Saints of the Salesian Tradition
Francis de Sales
Jane Frances de Chantal
Leonie Frances de Sales Aviat
Margaret Mary Alocoque
Mary de Sales Chappuis
Bishop and Doctor of the Church
The tumultuous years in France after the Protestant Reformation formed the background for Francis de Sales. He was born on August 12, 1567, into a family of nobility of what was then the Kingdom of Savoy, which bordered France, Italy and Switzerland. He received his schooling under the Jesuits at the College of Clermont in Paris and the University of Padua where he earned a Doctorate in both Civil and Church Law.
To the great disappointment of his father, Francis gave up a most promising civil career in favor of the priesthood. After his ordaination, he was sent as a young missionary to the Chablais district of Savoy for four years. There he became famous for his pamphets in defense of the faith. These writings are now collected into a book known as The Catholic Controversy. By the end of his missionary apostolate, Francis had persuaded about 72,000 Calvinists to return to the Catholic Church.
Francis was ordained a a bishop and named the Bishop of Geneva in 1602, but resided in Annecy (now a part of modern day France) since Geneva was under Calvinist control and therefore closed to him. He was never permitted to take his seat in the cathedral in Geneva. His diocese became famous throughout Europe for its efficient organization, zealous clergy and well-instructed laity – a monumental achievement in Francis’ time. Francis’ fame as a spiritual director and writer grew. He was persuaded by others to collect, organize and expand on his many letters addressing spiritual subjects, and to publish them in 1609 under the title, The Introduction to the Devout Life. This became his most famous work and remains a spiritual classic found in bookstores throughout the world today.
Francis’ special project was the writing of A Treatise of the Love of God, over which he prayed and labored many years. It is also still published today. His desire to write a companion to the Treatise, On the Love of Neighbor, was not realized. Francis de Sales died on December 28, 1622, at the age of fifty-five. In addition to the works above, his published letters, sermons and conferences comprise approximately thirty volumes. The enduring value and popularity of his writings led the Church to bestow on him the title, Patron of Catholic Writers. Francis is also the patron of the Deaf community for his efforts in developing sign language, the Oblate Sisters, Brothers and Fathers of St. Francis de Sales, the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, and of the Sisters of the Holy Visitation of Mary, which he co-founded.
Francis collaborated with St. Jane Frances de Chantal in founding the religious order of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary (VHM), known for the simplicity of its rule and traditions and for its special openness to widows. It was through the persistence of one of these sisters some two hundred fifty years later, Mother Marie-Therese Chappuis, VHM, that Fr. Louis Brisson, a priest of Troyes in France, founded the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales – a community of priests and brothers dedicated to living and spreading the spirit and teachings of Francis. Fr. Brisson also founded a community of sisters with the same name.
The spirit and reputation of Francis and the influence of his writings spread rapidly after his death. The Church formally declared him to be a saint in 1665 and in 1867 gave him the rare title of Doctor of the Church – a title conferred on fewer than thirty-five other saints in the history of the Church, all of whom are renowned for their writings. Francis’ de Sales memorial is observed by the Church on January 24.
Other Links about Francis:
St. Jane de Chantal was a woman of prayer and tremendous faith, a faith born in the crucible of great human suffering. She endured the painful reality of a childhood without a mother, experienced premature widowhood after the accidental death of her husband, and suffered the heart-rending loss of three of her children.
This holy woman is an encouraging model for young single women, married women, for those suffering the loss of a husband or a child, and for those in religious life. She grew in holiness in all paths of life, and allowed pain and suffering to mold her somewhat impetuous spirit into one of gentle strength. Her words to a friend might well be taken to heart by all those who have young people in their care.
“Lead those in your care with a kind and understanding heart, give them a holy liberty of spirit and remove from your mind and theirs any unhealthy spirit of constraint.”
Jane de Chantal was also a competent woman who supervised the foundation of some eighty monasteries of the Visitation before her death. She had a good mind for business, an ability she fostered while in charge of a large estate while her husband was fighting in the wars so prevalent at that time. Her sensitivity to those less fortunate led her to establish a “soup kitchen” at her castle. Long food lines were not uncommon as she ministered to the homeless and those without the necessities of life.
Courtesy of the Second Federation of the Vistiation
Although September 16, 1844 seemed like any other day, it was destined to be known one day as the birth date of a saint! Leonie Aviat was born in Sezanne, in the region of Champagne, France. She attended the Visitation School in Troyes, where Mother Marie de Sales Chappuis and Father Louis Brisson exerted a profound influence on her. Having thus been formed at the school of St. Francis de Sales, she prepared herself for the mission with which she was to be entrusted: the foundation of a congregation committed to Salesian spirituality and to the evangelization of young workers.
The beginnings came in the year 1866. This was the time when large industrial concerns were attracting an underpaid labor force to the cities. This was the case in the city of Troyes, where spinning mills engaged young girls from the countryside.
Father Brisson, a zealous apostle, had opened, in 1858, a center where he would welcome young girls working in the mills. He decided, under God’s inspiration, to establish a religious congregation to direct this important work. He found in Leonie Aviat an incomparable co-worker and a zealous apostle, like himself.
This young lady, who had earlier felt an attraction toward the contemplative life of the Visitation Order, was affected by the plight of young factory workers and felt herself called to the active apostolate. Thus the new congregation of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales came to be founded. The congregation placed itself under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales, and identified completely with the spirituality and the educational principles of the holy Bishop of Geneva.
In 1868, the young foundress received, together with the religious habit, the significant name of Sister Frances de Sales. She made profession of vows on October 11, 1871. In 1872, she became the first Superior General of the Institute.
Under her guidance, the community grew in numbers, the social apostolate unfolded and girls’ schools were opened. In Paris, the first residence for young ladies was started, an establishment which Mother Aviat directed for eight years. Thus, the apostolate of the Oblate Sisters extended to the different classes of society and to diverse forms of education.
After a period of difficulty through which so many foundresses must live in order to put down solid roots of holiness for their Congregations, Mother Frances de Sales guided her Sisters through the religious persecution in her native France and developed the works of the Congregation in Europe, South America and Africa. While maintaining the establishments that could be continued in France, she transferred the Motherhouse to Perugia, Italy.
On January 10, 1914 she died in Perugia after entrusting herself totally to God. To her last breath, she remained faithful to the resolution she had taken at the time of her profession: “To forget myself entirely.” To her daughters she left, for all time, the very Salesian precept: “Let us work for the happiness of others.” She was beatified in 1992 and canonized on November 25, 2001.
After her death, the Congregation opened a foundation in the United States of America where the miracle needed for her canonization took place. The Oblate Sisters staff three schools in America: Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, MD; Saint Bernadette School in Drexel Hill, PA; and Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg, VA.
Courtesy of the
Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in France July 22, 1647. Her childhood piety so impressed her elders that she was permitted to make her First Holy Communion much earlier than was customary. Later, afflicted by a long, wasting illness, she was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin with the promise that “If she cured me, I should one day be one of her daughters. Scarcely had I made this vow, when I was cured and taken anew under the protection of Our Lady.”
She entered the convent in 1671 and six years later Christ appeared to her in a vision in which “I could plainly see His heart, pierced and bleeding, yet there were flames, too, coming from it and a crown of thorns around it. He told me to behold His heart which so loved men. Then He seemed to take my very heart from me and place it there in His heart. In return He gave me back part of His flaming heart.”
In all, there were four revelations, during which the now-familiar Twelve Promises were made, the last of which is responsible for the nine First Fridays’ devotion. Also requested by the Sacred Heart was the establishment of a feast in His honor. We now celebrate this Feast of Sacred Heart on the first Friday after the octave of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
After her death in 1690, many miracles were attributed to the intercession of Margaret Mary, but it was not until 1864 that the Decree of Beatification was published. Pope Benedict XV declared her a saint in 1920 and her feast is celebrated on October 16.