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The Patron Saint of Writers: Saint Francis de Sales

Even the Church knows writers need a patron

St. Francis de Sales (Image:

In the first installment of “Three Minutes With Saints” last week, I said the series was a semi-penitential Monday response to my Sunday Rant series. While that is still true, today’s saint dovetails quite nicely with my rant from yesterday, for which I regret nothing. That rant was about the heinous practice of banning books, something St. Francis de Sales would surely have disapproved of; after all, he is the Patron Saint of Writers.

Francis de Sales was born in the Duchy of Savoy (now southern France) near Geneva on August 1, 1567. He came from a noble family, and it was expected that he would follow his father into a career in law and politics; Francis, however, felt a very different calling. After completing studies at the Universities of Paris and Padua in 1592, he told his father that he wanted to become a priest.

His father was initially opposed to this, but relented after the intervention of the Bishop of Geneva (the bishop actually lived in nearby Annecy because Geneva was controlled by Calvinists). He was ordained in 1593, and after a year as provost of the cathedral in Annecy, he was sent in 1594 as a missionary to the Chamblais region, an area recently reclaimed by Savoy after decades of control by the Genevans.

After this long period of Calvinist control, the region’s 60,000 inhabitants had nearly all converted to Calvinism, with only a few Catholics left. Many leaders in Savoy, including his father, favored a forced reconversion to the Church, but Francis disagreed. After meeting little success with his preaching, he took up the pen and printed tracts, pamphlets, and broadsides that explained the ancient faith to the people. Roughly four years later, at least 40,000 had responded to his writings and returned to the Catholicism.

In 1602 he was named Bishop of Geneva (still located at Annecy) and spent the rest of his life working throughout his diocese and writing countless letters of spiritual direction. One set of these letters were brought by a noblewoman to her parish priest, who collected them into the book we now know as The Introduction to the Devout Life.

The Introduction to the Devout Life put forth the revolutionary idea that piety was not reserved for the clergy alone, but that every person could and should live a devout life based on whatever their particular calling in life was. It was hugely popular during his lifetime and remains so today, not just among Catholics but with Christians of all denominations. Two other well-known books of his are The Art of Loving God and The Catholic Controversy, the latter being a collection of the tracts he wrote to the people of Chamblais.

Following a stroke, Francis died at Lyon on December 28, 1622, at the age of 55. It is said his final word was “humility.” He was canonized on April 19, 1665 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1877. His feast day is January 24, and he is the patron saint of writers, journalists, and the deaf.

At a time when Europe had been devastated by a century of religious warfare intended to convert opposing sides with the sword, Francis instead took up the pen. He proved that words do indeed have more power than force of arms, an encouragement to writers and a lesson to everyone today.


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