Francis de Sales was born in the Savoy district of France in 1567 and ordained a priest in 1593. At that time the religious and political struggles of the time had placed under the control of Roman Catholic rulers several regions in which the people were mostly Protestants. Francis was sent to preach in one such region near his birthplace, attempting to persuade his hearers to become Roman Catholics. Since he was seen to be persuasive, he was appointed in 1602 to be Roman Catholic bishop of Geneva, a Calvinist stronghold which had been captured by the Roman Catholic Duke of Savoy. Here again, he brought many to his way of thinking. His motto was, "He who preaches with love, preaches effectively." His numerous controversial tracts are unfailingly courteous to his opponents. Many Christians who are not at all convinced of the truth of the Romanist position by his arguments nevertheless read him with delight because of his obvious love for God and his neighbor.
By no means all of his writings were concerned with disputation. His best known and best loved treatises were concerned with the life of prayer, and were written to advise those who wish to become more aware of the presence of God in their lives. His Introduction to the Devout Life was highly praised by John Wesley. C.S. Lewis has referred to the "dewy freshness" that permeates the book. It is available in English, as is his The Love of God. Both have been used and found helpful by Christians of many different denominations.
In 1604 he met a widow, Jane Frances de Chantal (born at Dijon, 1572, died 12 December 1641), and under his influence she founded a religious order of nuns called the Order of the Visitation. Their correspondence is an outstanding example of mutual Christian encouragement and support.
Francis died at Lyons 29 December 1622. Since this date is already spoken for (Thomas a Becket), he is remembered 24 January.
Prayers (traditional language)
The following information is copied verbatim from a paper I received from the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, located in Washington, DC.
In 1605, an indigent young man named Martin, a deaf-mute from birth, came almost daily to a house in Roche, France, where Bishop de Sales was staying, to ask for alms. He was a strong young man fit for all kinds of work, and the Bishop's housekeeper often allowed him to help her in payment for the Bishop's generosity. One day a servant introduced Martin to the Bishop.
As a result of his handicap, Martin, who was about 25 years old, had never received any kind of education -- or instruction in the Catholic faith. (It was presumed by all of the educated people of that age (the 17th century) that a deaf-mute was a mentally handicapped person and that trying to educate or trying to communicate religious truths to such a person would be a waste of time.)
At the time of their meeting, St Francis de Sales was visibly disturbed and touched with pity for the unfortunate Martin. St Francis realized that the poor man would remain forever ignorant of God and the rich mysteries of the Faith and that his lack of instruction would forever keep him from receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.
After considering young Martin's deprived condition for a time, St. Francis determined that he would undertake the instruction of the young man.
By using signs that he formed with his hands and fingers, St Francis personally began to teach Martin about the Catholic Faith. Martin, as was soon clear, was highly intelligent and a very good pupil. After a period of time, through his gentle patience and persistence and with the signs and gestures he had invented for the purpose, St Francis succeeded in instructing Martin about God and His love for all men. All went so well that eventually Martin was able to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time in 1606. Two years later, Martin was confirmed.
St Francis eventually hired Martin as his gardener and brought him along with him when he returned to his episcopal household in Annecy, France.
Martin's devotion to the Bishop of Geneva was second only to his devotion to God. Martin prayed fervently, examining his conscience every evening before retiring, regularly confessed his sins to the Bishop, and assisted devoutly at the Bishop's Mass whenever he could.
Sixteen years later, no one would be more affected by the death of St Francis de Sales than his faithful servant Martin, who would visit his master's last resting place almost every day until the day he himself died.