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St. Francis de Sales

Born: August 21, 1567

Died: December 28, 1622

Feast Day: January 24

Patron of: Adult education, deaf people, and journalists

One Catholic image of a saint is a tough, scraggly-bearded figure, scratching away in his hairshirt, railing against the comforts of the world. 

Saint Francis de Sales was an elegant French bishop who wrote with unfailing style, endeared himself to his wealthy parishioners, and had a delicious sense of humor. (He did have a beard, but it was well trimmed.) 

In 1581, at the age of 14, Francis persuaded his father to let him attend a Jesuit college rather than the college that the sons of noblemen traditionally attend. While he briefly took up riding, dancing, and fencing to satisfy his father, Francis here first learned to use his classical Renaissance education in the service of Christianity.

Francis finally overcame his father’s protest and became a priest. Nine years later, he was named Bishop of Geneva and soon became beloved throughout France. 

What might be called Francis’ life work was almost unheard of in its day: to show how people in every walk of life are called to holiness—particularly people with more than their share of wealth. “Apothecaries … are not poisoned because they keep their poisons not in their bodies, but in their shops,” he once wrote. “In like manner you may possess riches without being poisoned by them, provided you have them for use in your house or in your purse, and not, by love, in your heart.”

His advice on prayer seems meant for harried twentieth-century Americans: “You should arrange the length of your prayer according to the number of things you have to do; and since it has pleased our Lord to give you the sort of life which involves constant distractions, you must get used to making your prayers short…”  

Because of Francis’ elegant prose style and famous writings, he was named the patron saint of journalists. 

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he touches on dancing, games, and “good conversation.” He had little use for those who took themselves too seriously: “Take scrupulous care never to irritate your husband or your household  by overmuch churchgoing, exaggerated seclusion, or neglect of your family’s duties. Don’t… turn your nose at conversations which fail to conform to your own lofty standards,” he once wrote. 

Francis was blessed with an abundance of common sense and good humor. He was a shining example of saying that “A sad saint is a sorry saint.”

Catherine O'Connell Cahill

Image: Wikimedia Commons