By: Father John Coughlin, MDS Chaplain // MDS Musings Blog
Whenever anyone with any familiarity with Catholic saints hears mention of a St. Francis, it is most often the late 12th/early 13th century preacher to animals and self-proclaimed “fool for God” from Assisi, Italy. There are, however, around a half-dozen saints that bear the name Francis in the Catholic Church. Mount de Sales Academy—founded on February 28, 1876—is named after one of them: St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) who served as a bishop during much of his ministry and was declared a Doctor of the Church. Those honored with the title “Doctor” are considered by the Church to be “eminent teachers of the faith” (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 1995).Born in the duchy of Savoy (a province in present-day France) a half century after the Protestant Reformation began, Francis was raised an only child by his Catholic parents. He displayed a gentleness of character from an early age. His father was a local magistrate who sent his son off to study law, hoping he would follow in his own career footsteps. Although he earned a doctorate in law, neither the legal nor political fields attracted him. Francis felt called to the priesthood. His father opposed the idea, but Francis slowly persuaded his father and was eventually granted permission to pursue his dream (Saint of the Day, 4th Revised Edition, 2001).
Soon after his ordination in 1593, St. Francis became known as an inspiring preacher and servant to the poor and sick. He also was ordained a bishop and sent to Geneva, Switzerland, which had become heavily Calvinist. In Western Europe at that time, Catholic and Protestant Christians were sadly warring with one another and causing a lot of bloodshed. This was not the way of Francis de Sales. Despite threats and assassination attempts on his life, he traveled around his diocese peacefully. He did not seek out conflict in his preaching. “Rather than simply denouncing Calvinism, he chose instead to proclaim the positive message of the Gospel” (Blessed Among Us: Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses, 2016). This approach, along with an intelligible way of presenting Catholic doctrine and his gentle spirit, won many converts. He is quoted as saying, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar” (Saint of the Day, 4th Revised Edition, 2001).
Francis de Sales was a successful administrator, catechist, evangelizer, spiritual director and provider of quality education for Catholic clergy. He became known for and made his biggest impact through his spiritual writings. His Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) and Treatise on the Love of God (1616) was popular among both Catholic and Protestant Christians of his day. These works stressed that holiness was not just for the elite few but was within anyone’s grasp. True devotion for de Sales was simply loving God and that could be achieved in the particular circumstances and duties of a person’s everyday life—no matter what his or her station in life might be.
St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of the Catholic press. His feast day is January 24.
Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, which is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.