Tomorrow, Wednesday 24th January, is the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), one-time Bishop of Geneva. Francis was born in the family castle in Savoy in 1567 and was privately educated in Annecy, a Jesuit college in Paris. In 1588, he began to study philosophy and theology at the University of Padua where in 1591 he became a doctor of law. It looked as if he would have a dazzling career; he was offered a senatorship and a highly desirable marriage. Francis, however, had decided to become a priest and despite strong opposition from his family, was ordained in 1593. His education equipped him well to become a memorable preacher and he also became known for his works for charity towards the poor. His first mission as a priest was in Chablis, where he attempted to convert the strongly Calvinistic people there back to Catholicism. He was frequently under attack and in physical danger, but by patient and compassionate preaching, he succeeded in making many new converts and restoring many lapsed Catholics to their faith. In 1602 he was appointed the Bishop of Geneva and became a leading figure in the counter-reformation movement, famed for his simple, straightforward preaching, his administrative process and his untiring intellect. Francis involved himself personally in catechism classes, and he founded many excellent schools. It was during this time that he befriended a widow, Jane Francis de Chantal. He became her spiritual advisor and, guided by him, she founded the Order of the Visitation in 1610, usually known as the Visitandines. Francis died in Lyon in 1622 and was canonised in 1665 by Pope Alexander VII, who declared him a Doctor of the Church. Francis has been named patron saint of writers for his example of persuasive and reasonable Christian writings. Two of his works are still popular today: his Treatise on the Love of God and his Introduction to the Devout Life, the latter being first guide to piety to be written for laypeople. It grew out of advice and instruction which he had written privately to his cousin, who later persuaded him to publish it. Many of his letters to Jane Francis de Chantal also survive. The story of his remarkable life is well worth exploring.
May he pray for us during this week of prayer for unity that one day all Christians may enjoy full communion in doctrine, life and worship.