Home > Worship Resources > Festivals & Commemorations > Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, 1622 (January 24)

About the Commemoration

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Continues

Francis was born in the Château de Sales in the Savoy district of France in 1567 and educated at Annecy, Paris, and Padua. In 1593, despite some opposition from his father, he was ordained priest in the Diocese of Geneva. He served there for twenty-nine years, first as priest to the people of his native Chablais country, who had become Calvinists. He approached them in the spirit of love (he said, “Whoever preaches with love preaches effectively”), surviving attacks by assassins, and by the end of four years most of the people had returned to the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1602 Francis was appointed bishop of Geneva. With characteristic gentle persuasion, he began the reform and reorganization of a most difficult diocese. He gave away his private money and lived very simply, resisting all efforts by the French king to have him move to Paris. He governed his diocese with love and gentleness. Children adored him and he himself taught them when they came to the cathedral for instruction. He devoted himself especially to guiding the laity in the spiritual life, something that was previously regarded as the preserve of the religious. He is responsible for what became a spiritual classic, Introduction to the Devout Life, based on notes he originally wrote for one of his penitents, showing how it is possible to live a spiritual life while living in the world. Perhaps his greatest book is The Love of God. His works have been published in twenty-six volumes.

With Jane de Chantal (1552-1641; feast day August 21) he founded the Order of the Visitation in 1610 for the religious education of young girls. Francis died of a stroke in Lyons in 1622 at the age of fifty-five. A Calvinist minister said of him, in a much-quoted remark, “If we honored any man as a saint, I know no one since the days of the apostles more worthy of it than this man.”

Francis de Sales was introduced to the Lutheran calendar by Wilhelm Löhe (1868) and is on the 1997 calendar of the Church of England, the Christian Year.

Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Francis de Sales; Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


From Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales, Part 1, chapter 3

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each in accord with one’s individual character, station, and calling.

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the noble and by the worker, by the servant and by the master, by the widow, by the unmarried girl, and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation, and to the duties of each individual person.

Do you think, my dear Philothea, that it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a worker to spend the whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be, like a bishop, constantly meeting the needs of our neighbor? Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized, and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently. True devotion, however, does not destroy anything at all. Instead, it perfects and fulfills all things. Devotion that contradicts anyone’s legitimate station and calling is certainly false devotion.

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and it leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as it found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in personal vocation by setting vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the master becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from the military life, the workshop, the court, or the family. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic, and religious surely cannot be exercised in those occupations, but there are many other kinds of devotion suitable for perfecting those who live in secular life.

Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to spiritual perfection.

Trans. PHP, based on A Short Breviary by the monks of St. John’s Abbey and the English translation of the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy.


O God, you gave your blessed bishop Francis de Sales the spirit of compassion to befriend all on the way of salvation: By his example, lead us to show to the world the tenderness of your own love in the service of others; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

RS, trans. PHP

Readings: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Psalm 94:1-14; John 15:9-17

Hymn of the Day:Faith of our fathers, living still” (H82 558, SBH 516; LBW 500, ELW 812) [Stanza 3 describes Francis de Sales’s way of love; the meaning, however, has unfortunately been undermined in the LBW and ELW alteration of the original text.]

Prayers: For devotion to Christ in our daily lives, whatever our circumstances; For faithful stewardship of possessions; For men and women in their everyday life; For writers and journalists; For the unity of the church; For Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Preface: A Saint (1)

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