Francis was born to an ancient noble family of Boisy, in Savoy on Aug. 21, 1567 in Thorens-Glières, France.
He was privileged to attend the best French schools, then later went to study law at the University of Padua. There he discovered a definite interest in theology. He graduated with honors, returned to France in 1592, to practice law. His greatest desire, however, was to become a priest. On Dec. 18 of the following year he was ordained, and three days later, at the age of 26, he celebrated his first Mass.
As archpriest of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, Francis demonstrated qualities of zeal and charity, diplomacy and level-headedness. He came onto the scene during the rise of Calvinism, a branch Protestantism proscribing a doctrine of justification by faith alone and emphasizes the grace of God and the doctrine of predestination.
Francis volunteered to re-evangelize the Chablais region. Discouraged by his failure to connect with the people, he then studied Calvin’s doctrine to understand it thoroughly and better to explain the differences with the Catholic creed. Instead of resorting to preaching and theological dispute, he posted documents in public places and left door-to-door sheets and posters, expounding the individual truths of faith in a simple and effective way.
His conversions were few, but hostility and prejudice to Catholicism ceased. Francis then established himself in Thonon, in the capital of Chablais, and there dedicated himself, among other things, to visits to the sick, to charitable works and to personal talks with the faithful. He then asked to be transferred to Geneva, a symbolic city of the Calvinist doctrine, with the desire to recover as many believers as possible to the Catholic Church.
By 1602, Francis oversaw the whole diocese as its bishop. In his position of leadership, he visited parishes, trained the clergy, reorganized monasteries and convents. He preached incessantly. He chose the conversational catechism, and his perseverance and sweetness in spiritual direction led to various conversions.
In March 1604, during the Lenten preaching in Dijon, he met Giovanna Francesca Freymot de Chantal, and through their friendship arose a spiritual direction by epistolary correspondence. In 1608, he dedicated to her the “Introduction to the Devout Life,” or Philothea, which led readers to live in the world in a fully Christian life, through performance of their civil and social responsibilities. The work was a huge success.
The collaboration between de Sales and de Chantal produced the Congregation of the Visitation of Holy Mary, founded in 1610 in Annecy with the main purpose of visiting and helping the poor. Eight years later the congregation became a contemplative Order. Francis dictated the Constitutions, inspired by the rule of St. Augustine. Jane, however, insisted that her sisters also care for the instruction and education of girls, especially those born to wealthy families.
In 1616, Francis wrote the “Theotimus or Treatise on the Love of God,” a work of extraordinary theological, philosophical and spiritual depth. Conceived as a long letter addressed to a friend, Theotimus (the God-affeered or God-desiring), Francis presents to each man his essential vocation: to live is to love. The purpose of the work was to show the best ways for each person to make a personal encounter with God.
Francis de Sales died on Dec. 28, 1622 in Lyon, at the age of 52.
Francis is considered a Doctor of the Church and Patron of the Catholic Press.
Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Francis de Sales – Information on the Saint of the Day – Vatican News. (n.d.). Vatican News. Retrieved Jan. 21, 2021, from https: //www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/01/24/saint-francis-de-sales–bishop-of-geneva-and-doctor-of–the-chur.html