St. Francis de Sales was a very patient man. Born in France in 1567, de Sales had a habit of waiting to go forth with his plans until he was absolutely sure it was God’s will. Knowing for many years that he wanted to enter the priesthood and devote his life to God, he never told a soul. At his father’s urging, Francis de Sales went to Paris to study. Waiting for the proper sign from God, he went on to receive his doctorate in law while studying theology. Francis didn’t even divulge his desire for the priesthood when a bishop even suggested he had a miter in his future!
Apparently, God did have an important plan for Francis de Sales and he finally made His will known when Francis fell from his horse. Not just once, but three times upon falling, his sword came out of its scabbard and landed on the ground in the shape of a cross. If God had not made Himself clear enough through the sword, God made sure he was appointed provost of his diocese before de Sales even made his wishes to serve God known.
But God had bigger plans for St. Francis de Sales than to be a pastor. In fact, he was an utter failure as a pastor! His parishioners, aware that de Sales had come from wealth, found Francis patronizing and conceited. Homilies were not the strong point of Father de Sales, but God had more important plans for Francis.
Francis de Sales lived during the Protestant reformation. Father de Sales become convinced that it was his mission to go into Switzerland, where Calvinists lived, and bring them back to Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately, his wealthy father refused to support this endeavor and his diocese was too poor to fund it.
Undeterred, Father Francis de Sales roamed the Swiss countryside attempting to convert the Calvinists to Catholicism. Nobody would listen. Through three bitter winters with no quarters to keep warm, he continued his mission. After three long years, Father Francis had not convinced one Calvinist to convert. A less patient man would have conceded loss. But not St. Francis de Sales, for Francis had a plan.
If the Swiss Calvinists would not open their doors to listen to Francis de Sales, he would write out his homilies and deliver them under the doors of the people. Finally, success! This is the first recorded use of written sermons used as a method of communication. When St. Francis de Sales left Switzerland, he had successfully converted over 40,000 people to the Catholic faith through his writing.
In 1602, Francis de Sales was made the bishop of the diocese of Geneva. In 1604, de Sales met Jane de Chantal, a widow, and the two became friends. In 1610, the Saint Francis helped de Chantal to found the order of the Visitation for our Lady. This is an order for widows and laywomen who choose to live a contemplative life without taking full orders.
As bishop, Saint Francis continued to give spiritual direction to many, predominantly through letters. Writing for de Sales was his best form of communication and he wrote many books, his most famous being “Introduction to the Devout Life,” which became a smashing success in Europe.
Saint Francis de Sales died on December 28, 1622 and the last word he spoke was one all writers should take to heart. Saint Francis’s last word? “Humility!”
To read how Saint Francis de Sales has helped this author in her newfound writing career, read How to Become a Better Writer.