For many, the 24th January is unlikely to be a day where anything noteworthy happens. Yet, it marks the feast of St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, journalists and of the deaf.
His spirituality and writings would help inspire countless people during his life and after his death – including St Vincent de Paul.
This is his story.
Francis de Sales was born on 21st August 1567 into the Sales family, a Noble Family from the Duchy of Savoy. His father, François de Sales, was the Lord of Sales, Novel and de Boisy whilst his mother, Françoise de Sionnaz, was the daughter of a prominent magistrate.
Originally, de Sales was poised for a future as a magistrate and enjoyed a privileged education and lifestyle. Included in his education were lessons on gentlemanly pursuits such as riding, dancing and fencing.
In general, he has been described as an intelligent, handsome and tall man, somewhat reserved and quiet – yet well-built with blue-grey eyes.
In 1586, at the age of 19, de Sales experienced a personal crisis of despair after being convinced he was damned to go to Hell after attending a theological discussion on predestination – the belief that all events have been willed by God, including the fate of an individual’s soul.
So great was his despair that de Sales became physically ill to the point of being bedridden throughout the month of December and potentially even into early January.
However, he eventually concluded that God would not condemn him to Hell because “God is love”.
Following this, de Sales consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary before the famed statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance (most famed for being the depiction of a Black Mary), de Sales dedicated his life to God and became a member of the Minim Order.
Though originally facing fierce resistance from his father into joining the priesthood officially, de Sales was allowed to join the priesthood after the position of provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva was secured.
This post was considered the highest office in the diocese due to the direct patronage to the Pope that it provided.
In 1594, de Sales began writing pamphlets of religious instruction at a time when he was assigned to the Chamblais region which had strong Calvinist sentiment.
His time in Chamblais proved dangerous for de Sales, as armed men and assassins were sent several times to try and silence the priest – who was called a sorcerer by Calvinist ministers due to his great eloquent way of speaking.
Following his missions in Chamblais, de Sales rose to the position of Bishop of Geneva in 1602. His diocese became famous throughout Europe for its efficient organisation, zealous clergy and well-instructed laity.
Throughout his years as Bishop of Geneva, de Sales gained a reputation of hosting renowned sermons, raising his belief in goodness, patience and mildness to the level of proverbial.
His motto for his teachings, “He who preaches with love, preaches effectively”, also strongly featured throughout his writings in life.
All of these qualities would reflect in his numerous writings, letters and books. His most famous of which was the Introduction to the Devout Life which was written for laypeople specifically and was considered an unusual target audience for the time.
His writings counselled charity over penance as a means of progressing further into one’s spirituality and wrote countless, highly valued letters on spiritual devotion to his followers.
Alongside St. Jane Frances de Chantal, de Sales also founded the women’s Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in Annecy in 1610 which originally was one of the few orders were members did not have to live cloistered lives.
Following his death in 1622, he was later beatified by Pope Alexander VII in 1661 and later canonised in 1665.
He has been hailed ‘The Gentleman Saint’ for his patience and gentleness yet is also accredited to being the patron of writers and journalists due to his writings and impartiality towards Christian sects in his sermons to convert the Calvinists of his regions.
Having also created a sign language to teach a deaf man about God, de Sales is the patron Saint of the deaf.
His spiritual writings have withstood the test of time, and his teachings filled with love remain a strong pillar for spiritual direction to this very day. Braving the dangers of those trying to silence his words, de Sales sets an example of all those who strive to speak up despite those attempting to bring them down.
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