Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales (1567-1622), bishop of Geneva, leader of the Catholic Reformation, cofounder of the Visitation Order, and influential spiritual writer. Francis was born of an aristocratic Savoyard family at a time of reform and spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church. His early education was in the Christian humanist tradition of the Jesuits. At the University of Padua he studied law at his father's request and theology on his own initiative. Ordained in 1593, he was shortly made associate to the bishop of Geneva and in 1602 succeeded to his predecessor's post. Since the Protestant city of Geneva did not allow Catholic presence, Bishop de Sales resided in the nearby town of Annecy. He actively evangelized his Calvinist opponents, especially through gentle persuasion. He engaged in vigorous reform of religious institutions and sought to revitalize faith among all in his diocese.
Saint Francis de Sales believed that the "devout life" was open to all, not only monks and priests. God, he felt, raised up persons in all walks of life to be leaven in the loaf of a revitalized church. Thus he promoted many works of spiritual renewal, including spiritual direction, preaching (his sermons were said to speak "heart to heart") and writing. His best-known book Introduction to the Devout Life was based on the letters of direction he wrote to a woman who wished to live a Christian life in the midst of her husband's duties with the French court. A practical summary of the means by which one cultivates a living faith in the midst of the busy demands of family and work, the Introduction was an overnight success and has remained a staple of devotional literature to the present day.
Francis de Sales was canonized in 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church (an authoritative teacher) in 1877.
Excerpted with permission from the entry on Francis de Sales by Wendy M. Wright, from
The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books®. All rights reserved.]