Saint Francis de Sales
Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church
and tertiary of the Order of Minims
Born 21 August 1567 Chateau de Thorens Duchy of Savoy
Died 28 December 1622 (aged 55) Lyon, France
Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion
Beatified 8 January 1662, Rome by Pope Alexander VII
Canonized 8 April 1665, Rome by Pope Alexander VII
Feast day January 24
Francis de Sales, T.O.M., A.O.F.M. Cap., (French: François de Sales) (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622) was a Bishop of Geneva and is honored as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He became noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of GOD
Francis de Sales was born on the 21 August 1567 in the Château de Thorens into a noble family of the Duchy of Savoy, in what is today Thorens-Glières, Haute-Savoie, France. His father was François de Boisy and his mother was Françoise de Sionnz. Because he was the first of six children, his father wanted him to attend the best schools, and he enjoyed a privileged education in the nearby towns of La Roche-sur-Foron and Annecy and his spiritual formation and academics were entrusted to the Jesuits. In 1583, he went to the Collège de Clermont in Paris.
A year later, at the age of 17, Francis was engulfed in a personal crisis after attending a theological discussion about predestination, which resulted in his becoming convinced that he was damned to Hell. This conviction endured till, in December 1586, his despair was so great that he was physically ill and even bedridden for a time. The following month, January 1587, he visited the ancient Church of Saint-Étienne des Grès in Paris with great difficulty. There his crisis ended in prayer before a famed statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance, a Black Madonna, and he decided to dedicate his life to God. He then became a tertiary of the Minim Order.
Francis came to the conclusion that whatever God had in store for him was good, because "God is love", as Scripture attests. This faithful devotion to the God of love not only expelled his doubts, but also influenced the rest of his life and his teachings. His way of teaching Catholic spirituality is often referred to as the Way of Divine Love, or the Devout Life, taken from a book he wrote of a similar name: Introduction to the Devout Life.
In 1588 Francis transferred from the University of Paris to the University of Padua in Italy, where he studied both law and theology. There he made up his mind about becoming a priest. Intelligent and handsome, de Sales went through various conversion experiences that moved his heart to serve God rather than money or the world. One incident included his sword falling to the ground while riding a horse, and crossing another sword, making the sign of the Cross. He interpreted this, among other signs, that Jesus Christ was calling him to a life of sacrifice and self-giving love for the Church.
In 1592, he ended his studies with the title of "doctor", certified both in law and theology. He made the pilgrimage to Loreto, Italy--famous for its Shrine of the Holy House--before going home. At home, his father had already secured a variety of positions for his son, one of which was a position in the Senate of Chambéry. It was difficult for Francis's father to accept that his son had already chosen the priesthood over a military or political career.
After studying the humanities, rhetoric, theology, and law, he famously refused to marry the wealthy heiress his father had chosen as his bride, preferring to stay focused on his path with God. The intervention of Claude de Granier, then Bishop of Geneva, allowed him to seek ordination, after which he was given an appointment as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva in 1593.
Provost and Bishop
From the time of the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517, the seat of the Catholic bishops of Geneva, Switzerland, had been located at Annecy in Savoy, France, due to Calvinist control of Geneva itself. Francis, in his capacity as provost, engaged in enthusiastic campaigns of evangelism among the Protestants of Savoy, winning many returns to the Old Faith (i.e., Catholicism). He also traveled to Rome and Paris, where he forged alliances with Pope Clement VIII and the French King Henry IV.
In 1602, Bishop Granier died, and De Sales was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. He worked closely with the Capuchin friars, who were very active in preaching the Catholic faith in his diocese. They appreciated his great cooperation so much that later, in 1617, they made him an official associate of the Order, the highest honor possible to a person outside it.
During his years as bishop, he acquired a reputation as a spellbinding preacher and something of an ascetic. He was equally known as a friend of the poor, a man of almost supernatural affability and understanding.
These last qualities come through in his books, the most famous of which was "Introduction to the Devout Life", which - unusual for the time - was written especially for laypeople. In it he counseled charity over penance as a means of progressing in the spiritual life.
He also left the mystical work, the "Treatise on the Love of God", and many highly valued letters of spiritual direction. He was a notably clear and gracious stylist in French, Italian and Latin.
His writings on the perfections of the heart of Mary as the model of love for God influenced Jean Eudes to develop the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Francis founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in Annecy on 6 June 1610.
He died on 28 December 1622, in Lyon, France, while travelling in the entourage of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy.
St. Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII, who then canonized him three years later. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Blessed Pius IX in 1877.
St. Francis de Sales was buried in the church of the Monastery of the Visitation in Annecy he had founded with De Chantal, who was also buried there. Their remains were venerated there until the French Revolution.Many miracles have been reported at his shrine. The relic of his heart was originally kept in Lyon, but during the French Revolution it was taken to Venice where it is venerated today.
The Roman Catholic Church currently celebrates St. Francis de Sales' feast on the 24 January, the day of his burial in Annecy in 1624. From the year 1666, when his feast day was inserted into the General Roman Calendar, until the reform of this calendar in 1969, it was observed on 29 January, and this date is kept by those who celebrate the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.