Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church

Francis de Sales was born at Château de Thorens  the 21st of August 1567 into a Savoyard noble family in what is today France. The first of twelve children, he enjoyed a privileged education in La Roche and Annecy; his spiritual formation and academics were formed by the Jesuits    In is teens Francis was engulfed in a personal crisis when after attending a theological discussion about predestination became convinced that he was damned to Hell.  In December 1586 his despair was so great that he was physically ill and even bedridden for a time.  In January 1587 he visited the Church of Saint-Etienne des Grès where his crisis ended, and he decided to dedicate his life to God.  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 (the Holy 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 where he studied both law and Theology.  There he made up his mind about becoming a priest. Intelligent and handsome, Francis 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 took this, among other signs, that Christ was calling him to a life of sacrifice and self-giving love for The Church.

In 1592 he ended his studies with the promotion to doctor certified in both Law and Theology.  He made the pilgrimage to Loreto Italy, famous for its Shrine to the Virgin Mary, before going home.  At home his father had already secured a variety of positions for his son, one of which was a position on the Senate of Chambéry.  It was difficult for Francis's father to accept that his son had already chosen a vocation rather than a career.  After his ordination he was appointed provost of the cathedral in Geneva in 1593.

Since the Reformation, the seat of the bishops of Geneva had been located at Annecy in Savoy, 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.  He also traveled to Rome and Paris, where he forged alliances with Pope Clement VIII and the French King Henry IV.

In 1602, Francis was consecrated bishop of Geneva.  During his years as bishop, he garnished a reputation as a spellbinding preacher and something of an ascetic; in particular, he was known as a friend of the poor, a man of almost supernatural affability and understanding.  These last qualities come through wonderfully in his famous books.  He died on 28 December 1622 in Lyon.  St. Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII, who then canonized him in 1665.  In 1877, Blessed Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Universal Church.  The Roman Catholic Church today celebrates his feast on 24 January, the day of his burial in Annecy in 1624.  

In 1923 Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a patron of writers and journalists, because of the books he wrote, the most famous of which was Introduction à la vie dévote ("Introduction to the Devout Life"). He also left the mystical Traité de l' Amour de Dieu ("Treatise on the Love of God") and many highly valued letters of spiritual direction.  St. Francis developed a sign language in order to teach a deaf man about God. Because of this, he is the patron saint of the deaf.

"Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and everyday. Either he will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings."      St. Francis de Sales