Florimontane Academy (1607-1610)
Even in his own day, St. Francis de Sales championed the importance of learning and its connection to good living. A student of letters in Paris and of law in Padua, he also took a profound interest in the national sciences and their application in the field of health care. Later, as bishop of Geneva, he took the then controversial step to defend publicly the methodology proper to scientific reasoning as distinct from knowledge gained through faith.
Often did he counsel the need for continuing education among his priests, imploring them with the notion that "knowledge is the eighth sacrament for the hierarchy of the Church."
Besides the learned works from his pen, the greatest achievement of St. Francis de Sales in the world of education may well be a short-lived one ... the establishment of the Florimontane Academy (1607-1610), which he founded together with his life-long friend, Antoine Favre (president of the Senate of Savoy).
Erected in Annecy, where "the Muses flourish on the hills of Savoy," its name signals its aim of gathering together the flowers of literature and the fruits of science. Taking as a motto the biblical notion that "all things will come to the one who does his best," this academy of scholars had for its purpose "the exercise of all the virtue, the sovereign glory of God, the service of the most serene Princes, and public usefulness." It served "all the gallant masters of the honorable arts ... including painters, sculptors, carpenters, architects, and the like." For this audience the members sought to provide an encyclopedic range of learning, including lessons in politics, philosophy, mathematics, science, and the aesthetic of language, especially French. Most distinctive among similar educational entities of the time, the Florimontane Academy endeavored to embrace and disseminate that devout humanism which is characteristic of Salesian Spirituality; its expressed intention was that "All the members of the Academy will maintain a mutual and fraternal love."
Despite the brevity of its existence, this academy is considered by many to be a precursor to today's revered French Academy. For our purposes, it offers a worthwhile conceptual model. As the establishment of the Florimontane Academy issued from the friendship and zeal for learning of its founders, so the Salesian Center has come into existence in the collaborative tradition of Salesian Spirituality lived and disseminated by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales throughout the history of DeSales University. As the purpose of the Florimontane Academy was to combat heresy through the promotion of devout humanism, so the Salesian Center engages modern culture in a dialogue with faith. And as the development of the Florimontane Academy owed its success to the infusion of gospel values in all secular spheres of living, so the Salesian Center mediates the advancement of culture by bringing the charism of Salesian Christian Humanism to bear upon all disciplines of knowledge and education.