The Institute for Christian Formation
Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
Feast Day (Memorial): January 24
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Francis de Sales was born on August 21, 1567, the firstborn child of wealthy parents. His father was a senator from the province of Savoy in France, and it was his desire that Francis study law and follow in his footsteps. Francis attended the College of Clermont, a Jesuit-run institution at the University of Paris. Later, he studied at the University of Padua, where he earned doctorates in civil and canon law.
Although his father was initially opposed to the idea, Francis was ordained a priest on December 18, 1593. A few years later he went as a missionary to Chablais, a region around Lake Geneva and one of the eight states of Savoy. He worked for the conversion, or “re-conversion”, of Chablais. This was at the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation,
and Francis wrote and published numerous catechetical pamphlets which provided clear information about the Catholic Church, refuting the positions of the Reformers. This collection of pamphlets was called “Controversies.”
Francis de Sales was known as a caring priest and a gifted preacher and catechist. He became provost of Geneva, which was the center for the Calvinists. He desired to bring the Calvinists back to the Catholic Church. Eventually, Francis was ordained the bishop of Geneva.
A gifted and prolific writer, Francis de Sales wrote twenty-six books, including the spiritual classics, “Introduction to the Devout Life” and “Treatise on the Love of God.” (You can download a discussion guide for “Treatise on the Love of God” here, and can download wonderful resources on meditations from many other spiritual writings here.) While many spiritual writings at the time were geared towards religious and the clergy, Francis wrote for those in all walks of life, including the laity. Francis preached over 4,000 sermons and was also an extremely gifted spiritual director and confessor. One of the many who sought him out as a spiritual director was (Saint) Jane Frances de Chantal. (The stained glass windows in the Basilica of the Visitation in Annecy, France illustrate the wonderful life stories of Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, and you can view them here.) Together they founded the contemplative religious order, Visitation of Holy Mary, or the Visitation nuns, in 1610. Below is a video about the founding and spirituality of this order. Francis de Sales died on December 28, 1622, and was canonized in 1665 by Pope Alexander VII. He was named a Doctor of the Church in 1877 by Pope Pius IX. We celebrate the feast day (Memorial) of Saint Francis de Sales on January 24. He is the patron of writers, journalists, and those who are deaf. He is patron people who are deaf because he developed a method for teaching a young deaf person the catechism. (You can read more about this story from St. Francis’ life here.) A number of religious congregations have been founded under his patronage, including the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, the Salesians of Don Bosco, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. You can download a litany and novena to St. Francis de Sales here. “Daily with de Sales” is an online retreat based on the book “Every Day with St. Francis de Sales” by Rev. Francis J. Klauder.
Saint Francis de Sales Youth Activity
Saint Francis de Sales was a skilled writer who wrote and published numerous catechetical pamphlets which provided clear information about the Catholic Church, refuting the positions and misinformation of the Reformers. Ask youth to choose one Church teaching which they believe is misunderstood by their peers. Working alone, or in small groups, instruct the youth to create a pamphlet providing the correct Church teaching on the issue, written in a manner easily understood by their peers. Once completed, copy these pamphlets for distribution to your youth ministry, school, and/or parish community.
Saint Francis de Sales is sometimes referred to as the “Gentleman Saint,” and has also been called the “Doctor of Love.” Wonderful quotes are attributed to Francis de Sales, a popular one being, “You can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar."
Below is a short video biography of Saint Francis de Sales produced by the Institute of Salesian Spirituality from a scholarly essay written by Father Arthur J. Lenti, SDB.
Click on the image above to download our ICF Saint Francis de Sales handout.