Acta Sanctorum: St. Francis de Sales (Jan 24)
January 24, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Life (1567-1622)

Francis de Sales was one of the 13 children of a nobleman of Savoy, in eastern France. Frail as a child, he was tutored privately; but he proved to be highly intelligent, and naturally truthful and docile.

As a teenager, Francis was sent to study at the University of Paris. The sons of nobles who frequented this university usually lived in the College de Navarre. Preferring a less worldly residence, Francis signed up with the Jesuit College de Clermont. He studied theology and became adept at it, and he also took a vow of perpetual chastity.

Before long, however, he underwent the traumatic temptation of fearing the loss of his soul. Finally, he prayed, “O God, even if I may not be permitted to see You in heaven, grant nevertheless that while alive I may love You with all my heart.” After he had made that total offering of himself, the terrible temptation ceased completely. This dreadful trial taught him how to sympathize with people who had grave spiritual difficulties.

Although Francis had majored in theology, he had not yet declared his intention to become a priest. He knew well that his father wanted him to remain in the world and marry, so along with theology he studied the “social arts” of riding, fencing and dancing. After his term in Paris he went to Padua, Italy, to take a course in law. Only in 1593 did he succeed in getting his father’s permission to be ordained a priest of the diocese of Geneva.

In his early priestly years, Father Francis quickly acquired a reputation as a clear and moving preacher, a helpful confessor, and a great benefactor of the poor.

In those days, the diocese of Geneva, in French Switzerland, also extended into Savoy, France. The French reformer John Calvin had by that time won over many Savoian Catholics to Protestantism, and weakened the morale of the remaining Catholic minority. The duke of Savoy asked the bishop of Geneva to send Catholic priests into the Savoian district of the Chablais, in order to win its population back to the Church. Francis volunteered, and was accepted. Fearing for the life of his son, Francis’ father told the bishop that he had no intention of seeing his priest son martyred. But the young priest urged the bishop to stand firm. Whatever the risk, he considered this mission to be his duty.

The father’s fears were not baseless. Francis, while working in the Chablais, was beaten up once by a mob and twice escaped assassination. (He was also treed one whole night by hungry wolves.) But by perseverance and prayer he won back many lapsed Catholics and strengthened the wavering. One device that he used was to write, publish and distribute leaflets that summarized the teachings of the Church. The approach he took was also effective. He did not condemn anybody; he just showed his love for them.

In 1602 Father Francis was consecrated bishop of Geneva. Now his influence became still wider. His skill as a spiritual director led him to establish, in collaboration with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, the order of Visitation nuns. The Sisters of St. Joseph, too, are traceable to his inspiration.

But St. Francis also did much to cultivate lay piety. A series of spiritual letters that he wrote to a lay relative, later collected into a book, became his famous Introduction to the Devout Life. Particularly because of this brilliant little work, he would eventually be proclaimed a doctor of the Church. The spiritual doctrine that he teaches is firm but gentle. As he himself points out, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Canonized in 1665, St. Francis de Sales was in 1933 declared by Pope Pius XI the patron saint of journalists. This was because of his doctrinal leaflets. Francis might also be appropriately designated patron saint of premature infants. He himself had been a “preemie”!

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture: Ephesians 3:8-12

I, Paul, who am less than the least of all the saints, have been entrusted with this special grace, not only of proclaiming to the pagans the infinite treasure of Christ but also of explaining how the mystery is to be dispensed. Through all the ages, this has been kept hidden in God, the creator of everything. Why? So that the Sovereignties and Powers should learn only now, through the Church, how comprehensive God’s wisdom really is, exactly according to the plan which he had had from all eternity in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is why we are bold enough to approach God in complete confidence, through our faith in him.


(Year A) The world, looking on, sees that devout persons fast, watch and pray, endure injury patiently, minister to the sick and poor, restrain their temper, check and subdue their passions, deny themselves in all sensual indulgence, and do many other things which in themselves are hard and difficult. But the world sees nothing of that inward, heartfelt devotion which makes all these actions pleasant and easy. Watch a bee hovering over the mountain thyme;--the juices it gathers are bitter, but the bee turns them all to honey,--and so tells the worldling, that though the devout soul finds bitter herbs along its path of devotion, they are all turned to sweetness and pleasantness as it treads;--and the martyrs have counted fire, sword, and rack but as perfumed flowers by reason of their devotion. And if devotion can sweeten such cruel torments, and even death itself, how much more will it give a charm to ordinary good deeds? We sweeten unripe fruit with sugar, and it is useful in correcting the crudity even of that which is good. So devotion is the real spiritual sweetness which takes away all bitterness from mortifications; and prevents consolations from disagreeing with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich of presumption; it keeps the oppressed from feeling desolate, and the prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from the lonely, and dissipation from social life; it is as warmth in winter and refreshing dew in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want; how to profit alike by honour and contempt; it accepts gladness and sadness with an even mind, and fills men's hearts with a wondrous sweetness. (Introduction to the Devout Life)

Note: Pope Francis has issued a recent apostolic letter (Totum amoris est; December 28, 2022)  to commemorate the fourth centenary of the death of St. Francis de Sales.  It can be found at

Musical Selection

Prayer of St. Francis de Sales

Lord, I am yours, and I must belong to no one but you.

My soul is yours, and must live only by you.

My will is yours, and must love only for you.

I must love you as my first cause, since I am from you.

I must love you as my end and rest, since I am for you.

I must love you more than my own being, since my being subsists by you.

I must love you more than myself, since I am all yours and all in you. AMEN.


Lord our God, you enabled the holy bishop Francis de Sales to become all things to all people in order to win their salvation;

grant that, following his example, we may always manifest your gentle love in the service of our neighbour.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)