DeSales University is named for a man who lived more than 400 years ago, but whose lessons are still timely and practical for today's world. St. Francis de Sales is admired throughout the Church for his great sanctity, learning, missionary zeal, gentleness, and understanding of the human heart. Scholar, writer, pastor, spiritual guide for souls, diplomat, bishop, and Doctor of the Church, he is best described as a Christian Humanist, a potent spiritual force for creating a spirituality admirably suited to those in every walk of life, especially the laity, the common person. No one could have imagined at the time of his death that the wisdom and teachings of this amazing human being would live on to touch the lives of countless people today. Known as "The Gentleman Saint," his spirit of optimism, hope, freedom and confidence in God's love prompts the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales to please God by doing everything - big or small enthusiastically and well.
St. Francis de Sales was born in Thorens of the Savoy region of France on August 21, 1567. As a member of a noble family, he was educated in the humanities at the Jesuit college of Clermont at the University of Paris and received his doctorate in both civil and canon law from the University of Padua. These early experiences with both the French and Italian Renaissance greatly influenced his life. Shortly after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood in 1593, he began dangerous work in the Chablais region, attempting to reintroduce the Catholic religion in the midst of the Protestant Reformation. He developed a great reputation as a writer, preacher, and debater in defense of the Catholic faith.
In 1602, Francis was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. One of the most important challenges he faced in the diocese was the reform of the clergy. Believing that learning for a priest was "the eighth sacrament" of the church, he went to work writing instructions and preaching sermons. In 1604, while preaching a Lenten series, he met Jane Frances de Chantal, a recently widowed mother of four children. This was the beginning of one of the great spiritual friendships in Christian history. He became her spiritual guide and, in 1610, established a religious community of sisters with Jane Frances de Chantal as the superioress. Other monasteries soon appeared and Pope Paul V officially approved the Visitation of Holy Mary as a religious order in the Catholic Church in 1618.
To serve the many people entrusted to his care, Francis de Sales became a prolific writer. His writings comprise 26 volumes in the Annecy edition. Two of his books have become spiritual classics: The Introduction to the Devout Life, and The Treatise on the Love of God. In The Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers profound advice for the person living in the midst of the world and wishing to pursue a holy life. Francis felt that all people in all walks of life are called by God to a devout life and that this type of living was possible and wonderful. Through a series of carefully written chapters Francis offers practical suggestions for navigating through the temptations presented by the world and for making true progress on one's spiritual journey. His insights on the nature of prayer, the value of the sacraments, the role of friendship, the character of virtue, and the importance of devotion are timeless in their relevance. The Treatise on the Love of God was written for individuals more advanced in the spiritual life. Francis remained as the spiritual advisor for the sisters of the Visitation and guided many of them to lofty peaks of holiness. He often recounted how grateful he was to God for the wisdom he gained from his correspondence with these holy women. The Treatise speaks not only of the nature of God's love for humanity but of the possibilities within humanity for a return of this love. He sees all reality flowing from the loving heart of a providential God. Creation and, to an even greater degree, salvation, is witness to this incomparable love of humanity. The human's appropriate response is a joyful and total union of the human will with the loving will of God. The human mind and will find their fullest meaning when a person discovers and freely embraces the love of God.
Love of God for Francis naturally leads to love for all persons. His life became a model of selfless service to his God, his king, the pope, and the countless individuals who called upon him for advice. He is the official patron for authors and journalists. He is also patron of the deaf because he developed a method for teaching a young deaf person the catechism. On December 26, 1622, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died the next day. He was buried in the church of the first Visitation monastery in Annecy, France. Pope Alexander VII proclaimed him a saint in 1665. Today, the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales are one of several religious congregations in the Catholic Church founded under his patronage.