Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 27, 1999
Francis de Sales ministered through printed word
When St. Francis de Sales was a young priest in the Savoy region of what is now southern France and western Switzerland in the late 16th century, he was assigned to minister in the Chablais region, in particular the town of Thonon.
This region had been won over almost totally to Calvinist Protestantism during the Reformation. Thonon had only about 20 Catholics among its 3,000 to 4,000 residents. When Francis arrived in town, the Eucharist had not been celebrated there in 60 years.
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. These conversions were not forced by any political ruler but were the result of a free act of conscience by those people who chose to join the Church.
How did Francis do it? Basically, by relying on the power of the printed word. His opportunities to preach were few and far between. So he decided to write a series of pamphlets defending Catholic teachings against Protestant objections.
Francis wrote his little tracts, had them published and then began slipping them under the doors of homes in the region. At first, progress was slow. But as people absorbed the content of those pamphlets by a young, holy Catholic priest, they began to see the truth they presented. Within four years, about two-thirds of the population of the region had become Catholic.
Today, we put great stock in newer media such as TV and the Internet. Indeed, these media are powerful. At the WCR, for four years we have had our own Web page where the articles published in the print edition have found a new audience of hundreds of people around the world.
But the success and power of the new media should not overshadow the importance of the printed word. The printed word can be read and re-read, digested and chewed. It encourages people to be participants rather than spectators. And it can present ideas which are not always easily represented in a visual form.
In 1923, Pope Pius XI declared St. Francis de Sales to be the patron saint of writers and journalists. St. Francis was never himself a journalist but the success of his ministry in an era when literacy levels were much lower than they are today shows that the printed word can have enormous effect.
Francis went on to become a bishop and to write two of the great spiritual classics of all time - Introduction to the Devout Life and A Treatise on the Love of God. Eventually he was named a doctor of the Church.
For those who donate $50 or more to the WCR during this year's donation drive, we will send a copy of Introduction to the Devout Life. It was the first major book to take the spiritual growth of the laity seriously.
St. Francis was one of the first major figures to understand that one could live a holy life outside the monastery. His "Introduction" provides a way to holiness in the midst of the trials and opportunities of a life lived in a busy world. It's a book every serious Catholic should read and ponder.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.