas in 1622. In 1877, Saint Francis de Sales was declared a Doctor of the Church. He is the patron saint of journalists because of the books and pamphlets that he wrote which impacted so many lives. In 1923, he was also designated patron saint of the Catholic press.
Dear Father, in these days of thousands of religious sects, we truly need the inspiration of saints like dear Francis de Sales. We pray that many will answer Your calling as Saint Francis did to bring our separated brethren home and to bring the Gospel to all. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.