Today, January 24, the Church remembers Saint Francis de Sales, bishop, confessor, and Doctor of the Church. Francis, commonly known as the ‘Gentleman Saint' or the ‘Gentle Christ of Geneva,' spent many years preaching and defending the Faith, and guiding Protestants back to the True Faith.
Early Life and Education
Francis was born in the Duchy of Savoy, at the Château de Thorens to an aristocratic family in 1567. He was the first-born of twelve children, and his parents expected him to become a lawyer, enter into politics and carry on in the family's tradition of prestige and power.
Francis was sent to college at an early age, attending first the colleges of La Roche and Annecy. From 1583 to 1588, Francis studied rhetoric and humanities at the college of Clermont, in Paris; it was here that he also began to study theology. Also while at Paris, Francis experienced a period of great despair, troubled by discussions of predestination and believing himself to be destined to be condemned to Hell. The experience affected him greatly and he grew ill, until he was suddenly freed from the despair upon kneeling before a miraculous image of Our Lady at St. Etienne-des-Grès. At this point, Francis knew his life would be dedicated to God.
After his studies at Paris, Francis went to Padua, where he studied law. In 1592, Francis graduated and was admitted before the senate as a lawyer. Francis was soon to be appointed as a senator when God guided his life in a different direction.
Around the completion of his studies, Francis heard a call from God to “leave all and follow me.” Francis took this call seriously and decided to embrace the ecclesiastical life. The issue came to the surface when Francis’s father arranged to have Francis wed to the noblest heiress of Savoy. At this time Francis refused, and declared his vocation to join the priesthood to his father. His father, angered at the prospect of having his own plans thwarted, would not consent to Francis’s decision. However, Claude de Granier, Bishop of Geneva, obtained the position of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva – the highest office in the diocese – for Francis. At this, Francis’s father consented to his intentions, and Francis received Holy Orders in 1593.
He began to carry out his new life with zeal, hearing confessions, preaching, and other works of ministry. The next year, 1594, Francis risked his life traveling to Le Chablais, an area where Genevans had imposed the reformed faith. He moved throughout the entire district, preaching with both zeal and kindness, and returned many of the citizens of Le Chablais to the true Catholic Faith. In 1602, Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva, and one of his first actions was to institute catechetical instructions for the faithful, both young and old. He was a popular and beloved preacher, and also a prolific correspondent – many of his letters remain preserved today. The clarity and truth of his writings – letters and many other documents – would eventually lead to his being named a Doctor the Universal Church in the 1800s. Francis was known for his patience and kindness, and his love for the poor. In December 1622, Francis de Sales died of natural causes at Lyon, France.
- Introduction to the Devout Life – One of the most famous and influential of de Sales’s writings is Introduction to the Devout Life, a guide, directed to the layman, to growing in holiness.
- Letters – As mentioned above, Francis was a prolific letter writer. Like his sermons and other writings, his letters contained clear explanation of truth and direction. Many of these letters have been preserved and are available in such collections as Thy Will Be Done.
- Sermons – Many of Francis de Sales’s most significant or poignant sermons have been preserved in book collections such as Sermons on Our Lady and Sermons on Prayer.
The above are just a few examples of the wonderful texts by Francis de Sales preserved and still pertinent today. To browse for more works from St. Francis de Sales as well as other related items, click here.