St Francis de Sales
SAINT OF THE DAY
Bishop Confessor Doctor of the Church
(1567- 1622 )
The eldest of 13 children, St Francis was born on 21 August 1567 to the aristocratic Francis de Boisy and Frances de Sionnaz at the castle of Sales in the Duchy of Savoy, France. At 25 he obtained his doctorate in law at Padua, but the very next year he refused a senatorship and gave up law and, instead, went on to become a Priest, despite his father’s vehement opposition.
The province of Le Chablais on the south shore of Lake Geneva had just been re-conquered by the Duke of Savoy, a Catholic, after having been held for some 50 years by the Protestant city of Berne, and now Francis, together with his cousin, the Canon Louis de Sales, volunteered to win its Calvinist inhabitants back to the faith He set forth the Church’s principles in the famous “Controversies”, hand-copied lea?ets of which he would slip under house doors or paste up on walls.
More and more people gradually came to hear his preaching and were converted, as much by his incomparable kindness and simplicity, his patience and sympathy, as his irrefutable and lucid arguments. “You will catch more flies with one spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar,” he was wont to say. During 4 years ?lled with hardships, undergone while constantly wandering through the district, repeatedly at the peril of his life, Francis succeeded in converting over 70,000 Calvinists, and in the end had the joy of seeing all churches re-opened to Catholic worship. The widespread success of these labours and the evident holiness of his life now led to his being appointed Bishopcoadjutor in 1599. Though only 32 years old, Francis had signally impressed Pope Clement VIII, who had him personally examined in the presence of his Cardinals.
Bishop de Granier died in 1602 and was succeeded by Francis who now entered upon what was to be 20 years of a most exemplary episcopate. His household, food and dress were, at his insistence, reduced to the simplest, sofas to enable him the better to succour the poor and the needy. With unsparing zeal he visited even the most outlying parishes, which were difficult of access in their Alpine seclusion. He preached wherever he went, heard confessions, reformed religious communities, formulated simple language catechetical instruction for both the young and old, as well as held annual synods for his clergy. On the latter he particularly impressed the value of short, straightforward and unadorned sermons, based on the maxim “the more you say, the less people will remember” and “in order to speak well, we need only to love well!” Simultaneously, Francis carried on voluminous correspondence, even finding time to write such masterpieces of spiritual guidance as his Introduction to the Devout Life, Treatise on the Love 0f God and Spiritual Conferences. Whereas the last two were addressed to the sisters of the Visitation Order, which he and St Jane Frances de Chantal had founded in 1610, his Introduction was written particularly for lay people. It is as clear and pertinent today as when first composed. Francis considered it “a heresy to maintain that there existed any state of life which could be incompatible with piety”.
Francis died on 28 December 1622 and was beati?ed on 8 January 1662 by Alexander VII and canonized by the same Pope in 1665. On 16 November 1877, St Francis de Sales was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX and Patron of all writers by Pius XI on 26 January 1923.