Skip to content

St. Francis de Sales


Short Cuts

Author and Publisher - Catholic Online

Image of St. Francis de Sales

Facts

Feastday: January 24
Patron of Catholic writers, the Catholic press, the deaf, journalists, adult education
Birth: August 21, 1567
Death: December 28, 1622
Beatified By: January 8, 1661 by Pope Alexander VII
Canonized By: April 19, 1665 by Pope Alexander VII

St. Francis de Sales was born to a noble family at Chateau de Sales in the Kingdom of Savoy near Geneva, Switzerland on August 21, 1567. He was a Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

Francis was both intelligent and gentle. From a very early age, he desired to serve God. He knew for years he had a vocation to the priesthood, but kept it from his family. His father wanted him to enter a career in law and politics.

In 1580, Francis attended the University of Paris, and at 24-years-old, he received his doctorate in law at the University of Padua.

All the time, he never lost his passion for God. He studied theology and practiced mental prayers, but kept quiet about his devotion. To please his father, he also studied fencing and riding.

God made his will clear to Francis one day while he was riding. Francis fell from his horse three times that day. Every time he fell, the sword came out of the scabbard, and every time it came out, the sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of the Christian cross.

After much discussion and disagreement from his father, Francis was ordained to the priesthood and elected provost of the Diocese of Geneva, in 1593, by the Bishop of Geneva.

During the time of the Protestant reformation, Francis lived close to Calvinist territory. He decided he should lead an expedition to bring the 60,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic Church.

For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow.

Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So, Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out little pamphlets to explain true Catholic doctrine and slipped them under the doors. This is one of the first records we have of religious tracts being used to communicate the true Catholic faith to people who had fallen away from the Church.

The parents wouldn't come to him, so Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him.

By the time Francis returned home, it is believed he brought 40,000 people to the Catholic Church.

He forged wonderful alliances with Pope Clement VIII and Henry IV of France, and in 1601 Francis joined Henry IV on a diplomatic mission. He was to give Lenten sermons at the Chapel Royal. Henry grew attached to Francis and saw him as a "rare bird" who was devout, knowledgeable and a gentleman.

In 1602, Bishop Granier died and Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva, although he continued to reside in Annecy. He only set foot in the city of Geneva twice -- once when the Pope sent him to try to convert Calvin's successor, Beza, and another when he traveled through it.

In 1604, Francis took one of the most important steps in his life -- the step toward extraordinary holiness and mystical union with God.

In Dijon, Francis saw a widow listening closely to his sermon -- a woman he had seen already in a dream. Jane de Chantal was a dedicated Catholic Christian on her own, as Francis was, but it was only when they became friends they began to become saints.

Jane wanted him to take over her spiritual direction, but, not surprisingly, Francis wanted to wait. "I had to know fully what God himself wanted. I had to be sure that everything in this should be done as though his hand had done it." Jane was on a path to mystical union with God and, in directing her, Francis was compelled to follow her and become a mystic himself.

Years after working with Jane, he made up his mind to form a new religious community. In 1610, he founded The Order of Visitation.

Francis was overworked and often ill because of his constant load of preaching, visiting, and instruction -- even catechizing a deaf man so he could take first Communion. He believed the first duty of a bishop was spiritual direction and wrote to Jane, "So many have come to me that I might serve them, leaving me no time to think of myself. However, I assure you that I do feel deep-down- within-me, God be praised. For the truth is that this kind of work is infinitely profitable to me." For him active work did not weaken his spiritual inner peace but strengthened it.

He gave spiritual direction to most people through letters, which attested to his remarkable patience. "I have more than fifty letters to answer. If I tried to hurry over it all, I would be lost. So, I intend neither to hurry or to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can. Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished."

During this time, it was wrongly thought that achieving real holiness of life was a task reserved for only for the clergy and those in religious life, and not for lay men and women. In addition, that only contemplatives, people who withdraw from active participation in the world, could really achieve holiness.

Francis insisted that every Christian was called to holiness and sanctity, lived within their own state in life. In holding that belief, he reflected the teaching of Jesus and the early Church Fathers.

Francis laid the groundwork for the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on what is now called the ?universal call to holiness. It reaffirms the teaching of Jesus and the early Church that every Baptized Christian is called to sanctity, no matter what their career or state in life. In every career and state in life, Christians can become more and more like Jesus Christ. That is, after all, what holiness really means.

Francis gave spiritual direction to lay people who were living real lives in the real world. He had proven with his own life that people could grow in holiness while involved in a very active occupation. He also recognized that Christian marriage and family life is itself a call to holiness.

His most famous book, INTRODUCTION TO THE DEVOUT LIFE, was written for ordinary lay people in 1608, not just the clergy and religious. Written originally as letters, it became an instant success all over Europe -- though some clergy rejected the notion that lay men and women could achieve holiness in the experience of their daily life. Some tore it up because Francis encouraged dancing and jokes!

For Francis, the love of God was like romantic love. He said, "The thoughts of those moved by natural human love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises. When it is gone, they express their feelings in letters, and can't pass by a tree without carving the name of their beloved in its bark. Thus, to those who love God can never stop thinking about him, longing for him, aspiring to him, and speaking about him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all humankind."

The key to love of God was prayer.

"By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God. Begin all your prayers in the presence of God."

For busy people living in the world, he advised, "Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God."

The test of prayer was a person's actions.

"To be an angel in prayer and a beast in one's relations with people is to go lame on both legs."

He believed the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them. Even if we say we do it out of love we're still doing it to look better ourselves. We should be as gentle and forgiving with ourselves as we should be with others.

As he became older and more ill he said, "I have to drive myself but the more I try the slower I go." He wanted to be a hermit but he was more in demand than ever. The Pope needed him, then a princess, then Louis XIII. "Now I really feel that I am only attached to the earth by one foot..." He died on December 28, 1622, after giving a nun his last word of advice: "Humility."

St. Francis de Sales was beatified on January 8, 1661 and canonized on April 19, 1665 by Pope Alexander VII.

He is often featured with the Heart of Jesus and a Crown of Thorns.

In 1923, Pope Pius XI named St. Francis de Sales the patron saint of Catholic writers and the Catholic press because of the tracts and books he wrote. He is also the patron saint of the deaf, journalists, adult education, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. His feast day is celebrated on January 24.



St. Francis de Sales Comments


More Saints






Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

96.

Image of St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross was born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez, in Fontiveros, Avila, Spain in 1542. His father was employed by wealthy family members as an accountant, but they disowned him when ... continue reading

97.

Image of St. Catherine of Bologna

St. Catherine of Bologna

St. Catherine of Bologna was an Italian nun and artist born as Catherine de' Vigri on September 8, 1413 in Bologna, Italy. She was the member of an aristocratic family and the daughter of ... continue reading

98.

Image of St. Lorenzo Ruiz

St. Lorenzo Ruiz

Saint Lorenzo Ruiz was born around the year 1600 in Binondo, Manila in the Philippines. He was the son of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother. Both were Christians and took care to ... continue reading

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. John Boste

St. John Boste

One of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. He was born at Dufton, at Westmoreland, England, and studied at Oxford. Becoming a Catholic in 1576, he went to Reims and received ordination in 1581. ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Brigid of Ireland

St. Brigid of Ireland

Saint Brigid was born Brigit, and shares a name with a Celtic goddess from whom many legends and folk customs are associated. There is much debate over her birthparents, but it is widely believed her mother was Brocca, a Christian baptized by Saint Patrick, and her ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading


Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. John the Apostle

St. John the Apostle

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist St. John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and Salome, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. John was called to be an Apostle by our Lord in the first year of His public ministry. He is considered the same person as John the ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist

John the Baptist was a contemporary of Christ who was known for evangelization and his baptizing of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was born through the intercession of God to Zachariah and Elizabeth, who was otherwise too old to bear children. According to scriptures, ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Catherine of Siena: We Need Saints for this Missionary Age

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Father, raise up women like Catherine of Siena for this new missionary age of your Church. Women who are so in love with you, and so conformed to the Image of your Son, they can do for your Church in this hour, what she did in her own. Saints are a gift for the ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.