Life & Soul

Saint of the week: St Francis de Sales (January 24)

St Francis de Sales

A bishop of Geneva during the period of the Counter-Reformation, “the gentleman saint” was known for both his strong faith and his gentle touch in dealing with religious division. Perhaps most of all, Francis is known for his writing on spiritual formation, such as the Introduction to the Devout Life, which is why he is today the patron of journalists.

Born in 1567 into a noble family in Savoy, Francis was the eldest of six sons and was well educated in preparation for his intended career as a magistrate. Attending a Jesuit college from the age of 16, along with his own servant and priest-tutor, Abbé Deage, he learned the arts of fencing and riding. The following year, following a theological discussion about hell and predestination, despair overcame him, making him physically ill. The crisis came to an end when he prayed to the Black Madonna at the parish of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès in Paris, consecrating his life to the Virgin Mary with a vow of chastity.

His conclusion, in short, was that God is love, and his type of Catholic spirituality is called the Way of Divine Love, or the Devout Life. He was ordained in 1593. In 1599, he became coadjutor bishop of Geneva, and from 1601 became increasingly involved in international diplomacy, helping to bring peace to a country wracked by religious hatred. He died in Lyon in 1622.