Francis de Sales

Last updated


Francis de Sales

San Francisco de Sales, de Francisco Bayeu (Museo del Prado).jpg
Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Born21 August 1567
Château de Sales, Duchy of Savoy, Holy Roman Empire
Died28 December 1622(1622-12-28) (aged 55)
Lyons, Lyonnais, Kingdom of France
Beatified 8 January 1661, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Alexander VII
Canonized 8 April 1665, Rome, Papal States, by Pope Alexander VII
Attributes Heart of Jesus, Crown of Thorns
Patronage Baker, Oregon; Cincinnati, Ohio; Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana; Catholic press; Columbus, Ohio; confessors; deaf people; educators; Upington, South Africa; Wilmington, Delaware; writers; journalists; the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest; Oblates of St. Francis de Sales; Salesians of Don Bosco

Francis de Sales
Bishop of Geneva
Native name
François de Sales
Province Vienne
Diocese Geneva
Appointed15 July 1602 (Coadjutor)
Installed8 December 1602
Term ended28 December 1622
PredecessorClaude de Granier
SuccessorJean-François de Sales
Ordination18 December 1593
Consecration8 December 1602
Personal details
Previous postTitular Bishop of Nicopolis ad Iaterum (1602)
Coat of arms CoA Francis de Sales.svg

Francis de Sales (French : François de Sales; Italian : Francesco di Sales; 21 August 1567 28 December 1622) was a Bishop of Geneva and is honored as a saint in the Catholic Church. He became noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is known also 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.



Early years

Francis de Sales was born on 21 August 1567 in the Château de Sales into the noble Sales family of the Duchy of Savoy, in what is today Thorens-Glières, Haute-Savoie, France. His father was François de Sales, Lord of Boisy, Sales, and Novel. His mother was Françoise de Sionnaz, the only child of the prominent magistrate, Melchior de Sionnaz, and a noblewoman. He was baptized Francis Bonaventura, after two great Franciscan saints. His father wanted him, the first of his six sons, to attend the best schools in preparation for a career as a magistrate. He, therefore, enjoyed a privileged education in the nearby town of La Roche-Sur-Foron, and at the age of eight at the Capuchin college in Annecy. [1]

Education and conversion

St Francis de Sales, by Giovanni Battista Lucini Giovanni Battista Lucini - St Francis de Sales.jpg
St Francis de Sales, by Giovanni Battista Lucini

In 1583, De Sales went to the Collège de Clermont in Paris, then a Jesuit institution, to study rhetoric and humanities. [1] As a nobleman, he was accompanied by his servant and by a priest tutor, Abbé Déage. To please his father, he took lessons in the gentlemanly pursuits of riding, dancing, and fencing. De Sales is 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 1584 Francis de Sales attended a theological discussion about predestination, convincing him of his damnation to hell. A personal crisis of despair resulted. This conviction lasted through December 1586. His great despair made him physically ill and even bedridden for a time. Sometime in either late December or early January 1587, with great difficulty, 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 Mary and decided to dedicate his life to God with a vow of chastity. He then became a tertiary of the Minim Order.

Sales ultimately concluded that God had good in store for him, because "God is love", as John's First Epistle attests. 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 Divine Love, or the Devout Life, taken from a book he wrote of a similar name: Introduction to the Devout Life'.

In 1588 Sales completed his studies at Collège de Clermont and enrolled at the University of Padua in Italy, where he studied both law and theology. [2] He took Antonio Possevino, a priest in the Society of Jesus, as his spiritual director.

Return to Savoy

In 1592, de Sales received his doctorate in law and theology and made up his mind to become a priest. He made a pilgrimage to Loreto, Italy, famous for its Basilica Della Santa Casa (Shrine of the Holy House) and then returned home to Savoy. The Senate of Chambéry admitted him as a lawyer. 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. But Francis refused to marry, preferring to stay focused on his chosen path. His father initially refused to accept that Francis had chosen the priesthood rather than fulfill his expectations with a political-military career. Claude de Granier, then Bishop of Geneva, intervened and after signing over to his younger brother his rights of family succession, Francis was ordained in 1593. Immediately he received a promised appointment as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva. [2]

Priest and provost

In his capacity as provost, Francis de Sales engaged in enthusiastic campaigns of evangelism in an area that had become almost completely Calvinist. Despite de Sales' zeal, courage and patience he met at first with absolute failure at Thonon-les-Bains, the capital of the Chablais province, where local Huguenots refused to hear the eloquent preacher.

At first, Francis lived for his own protection in a fortress garrisoned by the Duke of Savoy's soldiers. Several times he escaped death at the hands of Huguenot assassins. As local Protestants refused to speak to him or hear him, Francis began writing pamphlets which argued against Calvinism and both nailed them on walls and slipped them under doors. In response to this and to Francis' subsequent ministry, ten of thousands of the Calvinists of Chablais voluntarily converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which their parents and grandparents had abandoned seventy years before. Francis' theological pamphlets were later gathered together and published as The Catholic Controversy, which has been said to contain some of the most effective theological arguments against Protestantism ever published.

Francis traveled to Rome and Paris, where he forged alliances with Pope Clement VIII and Henry IV of France.

In 1599 he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Geneva. In 1601, he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Henry IV, where he was invited to give Lenten sermons at the Chapel Royal. The morals at court reflected those of the King, which were notoriously bad, yet King Henri became personally attached to Francis and is said to have observed, "A rare bird, this Monsieur de Genève, he is devout and also learned; and not only devout and learned but at the same time a gentleman. A very rare combination."

While in Paris, he also met Cardinal Berulle and was, for a time, Madame Acarie's confessor. They consulted with him on matters such as the introduction of St. Teresa's Carmelites into France and plans for the reforming of monasteries and convents. He was consulted on matters of conscience by persons at court.

Arms of St Francis de Sales CoA Francis de Sales.svg
Arms of St Francis de Sales

Bishop of Geneva

In 1602, Bishop Granier died, and Sales was consecrated Bishop of Geneva by Vespasien Gribaldi, assisted by Thomas Pobel and Jacques Maistret, O.Carm. as co-consecrators. He resided in Annecy (now part of modern-day France) because Geneva remained under Calvinist control and therefore closed to him. His diocese became famous throughout Europe for its efficient organization, zealous clergy and well-instructed laity, an achievement in those days. [3]

He worked closely with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, which was very active in preaching the Catholic faith in his diocese. They appreciated his cooperation so much that in 1617 they made him an official associate of the Order, the highest honor possible for a non-member. It is said that at Evian, on the south shore of Lake Geneva, St. Francis of Assisi appeared to him and said: "You desire martyrdom, just as I once longed for it. But, like me, you will not obtain it. You will have to become an instrument of your own martyrdom." [4] During his years as bishop, de Sales acquired a reputation as a spellbinding preacher and something of an ascetic. His motto was, "He who preaches with love, preaches effectively." His goodness, patience and mildness became proverbial. [5]

Mystical writer

These last qualities come through in Sales' books, the most famous of which was Introduction to the Devout Life, which – unusual for the time – was written specially for laypeople. In it he counseled charity over penance as a means of progressing in the spiritual life. Sales also left the mystical work, the "Treatise on the Love of God", and many highly valued letters of spiritual direction, including those with Jane Frances de Chantal compiled in the Letters of Spiritual Direction. [6]


Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, medal 1867 Francois de Sales et Jeanne de Chantal.jpg
Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, medal 1867

Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Sales founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in Annecy on 6 June 1610. Despite his friendship with Denis-Simon de Marquemont, the archbishop nonetheless restricted the freedoms of de Sales' new order in 1616 by ordering that its members live cloistered lives. [7]

Sales also established a community of men, an Oratory of St. Philip Neri, at Thonon-les-Bains, with himself as the superior or Provost. This work, however, was crippled by his death, and that foundation soon died out. [8]


In December 1622 de Sales was required to travel in the entourage of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, for the Duke's Christmas tour of his domain. Upon arrival in Lyon, de Sales chose to stay in the gardener's hut at the Visitandine monastery in that city. While there he suffered a stroke, from which he died on 28 December 1622. [9]

Veneration after his death

St. Francis de Sales has been styled "the Gentleman Saint" because of his patience and gentleness. [4] Despite the resistance of the populace of Lyon to moving his remains from that city, Sales was buried on 24 January 1623 in the church of the Monastery of the Visitation in Annecy, which he had founded with Chantal, who was also buried there. Their remains were venerated there until the French Revolution. [10] Many miracles have been reported at his shrine.

De Sales' heart was kept in Lyon, in response to the popular demand of the citizens of the city to retain his remains. During the French Revolution, however, it was saved from the revolutionaries by being carried by the Visitation nuns from Lyons to Venice. [1]

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. [11]

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates St. Francis de Sales' feast on 24 January, the day of his burial in Annecy in 1624. [12] From the year 1666, when his feast day was inserted into the General Roman Calendar, until its 1969 revision, he was celebrated on 29 January, a date still observed by some Traditionalist Catholics.


In 1923, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a patron of writers and journalists, because he made extensive use of broadsheets and books both in spiritual direction and in his efforts to convert the Calvinists of the region. [2] St. Francis developed a sign language in order to teach a deaf man about God. Because of this, he is the patron saint of the deaf. [13]

Having been founded as the first non-cloistered group of sisters after attempts to do so with the Visitation Sisters founded by de Sales and de Chantal proved unsuccessful, the Sisters of St. Joseph (founded in Le Puys, France, in 1650) take St. Francis de Sales as one of their patrons.



In the 19th century, his vision for religious communities was revived. Several religious institutes were founded during that period for men and women desiring to live out the spiritual path which de Sales had developed.

Mosaic of Sales on the exterior of St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis, Missouri Saint Francis de Sales Oratory (St. Louis, Missouri) - St. Francis de Sales mosaic (perspective corrected).png
Mosaic of Sales on the exterior of St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis, Missouri

The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of priests founded in the 20th century, also has St. Francis de Sales as one of their three primary Patrons. One of the major apostolates of the Institute in the United States is the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis, Missouri. [14]

Influence on other saints

Vincent de Paul met Francis de Sales in Paris in 1618 or 1619. Francis de Sales' spirituality and writings, especially An Introduction to the Devout Life, and Treatise on the Love of God, were to have a profound influence on Vincent. [5]

His writings on the perfections of the heart of Mary as the model of love for God influenced Jean Eudes to develop the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. [15]


Educational institutions

Missionaries of St.Francis de Sales

Religious Institutes

Other Places

See also

Related Research Articles

Annecy City in Haute-Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Annecy is the largest city of Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. It lies on the northern tip of Lake Annecy, 35 kilometers (22 mi) south of Geneva.

Salesians of Don Bosco Catholic religious institute

The Salesians of Don Bosco is a Catholic religious institute of the Latin Church, founded in the late nineteenth century by Italian priest Saint John Bosco to help poor children during the Industrial Revolution.

Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary organization

The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary or the Visitation Order is an enclosed Roman Catholic religious order for women. Members of the order are also known as the Salesian Sisters or, more commonly, as the Visitandines or Visitation Sisters.

Jane Frances de Chantal French nun

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal is a Roman Catholic saint, who was beatified in 1751 and canonized in 1767. She founded the religious Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.

John Bosco Italian Roman Catholic priest, educator and writer

John Melchior Bosco, popularly known as Don Bosco[ˌdɔm ˈbɔsko], was an Italian Roman Catholic priest, educator, and writer of the 19th century. While working in Turin, where the population suffered many of the ill-effects of industrialization and urbanization, he dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. He developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment, a method that became known as the Salesian Preventive System.

The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales are a congregation of Roman Catholic priests and brothers who follow the teachings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. The community was founded in Troyes, France in 1875 by Louis Brisson and are affiliated with the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales.

Spiritual direction is the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine, or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality. The person seeking direction shares stories of their encounters of the divine, or how they are cultivating a life attuned to spiritual things. The director listens and asks questions to assist the directee in his or her process of reflection and spiritual growth. Spiritual direction advocates claim that it develops a deeper awareness with the spiritual aspect of being human, and that it is not psychotherapy, counseling, or financial planning.

French school of spirituality devotional influence of the Catholic church

The French School of Spirituality was the principal devotional influence within the Catholic Church from the mid-17th century through the mid-20th century not only in France but throughout the church in most of the world. A development of the Catholic Reformation like the Spanish mystics and the Society of Jesus, it focused the devotional life of the Catholic faithful on a personal experience of the person of Jesus and the quest for personal holiness. It was perhaps more concrete than the Iberian example and thus easier to teach, but it shared with the Spanish saints their focus on the Divine Person. This movement in Catholic spirituality had many important figures over the centuries, the first being its founder, Cardinal Pierre de Berulle (1575–1629).

<i>Introduction to the Devout Life</i> book by Franciscus van Sales

Introduction to the Devout Life is a book written by Saint Francis de Sales, the first edition being published in 1609. The final edition was published in 1619, prior to the death of Francis in 1622. It enjoyed wide popularity, and was well received in both Protestant and Catholic circles, evidenced by its translation into all major languages of the day. It is typically categorized as a form of reading known as lectio divina, based on the Christian monastic practice of spiritual reading. Like The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, it is considered a spiritual classic in the Christian tradition. The work is also used as a guide in Christian spiritual direction.

The Oblates of the Virgin Mary is a religious institute of priests and brothers founded by Bruno Lanteri (1759–1830) in the Kingdom of Sardinia in the early 19th century. The institute is characterized by a zeal for the work of preaching and the sacrament of confession, according to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and the moral theology of St. Alphonsus Liguori. It is also marked by love for Mary and fidelity to the magisterium.

Michele Rua Italian Salesian priest

Michele Rua was an Italian Roman Catholic priest and professed member of the Salesians of Don Bosco. Rua was a student under Giovanni Bosco and was also the latter's first collaborator in the order's founding as well as one of his closest friends. He served as the first Rector Major of the Salesians following Bosco's death in 1888. He was responsible for the expansion of the Salesians and the order had grown to a significant degree around the world at the time he died. Rua served as a noted spiritual director and leader for the Salesians known for his austerities and rigid adherence to the rule. It was for this reason that he was nicknamed, 'the living rule'.

The Château de Sales is a ruined castle in the commune of Thorens-Glières in the Haute-Savoie département of France. It is often confused with the nearby Château de Thorens.

Georgetown Visitation Monastery monastery in Washington, D.C.

The Monastery of the Visitation, Georgetown is a monastery of the Visitation Order, located in the District of Columbia, United States of America.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Annecy diocese of the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Annecy is a diocese of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church in France. Saint-Gingolph VS, a town in the Swiss canton of Valais, is also part of the diocese. Originally erected in 1822, after the Concordat as a subdivision of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chambéry, the diocese comprises the entirety of the department of Haute-Savoie in the Region of Rhône-Alpes. Only recently, in 2002, did the metropolitan change. The diocese is now suffragan to the Archdiocese of Lyon. The current archbishop is Yves Jean Marie Arsène Boivineau, appointed in 2001.

Marie de Sales Chappuis 19th-century French Catholic nun

Venerable Marie de Sales Chappuis was a Roman Catholic nun and a spiritual leader in the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. She also co-founded the congregation of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales along with Blessed Father Louis Brisson.

In Christianity, the term state is used in various senses by theologians and spiritual writers.

Louis Brisson French Roman Catholic Priest

Louis Brisson was a French Roman Catholic priest and the founder of both the Oblate Sisters of Saint Francis de Sales and the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. He founded the female branch alongside Léonie Aviat and the male branch alongside the Servant of God Thérèse Chappuis. Brisson's founding of the orders stemmed from his desire to improve the working conditions of middle-class girls and to ensure their protection and the promotion of their faith.

Leonie Aviat

Léonie Aviat, in religious Françoise de Sales, was a Roman Catholic professed religious and the co-founder along with Louis Brisson of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales.

Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales female Roman Catholic religious congregation

The Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales are a congregation of Roman Catholic Religious Sisters who base their spirituality on the teachings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal.

John Francis Harvey was a priest of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a moral theologian of the Catholic Church, and the founder of the DeSales School of Theology in Washington, D.C. He wrote about homosexuality and Catholic moral teaching and founded the Courage Apostolate, a Catholic organization that advises gay and lesbian Catholics to be abstinent from sex.


  1. 1 2 3 Pernin, Raphael. "St. Francis de Sales." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 11 March 2020PD-icon.svgThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. 1 2 3 "Saint Francis de Sales", Franciscan Media
  3. 1 2 "Oblate History", Oblates of St. Francis De Sales, Wilmington- Philadelphia Province Archived 28 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  4. 1 2 The Franciscan Book Of Saints, edited by Marion Habig, ofm, Franciscan Herald Press, 1959 Archived 15 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  5. 1 2 "Francis de Sales - Vincentian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  6. Saint Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal (1988). Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction. Paulist Press. ISBN   978-0-8091-2990-4.
  7. Boundaries of Faith: Catholics and Protestants in the Diocese of Geneva by Jill Fehleison (Truman State University Press, 2011)
  8. Türks, Paul, C.O (1995). Philip Neri:The Fire of Joy. Translated by Daniel Utrecht, C.O. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. pp. 144–145. ISBN   0-567-29303-3.
  9. "The Life Story of St. Francis de Sales", Salesians of Don Bosco in the United States (USA West Province)
  10. Diocese of Annency "Salesian Sites" Archived 26 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine (in French)
  11. John J. Crawley. "St. Francis de Sales, Bishop, Doctor of the Church". Lives of Saints. EWTN . Retrieved 14 January 2008.
  12. "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 115
  13. "Error". Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  14. "Who we are", Institute of Christ the King
  15. Murphy, John F. Mary's Immaculate Heart, p. 24, 2007 ISBN   1-4067-3409-8
  16. De Sales, St. Francis. "St Francis De Sales School in Nizamabad". St Francis Nizamabad Official. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016.

PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Francis de Sales". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.



Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Giovanni Fontana
Bishop of Nicopolis ad Iaterum
15 July 1602 – 17 September 1602
Succeeded by
Bernardin Corneillan
Preceded by
Claude de Granier
Bishop of Geneva
17 September 1602 – 28 December 1622
Succeeded by
Jean-François de Sales