St Francis de Sales (1567 – 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 the patron saint for educators, the catholic press and deaf people.
He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.
Francis de Sales was born on 21 August 1567 in the Chateau de Sales into the noble Sales family of the Duchy of Savoy, in what is today Thorens-Glieres, Haute-Savoie, France. His father was Francois de Sales, Lord of Boisy, Sales, and Novel. His mother was Francoise de Sionnz, the only child of a prominent magistrate and a noblewoman.
His father wanted him, the first of his six sons, to attend the best schools in preparation for a career as a magistrate. He therefore enjoyed a privileged education in the nearby towns of La Roche-sur-Foron and Annecy. His parents entrusted his spiritual formation and academics to the Jesuits.
Education and conversion
In 1583, he went to the College de Clermont (later renamed Lycee Louis-le-Grand) in Paris, then a Jesuit institution, to study rhetoric and humanities. In 1584 Francis de Sales attended a theological discussion about predestination, convincing him of his damnation to hell. A personal crisis of despair--a lack of hope (virtue)--thus engulfed Francis de Sales. This conviction lasted through December 1586. His great despair made him physically ill and even bedridden for a time. The following month, January 1587, with great difficulty, he visited the old parish of Saint-Etienne-des-Gres, Paris, where he knelt in prayer before a famed statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance, a Black Madonna, consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and decided to dedicate his life to God with a vow of chastity. He then joined the tertiary of the Minim Order.
Sales ultimately concluded that God had good in store for him, 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 Sales completed his studies at College de Clermont and enrolled at University of Padua in Italy, where he studied both law and theology. He took Antonio Possevino, a priest in Society of Jesus, as his spiritual director. There he made up his mind about becoming a priest. Intelligent and handsome, he went through various conversion experiences that moved his heart to serve God rather than money or the world. In one incident, he rode a horse, and his sword fell to the ground and crossed another sword, making the sign of the Christian cross. He interpreted this and other signs as a call from Jesus Christ to a life of sacrifice and self-giving love for the Church.
Return to Savoy
In 1592, Sales received his doctorate in law and theology from Guido Panciroli. He made a pilgrimage to Loreto, Italy, famous for its Basilica della Santa Casa (Shrine of the Holy House]]) and then returned home to Savoy. The Senate of Chambery admitted him as a lawyer. Meanwhile, his father secured various positions for his son Francis de Sales, including an appointment as senator. His father also chose a wealthy noble heiress as his bride.
But Francis refused to marry, preferring to stay focused on his path with God. His father initially refused to accept that Francis had chosen the priesthood rather than fulfill his expectations with a political-military career.
During the Protestant Reformation, Calvinist control of Geneva, Switzerland, compelled the Catholic bishops to take their bishopric to Annecy in the Duchy of Savoy. Claude de Granier, then Bishop of Geneva, intervened and arranged for his Holy Orders in 1593; he immediately received a promised appointment as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, the highest official in the diocese.
Priest and Provost
Francis de Sales, in his capacity as provost, engaged in enthusiastic campaigns of evangelism among the Protestants of Savoy, winning many returns to the Catholic faith. He founded the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri at Thonon-les-Bains as its first provost. He also traveled to Rome and Paris, where he forged alliances with Pope Clement VIII and the King Henry IV of France.
In 1602, Bishop Granier died, and Sales was consecrated Bishop of Geneva.
Bishop of Geneva
He worked closely with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, very active in preaching the Catholic faith in his diocese. They appreciated his great cooperation so much that 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, Sales 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 Sales' 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.
Sales 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, Sales founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in Annecy on 6 June 1610.
Sales also established a small community of men, an Oratory of St. Philip Neri, at Thonon-les-Bains, with himself as the superior or Provost. This work, however, was crippled by his death, and that foundation soon died out.
In December 1622 Sales was required to travel in the entourage of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, for the Duke's Christmas tour of his domain. Upon arrival in Lyon, he chose to stay in the gardener's hut at the Visitandine monastery in that city. While there he suffered a stroke, from which Sales died on the 28 December 1622.
Veneration after his death
Despite the resistance of the populace of Lyon to moving his remains from that city, Sales was buried on 24 January 1623 in the church of the Monastery of the Visitation in Annecy, which he had founded with Chantal, who was also buried there. Their remains were venerated there until the French Revolution. Many miracles have been reported at his shrine.
Sales' heart was kept in Lyon, in response to the popular demand of the citizens of the city to hold onto his remains. During the French Revolution, however, it was taken to Venice, where it is venerated today.
Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII, who then canonized him four years later. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by the Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1877.
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.
Having been founded as the first non-cloistered group of sisters after attempts to do so with the Visitation Sisters founded by de Sales and de Chantal proved unsuccessful, the Sisters of St. Joseph (founded in Le Puys, France, in 1650) take St. Francis de Sales as one of their patrons.
In 1923, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a patron of writers and journalists, because he made extensive use of flyers and books both in spiritual direction and in his efforts to convert the Calvinists of the region.
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.
In the 19th century, his vision for religious communities was revived. Several religious institutes were founded during that period for men and women desiring to live out the spiritual path which de Sales had developed.
The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (M.S.F.S.), founded by the Abbe Pierre Mermier in 1830 were the first congregation to adopt his spirituality in the 19th century.
The religious institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (S.D.B.), founded by St. John Bosco in 1859 (approved by the Holy See in 1874), was originally named the Society of St. Francis de Sales, and was placed under his patronage.
The Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales (O.S.F.S.) were founded by St. Leonie Aviat and the Blessed Louis Brisson, under the spiritual guidance of the Venerable Marie de Sales Chappuis, V.H.M., in 1866.
The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (O.S.F.S.) were later founded by Brisson for men, also under the guidance of Mother Marie de Sales, in 1875.
The Paulist Fathers in the United States count him as one of their patrons.
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of priests founded in the 20th century, also has St. Francis de Sales as one of their three primary Patrons. The institute promotes Salesian spirituality heavily, using the Saint's writings to instruct both their seminarians and lay faithful. As St. Francis is often depicted in art wearing blue choir dress, the approved choir dress for members of the institute is also blue. One of the major apostolates of the Institute in the United States is the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis, Missouri.
St. Francis de Sales College, in Mount Barker, Australia, is named after him.
The island of St. Francois Atoll is named in honor of St. Francis de Sales.
DeSales University, located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, (formerly Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales), is named for St. Francis de Sales. It is a Catholic liberal arts college administered by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Salesianum School, an all-boys private school in Wilmington, Delaware, which is named after him, is also run by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Also named in his honor, Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1876.
Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, is also named after St. Francis de Sales.
St. Francis de Sales is recognized as an exemplary in the Church of England, where his memoria is also observed on January 24, and in the Church in Wales, where his memorial was moved to January 23, due to a conflict with that of St Cadoc.
St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo, Ohio is a school dedicated to St. Francis and educating young men for their futures as leaders, helpers, and Christians. Another example is Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1964 by Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Bishop Ireton established a Salesian charter in order to continue this heritage of St. Francis. Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell is a graduate of Bishop Ireton High School (class of 1972).
St. Francis de Sales High School (Chicago, Illinois) a coed institution of higher learning standards dedicated and named after St.Francis de Sales.