Saints are anything but boring. Some levitated, bilocated, and saw visions of heaven and hell. Others served the poor, reformed the Church, converted foreign countries, or otherwise lived heroic lives without performing a single miracle. And some were gentleman saints, exemplifying the virtues of manliness in a unique way.
St. Francis de Sales is the gentleman saint extraordinaire. He lived a holy life in a very difficult time for the Church—the Reformation. His patience, humility, and above all, gentleness, were his trademarks.
He was born a nobleman and his father intended for him to become a lawyer so that he could take his place as senator in Savoy, France. St. Francis went to study law in Padua, Italy. While in Italy, he enjoyed getting in sword fights and going to parties. On receiving his degree, he returned home and announced to his parents that he intended to become a priest. This announcement was not well received, and his parents resisted. Eventually, however, St. Francis won them over with his patience and gentle persuasion.
Shortly after his ordination to the priesthood, St. Francis was elected provost of the Diocese of Geneva, meaning he was second in charge to the Bishop. This was the era of the Reformation, and Geneva was the headquarters of the Calvinists. In other words, it wasn’t a very friendly place for Catholics, especially Catholic priests. But St. Francis was undeterred. In fact, he decided to convert the some 60,000 Calvinists in the area back to the Catholic faith.
While St. Francis was full of zeal, he didn’t meet with much success. In fact, he got chased out of towns and had many doors slammed in his face. But he didn’t quit. Instead, he began copying out pamphlets containing Catholic teaching and apologetics and slipping them under the doors of the Calvinists. This is the first known example of someone using tracts for religious evangelization (tracts weren’t invented by Baptists!). We can only imagine what he would think of social media. Eventually, through perseverance and creativity, St. Francis was successful in converting thousands back to the Catholic faith.
At the age of 35, St. Francis was promoted to the Bishop of his diocese. His kind and patient teaching style won him a huge following among the faithful, and he had a special interest in encouraging lay people to live holy lives. He said, “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.” He is remembered for his many writings, especially Introduction to the Devout Life—a guide to the spiritual life for laypeople.
What do you think of St. Francis de Sales? What can we learn from his life? What virtues can we imitate to become Catholic gentlemen? Leave your thoughts in the comments.