FRANCIS DE SALES, BISHOP AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
By By RICHARD P. McBRIEN
Francis de Sales (1567–1622) was one of the originators of lay spirituality and author of the classic work Introduction to the Devout Life. Several religious congregations have been founded under his patronage: the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the Salesians of Don Bosco, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. Born in the duchy of Savoy, he eschewed a civil career and was ordained in 1593, soon distinguishing himself as a preacher and as a minister to the poor and the sick. After several years of difficult but eventually successful efforts to reconvert many of the Calvinists of Geneva to Catholicism, he became bishop of Geneva in 1602, where he excelled in administration, preaching, catechesis, clergy education, and spiritual direction.
The central message of his Introduction to the Devout Life (1608) was a novel one for the times, namely, that the way of spiritual perfection is not only for the elite few and it does not require great austerities or withdrawal from the veryday life of the world. Francis died on December 28, 1622, was canonized in 1665, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1877. His feast day is on the General Roman Calendar and is also celebrated by the Church of England.