Francis de Sales (French: François de Sales) (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622) was a Bishop of Geneva and is honored as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He became noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God.
Francis de Sales was born on 21 August 1567 in the Château de Sales into the noble Sales family of the Duchy of Savoy, in what is today Thorens-Glières, Haute-Savoie, France. His father was François de Sales, Lord of Boisy, Sales, and Novel. His mother was Françoise de Sionnz, the only child of a prominent magistrate and a noblewoman.
His father wanted him, the first of his six sons, to attend the best schools in preparation for a career as a magistrate. He therefore enjoyed a privileged education in the nearby towns of La Roche-sur-Foron and Annecy. His parents entrusted his spiritual formation and academics to the Jesuits.
Education and conversion
In 1583, he went to the Collège de Clermont (later renamed Lycée Louis-le-Grand) in Paris, then a Jesuit institution, to study rhetoric and humanities. In 1584 Francis de Sales attended a theological discussion about predestination, convincing him of his damnation to hell. A personal crisis of despair--a lack of hope (virtue)--thus engulfed Francis de Sales. This conviction lasted through December 1586. His great despair made him physically ill and even bedridden for a time. The following month, January 1587, with great difficulty, he visited the old parish of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès, Paris, where he knelt in prayer before a famed statue of Our Lady of Good Deliverance, a Black Madonna, consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and decided to dedicate his life to God with a vow of chastity. He then joined the tertiary of the Minim Order.
Sales ultimately concluded that God had good in store for him, because "God is love", as Scripture attests. This faithful devotion to the God of love not only expelled his doubts but also influenced the rest of his life and his teachings. His way of teaching Catholic spirituality is often referred to as the Way of Divine Love, or the Devout Life, taken from a book he wrote of a similar name: Introduction to the Devout Life.
In 1588 Sales completed his studies at Collège de Clermont and enrolled at University of Padua in Italy, where he studied both law and theology. He took Antonio Possevino, a priest in Society of Jesus, as his spiritual director. There he made up his mind about becoming a priest. Intelligent and handsome, he went through various conversion experiences that moved his heart to serve God rather than money or the world. In one incident, he rode a horse, and his sword fell to the ground and crossed another sword, making the sign of the Christian cross. He interpreted this and other signs as a call from Jesus Christ to a life of sacrifice and self-giving love for the Church.