St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church and Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland

Born: 28 Dec.

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1894:
FRANCIS was born of noble and pious parents, near Annecy, 1566, and studied with brilliant success at Paris and Padua. On his return from Italy he gave up the grand career which his father had marked out for him in the service of the state, and became a priest. When the Duke of Savoy had resolved to restore the Church in the Chablais, Francis offered himself for the work, and set out on foot with his Bible and breviary and 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 or resist him, and ere long the Church burst forth into a second spring. It is stated that he converted 72,000 Calvinists. He was then compelled by the Pope to become Coadjutor Bishop of Geneva, and succeeded to the see in 1602. At times the exceeding gentleness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and one of them said to him, "Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure of the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn." "Ah," said the Saint, "I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove—that is, gentleness itself. And are you wiser than God?" In union with St. Jane Frances of Chantal he founded at Annecy the Order of the Visitation, which soon spread over Europe. Though poor, he refused provisions and dignities, and even the great see of Paris. He died at Avignon, 1622.

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1895:


From his writings and authentic lives, chiefly that written by his
nephew, Charles Augustus de Sales: also that by F. Goulu, general of the
Feuillans: that by Henry de Maupas du Tour, bishop of Puy, afterwards of
Evreux: and that by Madame de Bussi-Rabutin, nun of the Visitation See
his life, collected by M. Marsoillier, and done into English by the late
Mr. Crathorne. See also the bull of his canonization, and an excellent
collection of his maxims and private actions, compiled by his intimate
friend and real admirer, M. Peter Caums, bishop of Bellay, in his book,
entitled, L'Espirit de St. Francois de Sales, and in his scarce and
incomparable work under the title. Quel est le meilleur Gouvernement, le
rigoureux ou le dour, printed at Paris without the name of the author,
1636. Though I find not this book in any catalogue of bishop Camus's
works, the conformity of style, and in several places the repetition of
the same expressions which occur in the last-mentioned work, seem to
prove this to be also the production of his pen. See also the excellent
new edition of the letters of St. Francis of Sales, in six volumes,
12mo. 1758.

A.D. 1622.

THE parents of this saint were Francis, count of Sales, and Frances of
Sionas. The countess being with child, offered her fruit to God with the
most fervent prayers, begging he would preserve it from the corruption
of the world, and rather deprive her of the comfort of seeing herself a
mother, than suffer her to give birth to a child who should ever become
his enemy by sin. The saint was born at Sales, three leagues from
Annecy, the seat of that noble family; and his mother was delivered of
him when she was {290} but seven months advanced in her pregnancy.[1]
Hence he was reared with difficulty, and was so weak, that his life,
during his infancy, was often despaired of by physicians. However, he
escaped the danger, and grew robust: he was very beautiful, and the
sweetness of his countenance won the affections of all who saw him: but
the meekness of his temper, the pregnancy of his wit, his modesty,
tractableness, and obedience, were far more valuable qualifications. The
countess could scarce suffer the child out of her sight, lest any
tincture of vice might infect his soul. Her first care was to inspire
him with the most profound respect for the church, and all holy things;
and she had the comfort to observe in him a recollection and devotion at
his prayers far above his age. She read to him the lives of the saints,
adding recollections suited to his capacity; and she took care to have
him with her when she visited the poor, making him the distributer of
her alms, and to do such little offices for them as he was able. He
would set by his own meat for their relief, and when he had nothing left
to bestow on them, would beg for them of all his relations. His horror
of a lie, even in his infancy, made him prefer any disgrace or
chastisement to the telling of the least wilful untruth.

His mother's inclination for a domestic preceptor, to prevent his being
corrupted by wicked youth in colleges, was overruled by her husband's
persuasion of the usefulness of emulation for advancing children in
their studies; hoping his son's virtue and modesty would, under God, be
a sufficient guard of his innocency. He was accordingly sent to
Rocheville, at six years of age, and some time after to Annecy. An
excellent memory, a solid judgment, and a good application, could not
fail of great progress. The young count spent as much of his time as
possible in private studies and lectures of piety, especially that of
the lives of saints; and by his diligence always doubled or trebled his
school tasks. He showed an early inclination for the ecclesiastical
state, and obtained his father's consent, though not without some
reluctance, for his receiving tonsure in the year 1578, and the eleventh
of his age. He was sent afterwards, under the care of a virtuous priest,
his preceptor, to pursue his studies in Paris; his mother having first
instilled into him steady principles of virtue, a love of prayer, and a
dread of sin and its occasions. She often repeated to him those words of
queen Blanche to her son St. Louis, king of France: "I had rather see
you dead, than hear you had committed one mortal sin." On his arrival at
Paris, he entered the Jesuits' schools, and went through his rhetoric
and philosophy with great applause. In pure obedience to his father's
orders, he learned in the academy to ride, dance, and fence, whence he
acquired that easy behavior which he retained ever after. But these
exercises, as matters of amusement, did not hinder his close application
to the study of the Greek and Hebrew languages, and of positive
divinity, for six years, under the famous Genebrard and Maldonatus. But
his principal concern all this time was a regular course of piety, by
which he labored to sanctify himself and all his actions. Pious
meditation, and the study of the holy scripture, were his beloved
entertainments: and he never failed to carry about him that excellent
book, called the Spiritual Combat. He sought the conversation of the
virtuous, particularly of F. Angelus Joyeuse, who, from a duke and
marshal of France, was become a Capuchin friar. The frequent discourses
of this good man on the necessity of mortification, induced the count to
add, to his usual austerities, the wearing of a hair shirt three days in
the week. His chief resort during his stay at Paris, was to some
churches, that especially of Saint Stephen des Grez, as being one of the
most retired. Here, he made {291} a vow of perpetual chastity, putting
himself under the special patronage of the Blessed Virgin. God, to
purify his heart, permitted a thick darkness insensibly to overspread
his mind, and a spiritual dryness and melancholy to overwhelm him. He
seemed, from a perfect tranquillity and peace of mind, to be almost
brought to the brink of despair. Seized with the greatest terrors, he
passed nights and days in tears and lamentations, and suffered more than
can be conceived by those who have not felt the severity of such
interior conflicts. The bitterness of his grief threw him into a deep
jaundice; he could neither eat, drink, nor sleep. His preceptor labored,
but all in vain, to discover the cause of this disorder, and find out a
remedy. At last, Francis, being at prayer in the same church of St.
Stephen, cast his eyes on a picture of our Lady: this awaking his
confidence in her intercession, he prostrated himself on the ground,
and, as unworthy to address the Father of all consolation, begged that
she would be his advocate, and procure him the grace to love God with
his whole heart. That very moment he found himself eased of his grief as
of a heavy weight taken off his heart, and his former peace and
tranquillity restored, which he ever after enjoyed. He was now eighteen
years old, when his father recalled him from Paris, and sent him to
Padua, to study the law, where his master was the celebrated Guy
Pancirola; this was in the year 1554. He chose the learned and pious
Jesuit, Antony Possevin, for his spiritual director; who at the same
time explained to him St. Thomas's Sum, and they read together
Bellarmin's controversies. His nephew, Augustus, gives us his written
rule of life, which he made at Padua: it chiefly shows his perpetual
attention to the presence of God, his care to offer up every action to
him, and implore his aid at the beginning of each. Falling sick, he was
despaired of by the physicians, and he himself expected with joy his
last moment. His preceptor, Deage, who had ever attended him, asked him
with tears, what he had to order about his funeral and other matters.
"Nothing," answered he, cheerfully, "unless it be, that my body be given
to the anatomy theatre to be dissected; for it will be a comfort to me
if I can be of any advantage when dead, having been of none while alive.
Thus I may also prevent some of the disorders and quarrels which happen
between the young physicians and the friends of the dead, whose bodies
they often dig up." However, he recovered; and by his father's orders,
being twenty years of age, commenced doctor in laws, with great applause
and pomp, in presence of forty-eight doctors. After which he travelled
through Italy to see the antiquities, and visit the holy places there.
He went to Rome by Ferrara, and returned by Loretto and Venice. To any
insult offered him on the road he returned only meekness; for which he
met with remarkable blessings from heaven. The sight of the pompous
remains of ancient Rome gave him a feeling contempt of worldly grandeur:
but the tombs of the martyrs drew everywhere tears of devotion from his
eyes. Upon his return his father received him with great joy, at his
castle of Tuille, where he had prepared for him a good library of books.

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