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Saint Francis de Sales

Saint Francis de Sales

“St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal Offer Their Hearts to the Sacred Heart,” Cathedral of Saint-Siffrein de Carpentras, Vaucluse, France (photo: Register Files / Public Domain)


Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622) was born into the noble Sales family of the Duchy of Savoy in France, the eldest of six children and the heir to his father’s estate. He received an excellent education, having studied rhetoric and the humanities at a Jesuit College in Paris and obtaining doctorate degrees in law and theology at the University of Padua. Saint Francis de Sales was described as intelligent, handsome, tall, and well built, with blue-grey eyes and somewhat reserved and quiet.

Even though he studied to be an attorney, he felt called to the priesthood. During the period of discernment, in a single day, he fell three times from his horse. Each time he fell, his sword fell to the ground where it formed a cross with its scabbard. He saw this as a sign from Heaven that his path was indeed to become a priest. He then renounced his inheritance in favour of the next brother in the line of succession and, in 1593, was ordained a priest. Soon thereafter, he was made the superior of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, an area that had become almost entirely Calvinist. Because of this, at first, he had to live in a fortress garrisoned by the Duke of Savoy’s soldiers. Several times he escaped death at the hands of assassins sent by the Protestants.

In 1602, Saint Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. He worked diligently for the conversion of the Calvinists through his writings and preaching. His diocese became a model of organisation, zealous clergy, and well-instructed laity.

Saint Francis de Sales had a great devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi. During this period, the saint appeared to him on the shores of Lake Geneva and said, “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.” His white martyrdom was a life of self-denial and hard work in favour of his flock and for the conversion of those who had left the faith.

Among his writings are Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God. Together with Saint Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the congregation of the Visitandines, a religious order for women. Saint Francis de Sales died in December 1622 of a stroke. He was declared patron saint of writers and journalists in 1923 by Pope Pius XI.


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