Today, as we honor St. Francis de Sales, let me quote some paragraphs I wrote about him recently.
Francis was the oldest of six; and he had such a fine appearance and fine mind that his father, seeing the family’s hope in him, invested a good education in Francis. He put him first under the Jesuits in Annecy; next, sending him to the University of Paris; and then for postgraduate work, enrolling him at the University of Padua. There, Francis dutifully earned doctorates in both Law and Theology.
The highly capable young Francis stumbled once in climbing that academic ladder. In Paris at eighteen he fell in with a group of Calvinists, and they somehow had him feeling that he was predestined to be damned. That conviction had him too sick to stir from his bed. Then, one day, at twenty, he lurched his way through the streets of Paris, and stumbled into a church. Falling before a statue of Mary, as he lay on that stone floor, the serene central thought of his life came to him. He heard St. John saying, “God is love.”
As he was completing his studies at the University of Padua, he had word that his father had arranged a marriage for him with a well-born heiress of Savoy. Replete with remorse over disappointing his father, he could not dismiss another calling. Traveling to Annecy, he presented himself to the bishop who obliged him by ordaining him a priest of the Diocese of Geneva.
Annecy is twenty-two miles south of Geneva, but the Calvinist government of Geneva had classed Catholicism as criminally treasonous. But, ignoring that ill will, Francis moved quietly among the Calvinists settled outside of Switzerland, bringing many of them back to the Mass and to Mary. In that time when the only religious writings available were either polemical or suited for monastery life, Francis wrote for simple believers. His faith reached out to simple souls in his Introduction to a Devout Life.
Francis gave us the wonderful Salesian Fathers, and together with St. Jane Frances Chantal he founded the Visitation Sisters. We should rejoice with their followers on their festive day.