St. Frances de Sales - Co-Founder of the Visitation Order
Childhood and youth
Francis de Sales was born Aug 21, 1567. Château de Thorens into a Savoyard noble family in what is today Thorens-Glières, Haute-Savoie, France. His father was François de Boisy and his mother was Françoise de Sionnz. Because he was the first of six children, his father wanted him to attend the best schools, and he enjoyed a privileged education in the nearby towns of La Roche-sur-Foron and Annecy; his spiritual formation and academics were formed by the Jesuits (a Roman Catholic religious order also known as the Society of Jesus). In 1578, at the age of 12, he went to the Collège de Clermont in Paris. A year later Francis was engulfed in a personal crisis when, after attending a theological discussion about predestination, he 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, in southern France, with great difficulty. There 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, 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 in Italy, where he studied both law and theology. There he made up his mind about becoming a priest. Intelligent and handsome, de Sales 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. de Sales interpreted this, among other signs, that Jesus Christ was calling him to a life of sacrifice and self-giving love for the Church.
In 1592, he ended his studies with the title of "doctor", certified both in 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 the priesthood over a military or political career.
After studying the humanities, rhetoric, theology, and law, he famously refused to marry the wealthy heiress his father had chosen as his bride, preferring a clerical career. The intervention of Claude de Granier, then Bishop of Geneva, won him ordination and appointment as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva in 1593.
Since the time of the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517, the seat of the Catholic bishops of Geneva, Switzerland, had been located at Annecy in Savoy, France, 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 (i.e., Catholicism). He also traveled to Rome and Paris, where he forged alliances with Pope Clement VIII and the French King Henry IV.
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 1602, Bishop Granier died, and Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. During his years as bishop, he acquired 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 in his books. He died on 28 December 1622 in Lyon, France, while travelling in the entourage of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy.
The Roman Catholic Church today celebrates St Francis de Sales' feast on January 24, the day of his burial in Annecy in the year 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 January 29, and this date is kept by those who prefer to follow a calendar of this period.
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. He was a notably clear and gracious stylist in French, Italian and Latin.
Heraldic device of Saint Francis de SalesSt Francis de Sales is buried at the basilica of the Visitation, Annecy. Many miracles have been reported at his shrine. The relic of his heart was kept at Lyon, whence during the French Revolution it was moved to Venice, where it is venerated today.
Along with Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Francis founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in Annecy on 6 June 1610. The order of the Salesians of Don Bosco (s.d.b.), founded by St John Bosco in 1859 (approved by the Holy See in 1874), is named after him, as are the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (o.s.f.s.), founded by Louis Brisson, and the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, founded by Peter Mermier in 1830. The Paulist Fathers also count him as one of their patrons.