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The Life of St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of the East Indies, Japan, and foreign missions, was one of the seven original Jesuits along with St. Ignatius Loyola.

Born in northern Spain in 1506, Francis Xavier’s native language was Basque. He left his home country to study at the University of Paris, where he first encountered Ignatius Loyola in 1528. The founders of the Society of Jesus established their new religious order in 1534 at Montmartre.

Francis Xavier was ordained a priest shortly thereafter, and once he received a papal decree declaring him apostolic nuncio to Asia, Francis set off as a missionary to the East in 1541.

Francis would never again return to Europe. After a 15 month journey, he arrived on the south Asian island of Goa, which had been colonized by the Portuguese. In Goa, Christianity had been well-established by the Portuguese at first, but the religion was suffering from corruption by the time Francis arrived. After several months spent teaching against the immoral habits of greed and debauchery that had spread throughout the Christian community of Goa, Francis went on to explore other islands in southern Asia. 

 The Miracle of Saint Francis Xavier
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

In a letter to Ignatius, Francis wrote of his trying yet rewarding experience as a missionary in these unfamiliar lands: "The dangers to which I am exposed and the tasks I undertake for God are springs of spiritual joy, so much so that these islands are the places in all the world for a man to lose his sight by excess of weeping: but they are tears of joy."

Once he had spent time getting to know these small island communities, Francis set his sights on larger endeavors. He embarked on his goal of founding Christianity in Japan, which was largely unvisited by Westerners and regarded as a mysterious land. Francis was delighted by the sophistication of Japanese society and though he made attempts to learn the language, he was probably not as skilled a linguist as historians once believed.

When he eventually departed from Japan, Francis left as many as 2000 new converts to Christianity in his wake. The next big feat he sought to accomplish was China, a country completely closed off to foreigners. Though he was finally able to convince a Chinese merchant to bring him into the country secretly, Francis became too ill to make the trip.

He died on December 3, now his feast day, at the age of 46. St. Francis Xavier was canonized in 1622 alongside his fellow Jesuit St. Ignatius Loyola, and in 1927, he was named patron of foreign missions.


Biographical information from All Saints by Robert Ellsberg and One Hundred Saints: Their Lives and Likenesses Drawn from Butler’s "Lives of the Saints" and Great Works of Western Art.


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