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January Saint: St. Francis de Sales

We often think of saints as being spiritual “superheroes,” set apart from the rest of humanity and endowed with holiness and faith beyond the grasp of ordinary individuals.
 
St. Francis de Sales, however, would be the first to assure us that this is simply not so; having weathered his own spiritual crisis, he went on to become a gentle and reassuring saint who encouraged and celebrated the sanctity of both the ordained and the laity in all walks of life.
 
Francis was born in 1567 to an old, aristocratic family in the province of Savoy, France. The eldest of six brothers (there were 12 children in the family), it was assumed that he would follow his father into the law and eventually also take his place as the senator from Savoy. To that end, he was sent to study first in Paris and later at Padua, Italy, where he eventually earned his doctorate.
 
It was while he was studying in Paris that Francis experienced a severe spiritual crisis. He had come to believe in the notion of predestination and was so terrified of being automatically condemned to hell that he became physically ill. It was not until he was at prayer in the Church of St. Stephen that his crisis was suddenly lifted. It was then that he consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin and decided to become a priest.
 
Upon his return to Savoy, things seemed at first to be falling into line with his father’s plans; there had even been an advantageous marriage arranged for Francis, so it came as a great surprise to the elder de Sales when his son announced that he had decided to pursue an ecclesiastical life instead. A sharp dispute arose between the two, but Francis, by dint of his gentle and persuasive nature, eventually convinced his father to allow him to follow his religious calling.
 
For Francis, a large part of that calling would be taken up with both preaching and writing. After his ordination, he was sent to Geneva, Switzerland, which at the time was a center of Calvinism. His great gift for writing and his gentle character won many converts; as he was fond of saying, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”
 
At the age of 35, Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva and, in addition to his administrative duties he continued to exercise his pastoral care of the people. He also continued to write; his two best-known books were “Introduction to the Devout Life” and “A Treatise on the Love of God.”
 
In his later years, Francis collaborated with another saint, Jane Frances de Chantal, to establish a new religious order, the Sisters of the Visitation.
 
Francis died in 1622 of natural causes. He was canonized in 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1887. Because of the tremendous influence of his writing, he was also declared the patron saint of both the Catholic press and Catholic writers in 1923.
 
His feast day is Jan. 24.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
Pernin, Raphael. "St. Francis de Sales." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.
“Saint Francis de Sales.” CatholicSaints.Info. Sept. 7, 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.” Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
 
 
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