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St. Francis de Sales

St. Francis de SalesAKA François de Sales

Born: 21-Aug-1567
Birthplace: Thorens-Glières, Savoy, France
Died: 28-Dec-1622
Location of death: Lyons, France
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary

Bishop of Geneva and doctor of the Church (1877), born at the castle of Sales, near Annecy, Savoy. His father, also François, Comte de Sales, but better known as M. de Boisy, a nobleman and soldier, had been employed in various affairs of state, but in 1560, at the age of thirty-eight, settled down on his ancestral estates and married Françoise de Sionnay, a Savoyard like himself, and an heiress. St. Francis, the first child of this union, was born in August 1567 when his mother was in her fifteenth year. M. de Boisy was renowned for his experience and sound judgment, and both parents were distinguished by piety, love of peace, charity to the poor, qualities which early showed themselves in their eldest son.

He received his education first at La Roche, in the Arve valley, then at the college of Annecy, founded by Eustace Chappius, ambassador in England of Charles V, in 1549. At the age of thirteen or fourteen he went to the Jesuit College of Clermont at Paris, where he stayed until the summer of 1588, and where he laid the foundations of his profound knowledge, while perfecting himself in the exercises of a young nobleman and practicing a life of exemplary virtue. At this time also he developed an ardent love of France, a country which was politically in antagonism with his own, though so closely linked to it geographically, socially and by language. At the end of 1588 he went to Padua, to take his degree in canon and civil law, a necessary prelude in Savoy at that time to distinction in a civil career. His heart, however, especially from the date of his receiving the tonsure (1578), was already turned towards the Church, and he gave his attention even more to theology, under the great masters Antonio Possevino, S.J., and Gesualdo, afterwards general of the Friars Minor, than to his legal course. "At Padua", he said to a friend, "I studied law to please my father, and theology to please myself." In that licentious university Francis found the greatest difficulty in resisting attacks on his virtue, and once at least had to draw his sword to defend his personal safety against a band of ruffians. The gentleness for which he was already renowned was not that of a weak, but of a strong character. He returned to Savoy in 1592, and, while seeking the occasion to overcome his fathers resistance to his resolution of embracing the ecclesiastical profession, took the diploma of advocate to the senate. Meantime, without his knowledge, his friends procured for him the post of provost of the chapter of Geneva, an honor which reconciled M. de Boisy to the sacrifice of more ambitious hopes. After a year of zealous work as preacher and director he was sent by the bishop, Claude de Granier, to try and win back the province of Chablais, which had embraced Calvinism when usurped by Bern in 1535, and had retained it even after its restitution to Savoy in 1564. At first the people refused to listen to him, for he was represented to them as an instrument of Satan, and all who had dealings with him were threatened with the vengeance of the consistory. He therefore wrote out his message on sheets which were passed from hand to band, and these, with the spectacle of his virtues and disinterestedness, soon produced a strong effect. The sheets just spoken of still exist in the Chigi library at Rome, and were published, though with many alterations, in 1672, under the title of Les Controverses. This must be considered the first work of St Francis.

The re-erection of a wayside cross in Annemasse, at the gates of Geneva, amid an enormous concourse of converts, an event which closed the three years of his apostolate, led to the composition of the Défense.. de la Croix, published in 1600. An illness brought on by toil and privation, forced him to leave his work to others for nearly a year, but in August 1598 he returned to his field of labor, and in October of that year practically the whole country was Catholic again. Up to that time preaching and conference had been the only weapons employed. The stories of the use of soldiers to produce simulated conversions are incorrect. Possibly the lamentable events of the campaigns of 1589 in Gex and Chablais have been applied to the period 1594-98. In October of this last year, however, the Duke of Savoy, who came then to assist in person at the great religious feasts which celebrated the return of the country to unity of faith, expatriated such of the leading men as obstinately refused even to listen to the Catholic arguments. He also forbade Calvinist ministers to reside in the Chablais, and substituted Catholic for Huguenot officials. St. Francis concurred in these measures, and, three years later, even requested that those who, as he said, follow their heresy, rather as a party than a religion", should be ordered either to conform or to leave their country, with leave to sell their goods. His conduct, judged not by a modern standard, but by the ideas of his age, will be found compatible with the highest Christian charity, as that of the duke with sound political prudence. At this time he was nominated to the pope as coadjutor of Geneva, and after a visit to Rome he assisted Bishop de Granier in the administration of the newly converted countries and of the diocese at large.

In 1602 he made his second visit to the French capital, when his transcendent qualities brought him into the closest relations with the court of Henri IV, and made him the spiritual father of that circle of select souls who centered around Madame Acarie. Among the celebrated personages who became his life friends from this time were Pierre de Bérulle, founder of the French Oratorians, Guillaume Duval, the scholar, and the duc de Bellegarde, the latter a special favorite of the king, who begged to be allowed to share the Saint's friendship. At this time also his gift as a preacher became fully recognized, and de Sanzéa, afterwards bishop of Bethlehem, records that Duval exhorted all his students of the Sorbonne to listen to him and to imitate this, "the true and excellent method of preaching." His principles are expressed in the admirable letter to André Frémyot of October 1604.

De Granier died in September 1602, and the new bishop entered on the administration of his vast diocese, which, as a contemporary says, "he found brick and left marble." His first efforts were directed to securing a virtuous and well-instructed clergy, with its consequence of a people worthy of their pastors. All his time was spent in preaching, confessing, visiting the sick, relieving the poor. His zeal was not confined to his diocese. In concert with Jeanne Françoise Frémyot (1572-1641), widow of the baron de Chantal, whose acquaintance he made while preaching through Lent at Dijon in 1604, he founded the order of the Visitation, in favor of "strong souls with weak bodies", as he said, deterred from entering the orders already existing, by their inability to undertake severe corporal austerities. The institution rapidly spread, counting twenty houses before his death and eighty before that of St. Jeanne. The care of his diocese and of his new foundation were not enough for his ardent charity, and in 1609 he published his famous Introduction to a Devout Life, a work which was at once translated into the chief European languages and of which he himself published five editions. In 1616 appeared his Treatise on the Love of God, which teaches that perfection of the spiritual life to which the former work is meant to be the "Introduction."

The important Lents of 1617 and 1618 at Grenoble were a prelude to a still more important apostolate in Paris, "the theater of the world", as St. Vincent de Paul calls it. This third visit to the great city lasted from the autumn of 1618 to that of 1619; the direct object of it was to assist in negotiating the marriage of the prince of Piedmont with Chrétienne of France, but nearly all his time was spent in preaching and works of mercy, spiritual or corporal. He was regarded as a living saint. St. Vincent scarcely left him, and has given the most extraordinary testimonies (as yet unpublished) of his heroic virtues. Mère Angélique Arnaud, who at this time put herself under his direction and wished to join the Order of the Visitation, attracted by its humility and sweetness, may be named as the most interesting of his innumerable penitents of this period. He returned to Savoy, and after three years more of unwearying labor died at Lyons on the 28th of December 1622. A universal outburst of veneration followed; indeed his cult had already begun, and after an episcopal inquiry the pontifical commission in view of his beatification was instituted by decree of the 21st of July 1626, a celerity unique in the annals of the Congregation of Rites. The depositions of witnesses were returned to Rome in 1632, but meantime the forms of the Roman chancery had been changed by Pope Urban VIII, and the advocates could not at once continue their work. Eventually a new commission was issued in 1656, and on its report, into which were inserted nineteen of the former depositions, the "servant of God" was beatified in 1661. The canonization took place in 1665.

Besides the works which we have named, there were published posthumously his Entretiens, i.e. a selection of the lectures given to the Visitation, reported by the sisters who heard them, some of his sermons, a large number of his letters, various short treatises of devotion. The first edition of his united or so-called "Complete" works was published at Toulouse in 1637, with editions following frequently thereafter.

    Canonization 1665



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