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Read the story of Saint Francis de Sales

Francesco, born François, eldest of thirteen children, was born in Savoy in the castle of Sales, near Thorens, on 21 August 1567, to Francesco I de Nouvelles, lord of Boisy, and Francesca de Sionnaz.

He received a careful education from an early age, crowned by university studies of law in Paris and elsewhere Padua. Here he received the doctoral cap with great honors and, returning to his homeland, was appointed lawyer of the Senate of Chambéry. But since his academic studies his pre-eminent theological interests had begun to emerge, culminating in the discovery of his priestly vocation which, however, disappointed his father's expectations.


Ordained a priest on 18 December 1593, he was sent to the Chablais region (a mountain area located in the north of Savoy), dominated by Calvinism, where he dedicated himself above all to preaching, preferring the method of dialogue. He was a zealous priest and tireless worker. Seeing the limited results obtained from the pulpit, he began publishing leaflets, which he himself slipped under the doors of houses or posted on the walls; but even those pieces of paper, which he put under the doors of the houses, had little effect.

Driven by an enormous desire to safeguard Christianity, while the Reformation carried out by Calvin and his followers raged, Francis asked for an audience with the bishop of Geneva, so that he could assign him to that city, the supreme symbol of Calvinism and the highest seat of the reformers. Once he settled in Geneva, he had no qualms about discussing theology with the Protestants, eager to recover as many "souls” possible to the Church and above all to the cause of Christ which he considered genuine.

Furthermore, his constant thought was aimed at the condition of the laity, worrying about developing a preaching and a model of Christian life that was also within the reach of ordinary people, that is, those immersed in the difficult life of everyday life.

His teachings are proverbial, pervaded with understanding and sweetness, permeated by the firm belief that, in support of human actions, there was always the presence of God. It is not for nothing that many of his teachings are imbued with mysticism and noble spiritual elevation (the Garzanti Encyclopedia of Literature defines it: “elegant alien preacher and prose writer with harsh tones, skilled in weaving images and ideas").

His enormous efforts and the great successes achieved in pastoral terms earned him the nomination as coadjutor bishop of Geneva already in 1599, at thirty-two years of age and after only six years of priesthood.


After another three years he became a full bishop and worked hard to introduce the reforms promulgated by the Council of Trent into his diocese. However, the city remained as a whole in the hands of the Reformed and the new bishop had to transfer his seat to the Savoyard town of Annecy, "Venice of the Alps”, on the shores of the lake of the same name.

He was also the spiritual director of St. Vincent de Paul. During his mission as a preacher, in 1604, he met, in Dijon, the noblewoman Giovanna Francesca Frèmiot, widow of the Baron de Chantal, with whom he began an epistolary correspondence and a profound friendship which resulted in the foundation of the "Order of Visitation".

"If I make a mistake, I want to make a mistake rather through too much goodness than through too much rigor”: in this statement by Francis de Sales lies the secret of the sympathy that he was able to arouse among his contemporaries.

The Duke of Savoy, on whom Francis depended politically, supported the work of the unheard apostle with a strong manner, but intolerance was not suited to the saint's temperament; the latter preferred to carry on the battle for Orthodoxy with the method of charity, enlightening consciences with his writings, for which he received the title of Doctor of the Church.

The works

His main works were:

– “Philothea” (St. Francis de Sales expressed himself thus in the preface to his book: “I address my word to Filotea; wanting to make available to many souls what I had initially written for just one, I use the name common to all those who want to be devoted; Philothea, in fact, means lover and eager to love God");

– “Treatise on the Love of God”, fundamental texts of religious literature of all time. The love of God was the argument with which he convinced the recalcitrant Huguenots to return to the Catholic Church.

The death

On 11 December 1622 in Lyon he had his last conversation with his penitent and here he died due to an attack of apoplexy, on the 28th of the same month in the small room of the chaplain of the Sisters of the Visitation at the monastery.

On 24 January 1623 the mortal body of the saint was moved to Annecy, to the church now dedicated to him, but was later placed for veneration by the faithful in the Basilica of the Visitation, on the hill adjacent to the city, next to St. Joan Frances of Chantal.

Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661 and canonizedin 1665 by Pope Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi, 1655-1667).

Pp Leo XIII (Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, 1878-1903) proclaimed him Doctor of the Church in 1887; Pp Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, 1922-1939) proclaimed it “Patron saint of journalists” in 1923.

St. Francis de Sales, considered the father of modern spirituality, influenced the major figures not only of the“grand siècle”French, but also throughout the European seventeenth century, even managing to convert some exponents of Calvinism to Catholicism.

Finally, it is necessary to remember how several congregations have been inspired by his name, among which the most famous is undoubtedly the Salesian Family founded by St. John Bosco, whose attention is directed more than anything else to the growth and education of the younger generations, with particular attention to the care of children of the less well-off classes.

Meaning of the name Francesco: “free man” (old German).

source ©

Born on August 21, 1567 BCThorens-Glières, in France, from a noble and ancient family of Boisy, in Savoy. He studied in the best French colleges, then followed the wishes of his father, who dreamed of a legal career for him, and went to study law at the University of Padua. Here he developed a certain interest in theology.

He graduated with honors and returned to France in 1592 and enrolled in the bar association. But his greatest desire was now to become a priest, so the following year, on 18 December, he was ordained a priest and three days later, at the age of 26, he celebrated his first mass. Appointed archpriest of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, Francis displays qualities of zeal and charity, diplomacy and balance.

In the rage of Calvinism, he volunteers to re-evangelize the Chablais region. In preaching he seeks dialogue, but encounters closed doors, snow, cold, hunger, nights out in the open, ambushes, insults and threats.

He then studies Calvin's doctrine to understand it thoroughly and to better explain the differences with the Catholic belief and instead of resorting only to preaching and theological dispute, he devises the system of publishing, posting in public places or leaving papers and posters door to door. exposing the individual truths of faith in a simple and effective way.

The conversions are not many, but the hostility and prejudice towards Catholicism cease. Francis then settled in Thonon, in the capital of Chablais, and here he dedicated himself, among other things, to visits to the sick, to works of charity and to personal conversations with the faithful. He then asks to be transferred to Geneva, a city symbol of Calvinist doctrine, with the desire to recover as many believers in the Catholic Church,

The episcopate in Geneva and the friendship with Giovanna Francesca Fremyot de Chantal

In 1599 he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Geneva, three years later the diocese was totally in his hands, with headquarters in Annecy. Francis spent himself there without reserve: he visited parishes, trained the clergy, reorganized monasteries and convents, and spared no effort in preaching, in catechesis and in initiatives for the faithful.

He chooses the dialogue catechism and his perseverance and gentleness in spiritual direction guide various conversions. In March 1604, during the Lenten preaching in Dijon, he met Giovanna Francesca Fremyot de Chantal with whom he established a beautiful friendship which also gave rise to an epistolary correspondence of spiritual direction.

He dedicated it to her in 1608PhilotheaorIntroduction to the devout life. Filotea is the ideal name of those who love or want to love God; Francis conceived the text to summarize in a concise and practical way the principles of interior life and to teach how to love God with all your heart and with all your strength in everyday life. The idea is to train those who live in the world and must carry out civil and social tasks in a fully Christian life. The writing was a huge success.

The birth of the Congregation of the Visitation of Santa Maria

The long and intense collaboration between Francesco and Giovanna brought forth great spiritual fruits. Among these, the Congregation of the Visitation of Saint Mary founded in 1610 in Annecy with the main purpose of visiting and helping the poor.

Eight years later the congregation became a contemplative order (today the nuns are called Visitandines); Francis himself dictates its constitutions, inspired by the rule of St. Augustine. But de Chantal then arranges for her nuns to also take care of the education and instruction of girls, especially from wealthy families.

In 1616 Francesco wroteTheotimusorTreatise on the Love of God, a work of extraordinary theological, philosophical and spiritual depth, conceived as a long letter addressed to his friend "Teotimo" who presents every man with his essential vocation: to live is to love. The text aims to indicate the best ways for everyone to have a personal encounter with God.

Francis de Sales died on 28 December 1622 in Lyon, at the age of 52, and on 24 January of the following year his remains were moved to Annecy.

source © Vatican News – Dicasterium pro Communicatione

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