Gentleman Saints

Gentleman Saint: St. Francis Borgia

Saint Francis Borgia, S.J.Borgia—the name has a ring of infamy. Historically, the Borgia family is associated with crime, promiscuity, papal corruption, and power-mongering, and this sad legacy is remembered to this day.

But while the popular imagination fixates on the sins of the Borgia family, there is a great saint who also bears the name of Borgia—a man who redeemed his family name. I speak of St. Francis Borgia.

Early life

Born Francesco Borgia de Candia d’Aragon on October 28, 1510, Francis grew up in a world of power and privilege. His father was the 3rd Duke of Gandia and the grandson of the infamous Pope Alexander VI. From a young age, he displayed great piety, and his desire was to become a monk. His parents had other plans, however, and sent him to the court of King Charles I of Spain.

Marriage and political life

Francis married a noblewoman named Eleanor, with whom he had 8 children and enjoyed a happy home life. Unlike many nobles of his time, Francis wasn’t interested in power or advancing his career at court. He was a true Christian gentleman whose passion was the Catholic faith. He enjoyed nothing more than receiving communion.

At the death of his father, Francis became the 4th Duke of Gandia, and he began a short-lived diplomatic career. After failing in an important diplomatic mission to unite Spain and Portugal, he retired from politics at age 33.

After his retirement, he lived a quiet life with his family and gave himself to the things of the Faith— especially sacred music. His passion for sacred music and his contributions to it were so great, he is considered one of the chief restorers of sacred music in the 16th century.

Death of his wife and priesthood

Francis’ happy, domestic life came to end when his wife died in 1546. After putting his affairs in order, passing his title on to his son, and making provisions for his family, he shocked his contemporaries by declaring his intention to join the newly formed Society of Jesus.

His life in the Jesuits was a complete change from his previous comfortable life. His superior tested him by making him perform the most menial and humbling tasks. Francis never complained however,  and his humility, obedience, and spiritual fervor caused him to advance quickly in the society.

While he wanted a life of solitude and prayer more than anything, Francis’ administrative talents meant he was given more and more responsibility. Finally, in 1565, he was elected Superior General of the Jesuits. Because of his personal holiness and efficiency in advancing the mission of the order, he is considered by many to be the greatest superior of the Jesuits after St. Ignatius.

Conclusion

Throughout his life, Francis Borgia was graced with power and privilege. Yet, he never became arrogant or domineering, and he was known by all for his life of humility and faith. He shows us that holiness is not limited to any one state in life, but is rather found by humbly and lovingly conforming to the will of God, wherever it might lead. St. Francis Borgia, pray for us!

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5 thoughts on “Gentleman Saint: St. Francis Borgia

  1. Why is the saint shown holding a crowned skull? Does it anyhow allude to the story of the Empress Isabella, the deceased wife of Charles V of Germany and I of Spain, the sight of whose decomposing corpse led St. Francis to understand how ephemeral and passing all the earthly powers are?

  2. There are other political families that have a ring of infamy. Is there a Kennedy who will, someday, redeem the family name? St. Francis Borgia pray for us.

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