St. Francis de Sales

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Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622) was a Bishop of Geneva and is noted for his deep faith and gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is also known for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.

As a nobleman, Francis took lessons in the gentlemanly pursuits of riding, dancing, and fencing. He was described as intelligent and handsome, tall and well built with blue-grey eyes, somewhat reserved and quiet, and a welcome guest in the homes of the nobility among whom his father had connections.  In 1586 Francis de Sales attended a theological discussion about predestination, convincing him of his damnation to hell. A personal crisis of despair resulted.  His great despair made him physically ill and even bedridden for a time. Finally, in 1587, he visited the old parish of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès, Paris, where he prayed the “Memorare” before a famed statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance, a Black Madonna. He consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Maryand decided to dedicate his life to God with a vow of chastity.

This faithful devotion to God not only expelled his doubts but also influenced the rest of his life and his teachings. His way of teaching Catholic spirituality is often referred to as the Way of the Devout Life. In 1592, de Sales received his doctorate in law and theology and made up his mind to become a priest. Meanwhile, his father secured various positions for Francis, including an appointment as a senator. His father also chose a wealthy noble heiress as his bride as his father initially refused to accept that Francis had chosen the priesthood rather than fulfill his expectations with a political-military career.  However, ater signing over to his younger brother, Louis, his title and right of succession, Francis was ordained in 1593. Because the Calvinists controlled Geneva, Francis met great opposition from the Geneva ministers who accused de Sales of being a sorcerer.  He moved to Thonon, where more than once he escaped death at the hands of assassins.

In 1602, Sales was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. He resided in Annecy (now part of modern-day France) because Geneva remained under Calvinist control and was therefore closed to him. Sales founded the women’s Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in 1610. In December 1622 de Sales was required to travel to Lyon in the entourage of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, for the Duke’s Christmas tour of his domain. While there he suffered a stroke and died on 28 December 1622. Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII, who then canonized him four years later. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877.


  • Introduction to the Devout Life
  • Treatise on the Love of God
  • Letters of Spiritual Direction

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