Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622) was born into the noble Sales family of the Duchy of Savoy, in France, the eldest of six children and the heir to his father’s estate. He was given an excellent education. He studied rhetoric and the humanities at a Jesuit College in Paris and obtained doctorate degrees in law and theology at the University of Padua. Saint Francis de Sales was described as being intelligent, handsome, tall and well built, with blue grey eyes, somewhat reserved and quiet, and a welcome guest in the homes of his father’s friends.
Even though he was educated to be a lawyer, he felt called to the priesthood and, after much prayer and discernment, he decided to follow this path. During the period of discernment, he was once riding his horse and his sword fell to the ground forming a cross with another sword. He saw this as a sign from Heaven that his path was indeed to become a priest. He renounced his inheritance in favour of the next brother in the line of succession and was ordained a priest in 1593. Immediately, he was made the superior of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, an area that had become almost completely Calvinist. Because of this, at first, he had to live in a fortress garrisoned by the Duke of Savoy’s soldiers. Several times he escaped death at the hands of assassins sent by the Protestants.
In 1602, Saint Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. He worked diligently for the conversion of the Calvinists through his writings and preaching. His diocese became a model of organisation, zealous clergy and well-instructed laity. He had a devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi and during this period the saint appeared to him in the shores of Lake Geneva and said, “You desire martyrdom, just as I once longed for it. But, like me, you will not obtain it. You will have to become an instrument of your own martyrdom.”
His white martyrdom was a life of self-denial and hard work in favour of his flock and for the conversion of those who had left the faith.
Among his writings are Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God. Together with Saint Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the congregation of the Visitandines, a religious order for women. Saint Francis de Sales died in December 1622 of a stroke and was made patron saint of writers and journalists in 1923 by Pope Pius XI.