Who Was Saint Francis Xavier?

The patron saint of missionaries and one of the founders of the Jesuit order, Saint Francis Xavier sought religious converts throughout Asia during the 1500s.

His Feastday is December 3.

Saint Francis Xavier was born on April 7, 1506, in a castle near Sangüesa in Navarre (part of present-day Spain). With encouragement from his friend Ignatius of Loyola, Xavier devoted himself to religious service and became one of the founders of the Jesuit order.

Much of his life was spent tending to missions in areas such as India and Japan. He was 46 when he died on China's Shangchuan Island on December 3, 1552.

Early Life

On April 7, 1506, Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta was born in Xavier Castle, located near Sangüesa, in the kingdom of Navarre (part of present-day Spain). He was a member of a noble family, and his childhood was one of privilege — however, it was disrupted by his father's death, as well as by outside efforts to take control of Navarre.


In 1525, Francis went to study at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, University of Paris, where he would spend the next eleven years. In the early days he acquired some reputation as an athlete and a fine high-jumper.


In 1529, he shared lodgings with his friend Pierre Favre. A new student, Ignatius of Loyola, came to room with them. At 38, Ignatius was much older than Peter and Francis, who were both 23 at the time. Pierre was won over by Ignatius to become a priest, but Francis had aspirations of worldly advancement. At first Francis was not much taken with Ignatius. He regarded the new lodger as a joke and was sarcastic about his efforts to convert students. Only after Pierre left their lodgings to visit his family, when Ignatius was alone with the proud Navarrese, was he was able to slowly break down Francis's stubborn resistance.


Francis received the degree of Master of Arts in 1530, and afterwards taught Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College, University of Paris.

Forming the Jesuit Order

On 15 August 1534, seven students met in a crypt beneath the Church of Saint Denis (now Saint Pierre de Montmartre), in Montmartre outside Paris. They were Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Spain, Peter Faber from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal. They made private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and also vowed to go to the Holy Land to convert infidels. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on June 24, 1537.


In 1539, after long discussions, Ignatius drew up a formula for a new monastic order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Ignatius's plan for the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.


While waiting in Venice, Italy, to depart for the Holy Land, Xavier worked in a hospital, aiding those in need. When fighting between Venice and the Ottoman Empire made a trip to Jerusalem impossible, Xavier instead went to Rome, where he and others in the society offered their services to the pope.

Missionary Work

Impressed by the Jesuits, King John III of Portugal asked the order for missionaries to work in his empire. Though Loyola initially selected others for the task, Xavier stepped in when a fellow priest became ill. He left Rome on March 15, 1540.


Xavier arrived in Goa, India, on May 6, 1542. He came to be admired in that country for his ability to live and work side by side with the poor. Seeking more converts, Xavier continued to travel; his stops included Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands and the Malay Peninsula.



On August 15, 1549, Xavier landed at Kagoshima, Japan. As he had at his other missions, Xavier adapted to local mores and arranged for the translation of religious texts. These steps helped him reach more converts in the year and a half he spent in Japan.

Last Mission and Legacy

Xavier's next focus for missionary work was China. He traveled to Sancian (Shangchuan) Island, near Canton, but was not able to access the mainland because borders had been closed to foreigners. Before he could find a way inside the country, illness incapacitated Xavier. He died on the island on December 3, 1552, at the age of 46. His body was then taken to Goa.


Though he passed away at a relatively young age, Xavier had accomplished much in his life. In addition to being a founding member of the Jesuit order — the Society of Jesus was officially recognized by Pope Paul III in 1540 — he baptized an estimated 30,000 people. Xavier was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1619, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. A famed missionary himself, he is now the patron saint of missionaries.




Biography courtesy of Biography.com and Wikipedia




Links


Miracle St. Francis Xavier
by Nicolas Poussin

San Francisco Xavier
by Mattia Preti

Death of St. Francis Xavier
by Gaetano Lapis

Death of St. Xavier
by Giovanni Battista Gaulli

Images

Click on thumbnails for a larger view. (Click on zoomed image to close.)


The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier
by Peter Paul Rubens


St. Francis Xavier
by Bartolome Esteban Murillo


St. Francis Xavier Preaching in India
by Antoine Plamondon


Francis Xavier landing in China
by Joseph-Marie Vien


The Vision of St. Francis Xavier
by Anthony Van Dyck


San Francisco Xavier
by Miguel Cabrera