Saint Francis de Sales|
Patron Saint of the Catholic Press
The thirty-first Doctor in this chronological series on the Doctors of the Church was born in France, yet reached every corner of the world with his works and influence. His piety, zeal and energy caught the eye of no less than the Pope himself who made him one of the youngest bishops to rule the See of Geneva. Along with another saint, he founded the Visitandines. He was known for his gentleness and meekness, and his holiness so well known that he was the first person to be beatified in the new St. Peter's Basilica. In 1923 he was officially proclaimed "Patron Saint of the Catholic Press." This meek warrior of the word was Saint Francis de Sales.
Born of noble and pious parents in Savoy, France near Annecy on August 21, 1567, nearly 50 years after the Protestant Reformation, Francis de Sales would go on to play a major role in beginning the swing of the pendulum back to Holy Mother Church. Spurning the luxury of a barrister, this learned graduate of the University of Padua opted to become a priest.
When the duke of Savoy resolved to restore the shattered Church in the Chablais, Francis offered himself for the work and set out on foot with his Bible and breviary, accompanied by one companion, his cousin Louis of Sales. It was a work of toil, privation and danger. Every door and every heart was closed against him. He was rejected with insult and threatened with death, but nothing could daunt him or resist him indefinitely. And before long the Church blossomed into a second spring. It is said that he converted 72,000 Calvinists.
He was so successful Pope Clement VIII elevated him to the See of the Bishopric of Geneva in 1602 at the age of 35. Accused by some of being too gentle, he offered the rationalization, "I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity."
In fact the holy man of Paris Saint Vincent de Paul said of him, in praise of his gentleness, “How good God must be, since the bishop of Geneva, His minister, is so good!” At times the great meekness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and they protested when he received insults in silence. One of them said to him, “Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure about the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn!” “Ah,” said the Saint, “you would have me lose in one instant all the meekness I have been able to acquire by twenty years of efforts? I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove; are you wiser than God?” When a hostile visitor said to him one day, “If I were to strike you on the cheek, what would you do?” Saint Francis answered, with his customary humility, “Ah! I know what I should do, but I cannot be sure of what I would do.”
This virtue of gentleness helped convince the widow of the Baron of Chantal, none other than Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, to whom Francis was Spiritual Director, to help him found the Order of Visitation Nuns (the Visitandines) in 1610.
The fruits of their labors in this holy endeavor soon spread throughout Europe and eventually the world. Vowed to poverty, Francis refused all provisions and honors, including politely declining the See of Paris to remain head of the Geneva Diocese. He devoted much to writing including his two brilliant works Introduction to the Devout Life which he penned in 1609 as a guide for the nuns to-be, and seven years later wrote Treatise on the Love of God which simply points out that sanctity is achievable in everyone's life. Both books have gone on to become spiritual must-reading for religious and laity alike.
This gentle, but firm and sincere saint fell ill in the winter of 1622 in Lyons, France and passed on to his Heavenly reward three days after Christmas on December 28, 1622 at the age of 55. Later the next year he was the first person to be beatified in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He was canonized 43 years later by Pope Alexander VII and declared a "Doctor of the Church" by Pope Pius IX in 1877. St. Francis de Sales holds a special place in the hearts of all editors, journalists, writers and authors as their patron saint which was made official on January 24, 1923 when Pope Pius XI proclaimed him the designated "Patron Saint of the Catholic press."
Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney (Doubleday); Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).
For the chronological list of the Doctors of the Church to date, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2003doc.htm