Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 1999
Who is Francis de Sales?
By WCR Staff
So who is this St. Francis de Sales who is of such great interest to Archbishop Thomas Collins?
Francis de Sales lived from 1567 to 1622 in the Savoy region of what is today southeastern France.
He is a doctor of the Church, co-founder of the order of the Visitation, author of the classic Introduction to the Devout Life and patron saint of journalists.
From 1602 until his death, Francis was bishop of Geneva-Annecy. But he only visited Calvinist Geneva once and never made an impact on this centre of the Reformation.
One place Francis did make a mark was in the Chablais region on the south shore of Lake Geneva prior to his appointment as bishop. The area was virtually bereft of Catholics and Francis volunteered to go there as a missionary in 1594.
He focused his efforts on the town of Thonon where the Eucharist had not been celebrated in 60 years. Francis could not even find the 20 or so Catholics who were among the town's 3,000-4,000 residents.
But within four years, virtually every person in Thonon had become Catholic and 25,000 people in the region had been converted to the Catholic faith.
Francis helped bring about this rapid mass conversion by writing pamphlets which vigorously spelled out the truths of the Catholic faith and exposed the errors of the Protestant reformers.
He slipped his little tracts under the doors of homes in the region. When the people read these pamphlets and also witnessed the holiness Francis showed in the face of intense persecution, the Catholic faith became irresistible to them.
As a bishop, Francis instituted the reforms of the Council of Trent in his diocese - preaching widely, catechizing children and reforming the monasteries.
He was so well loved that children followed him in the street and many adults sought him out for spiritual direction.
He preached an optimistic spirituality which paid more attention to the attraction of virtue than to the evils of sin. And he urged Catholics to focus less on their past sins than on preparing to avoid future spiritual dangers.
Francis had little patience for controversies within the Church.
"I hate all contentions and disputes within the Church. They are purposeless," he once wrote. "In an age when there are so many enemies outside, I believe that we should not disturb anything within the body of the Church."