St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) took seriously the words of Christ: “Learn of me for I am gentle of heart”. Because of this he has been called the ‘Gentleman Saint’.
St. Francis was born in 1867 at the Chateau de Sales in the kingdom of Savoy, near Geneva, Switzerland. He came from a noble family. Though frail and delicate, he had a quick, intelligent mind and a gentle, kind disposition. His family educated him at the best schools of his day.
In 1880, Francis entered the University of Paris, and was drawn to the study of theology. He then attended the University of Padua, where he received his doctorate in law at the age of twenty-four.
His father wanted him to pursue a career in law and politics and enter into an advantageous marriage. But Francis, for many years, wanted to be a priest. Against his father’s wishes, he was ordained a priest in 1593 by the Bishop of Geneva.
The Catholic Church at that time was losing many of its people to the new churches of the Protestant Reformation. Francis set out to restore Catholicism in the region around Lake Geneva known as Chablais. Initially, the people would not listen to him, nor would the people open their doors to him. But Francis found a way. He wrote little pamphlets explaining Catholic doctrine and slipped it under the door. This practice gave people time to read it more objectively. It worked.
Parents did not have time for him. So Francis reached out to the children. As parents saw how gentle and loving he was with the children, this drew the parents to Francis.
Gradually, Francis re-established a strong Catholicism in that area.
In 1602, Francis de Sales was appointed Bishop of Geneva. From his residence in Annecy, he organized his diocese and with a winning gentleness ministered to his people. His encouragement and wise council inspired many people to a better way of life.
In 1608, his most famous book, An Introduction to a Devout Life, was published. It soon circulated throughout the world.
Francis de Sales was convinced that God sees humanity as a great and varied garden, each person beautiful in his or her uniqueness. The various callings of life-soldier, prince, widow, married person- are like the various flowers of the field; God loves them all. Through his or her own calling, each person can find a way to a deeper friendship with his or her Creator. Francis approached people with genuine respect and gently guided them to recognize the unique path they would take in life. He made the journey to God joyful and possible for everyone to make. Above all he advised against despair and the burden of fear.
In 1610, Francis founded the Order of Visitation with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, whom he guided in the spiritual life.
Francis lived a very busy life, especially giving spiritual direction. He once wrote: “So many people come to me, that I might serve them, leaving me no time to think of myself. However, I assure you that deep-down with-in me, God be praised. The truth is that this kind of work is infinitely profitable to me.”
Henry 1V of France said of Bishop Francis: “He is devout, knowledgeable and a gentleman”.
As Francis became older and sickly, he said: “I have to drive myself, the more I try the slower I go. Now I really feel that I am attached to this earth by one foot. Francis died in December of 1622.
St. Francis lives on in his writings. He is called the patron of authors and journalists
“Go courageously to do what you are called to do.
Trust in him, depend on his providence.
Fear nothing”. (St. Francis de Sales)
Fr. Theodore Walsh, C.P.