SAINT FRANCIS OF SALES
Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Francis de Sales was born on 21 August 1567 in the Château de Sales into the noble Sales family of the Duchy of Savoy, in what is today Thorens-Glières, Haute-Savoie, France. His father was François de Sales, Lord of Boisy, Sales and Novel, and his mother was Françoise de Sionnz, the only child of a prominent magistrate. 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 and his spiritual formation and academics were entrusted to the Jesuits. In 1583, he went to the Collège de Clermont in Paris.
A year later, at the age of 17, Sales was engulfed in a personal crisis, after attending a theological discussion about predestination which resulted in his becoming convinced that he was damned to hell. This conviction lasted through December 1586. His despair was so great that he was physically ill and even bedridden for a time. The following month, January 1587, with great difficulty, he visited the ancient Church of Saint-Étienne des Grès in Paris. There his crisis ended in prayer before a famed statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance, a Black Madonna, and he decided to dedicate his life to God. He then became a tertiary of the Minim Order.
Sales 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.
These last qualities come through in Sales’ books, the most famous of which was “Introduction to the Devout Life”, which – unusual for the time – was written especially for laypeople. In it he counseled charity over penance as a means of progressing in the spiritual life.
Sales also left the mystical work, the “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.
His writings on the perfections of the heart of Mary as the model of love for God influenced Jean Eudes to develop the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Sales founded the women’s Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in Annecy on 6 June 1610.
Sales also established a small community of men, an Oratory of St. Philip Neri, at Thonon-les-Bains, with himself as the superior or Provost. This work, however, was crippled by his death, and that foundation soon died out
In December 1622 Sales was required to travel in the entourage of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, for the Duke’s Christmas tour of his domain. Upon arrival in Lyon, he chose to stay in the gardener’s hut at the Visitandine monastery in that city. While there he suffered a stroke, from which Sales died on the 28th of December, 1622.
His Patronages were MANY….
Having been founded as the first non-cloistered group of sisters after attempts to do so with the Visitation Sisters founded by de Sales and de Chantal proved unsuccessful, the Sisters of St. Joseph (founded in Le Puys, France, in 1650) take St. Francis de Sales as one of their patrons.
In 1923, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a patron of writers and journalists, because he made extensive use of flyers and books both in spiritual direction and in his efforts to convert the Calvinists of the region.
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 the 19th century, his vision for religious communities was revived. Several religious institutes were founded during that period for men and women desiring to live out the spiritual path which de Sales had developed.
The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (M.S.F.S.), founded by the Abbé Pierre Mermier in 1830 were the first congregation to adopt his spirituality in the 19th century.
The religious institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (S.D.B.), founded by St. John Bosco in 1859 (approved by the Holy See in 1874), was originally named the Society of St. Francis de Sales, and was placed under his patronage.
The Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales (O.S.F.S.) were founded by St. Léonie Aviat and the Blessed Louis Brisson, under the spiritual guidance of the Venerable Marie de Sales Chappuis, V.H.M., in 1866.
The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (O.S.F.S.) were later founded by Brisson for men, also under the guidance of Mother Marie de Sales, in 1875.
The Paulist Fathers in the United States count him as one of their patrons.
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of priests founded in the 20th century, also has St. Francis de Sales as one of their three primary Patrons. The institute promotes Salesian spirituality heavily, using the Saint’s writings to instruct both their seminarians and lay faithful. As St. Francis is often depicted in art wearing blue choir dress, the approved choir dress for members of the institute is also blue. One of the major apostolates of the Institute in the United States is the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis, Missouri.
St. Francis de Sales College, in Mount Barker, Australia, is named after him.
The island of St. François Atoll is named in honor of St. Francis de Sales.
DeSales University, located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, (formerly Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales), is named for St. Francis de Sales. It is a Catholic liberal arts college administered by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, medal 1867
Salesianum School, an all-boys private school in Wilmington, Delaware, which is named after him, is also run by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Also named in his honor, Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1876.
Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, is also named after St. Francis de Sales.
St. Francis de Sales is recognized as an exemplary in the Church of England, where his memoria is also observed on January 24, and in the Church in Wales, where his memorial was moved to January 23, due to a conflict with that of St Cadoc.
St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo, Ohio is a school dedicated to St. Francis and educating young men for their futures as leaders, helpers, and Christians. Another example is Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1964 by Oblates of
St. Francis de Sales.
Bishop Ireton established a Salesian charter in order to continue this heritage of St. Francis. Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell is a graduate of Bishop Ireton High School (class of 1972).
St. Francis de Sales High School (Chicago, Illinois) a coed institution of higher learning standards dedicated and named after St.Francis de Sales.