"It matters little how one begins, provided that he be resolved to go on well, and to end well." (St. Francis de Sales)The tumultuous years in France after the Protestant Reformation formed the background for Francis de Sales. He was born August 21, 1567, into a family of nobility of what was then the Kingdom of Savoy, which bordered France, Italy and Switzerland. He was educated by the Jesuits at the College of Clermont in Paris and the University of Padua, where he earned a Doctorate in both Civil and Church Law.
To the great disappointment of his father, Francis gave up a promising civil career to follow his calling to the priesthood. After his ordination, he was sent as a young missionary to the Chablais district of Savoy for four years. By the end of his missionary aposolate, 72,000 men and women had re-embraced the Catholic faith.
Francis was ordained Bishop of Geneva in 1602 but resided in Annecy (now part of modern-day France) because Geneva was under Calvinist control and therefore closed to him. His diocese became famous throughout Europe for its efficient organization, zealous clergy and well-instructed laity - monumental achievements in those days.
Francis' fame as a spiritual director and writer grew. He was convinced by others to collect, organize and expand on his many letters addressing spiritual subjects. He published these letters in 1609 under the title Introduction to the Devout Life. This work would become his most famous, but Francis' special project was the writing of A Treatise of the Love of God, published in 1616, over which he prayed and labored many years.
The spirituality of Francis de Sales flowed out of his experiences as a missionary priest, bishop, spiritual director, author and Religious Founder. Basic tenets of his teachings include:
- The recognizable call to holiness for all people in all walks of life
- The necessity of living in the "present moment" as the privileged opportunity to know and live God's will
- The goodness of creation
- The centrality of love and freedom in one's relationship with God and the world
- The sanctity of the "ordinary" done "passionately well"
- The gentleness, humility, optimism and joy that come from living in truthfulness
Francis collaborated with Jane de Chantal in founding the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, a religious order known for the simplicity of its rule and traditions. After Francis' death in 1622 (at the age of 55), Jane was determined to establish an order of men who, above all, would be formed by the teachings of Francis de Sales. Her dream finally was realized in the work of Father Louis Brisson and Mother Marie de Sales Chappuis some 250 years later.
Louis Brisson, a priest of Troyes in France, founded the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Since 1875, thousands of men in Europe, Africa, Asia and North and South America have joined the community. Oblates first arrived in the United States in 1893 and established a permanent community in 1903. The decision was made to form two American provinces - one headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware and one in Toledo, Ohio - in 1966.
The dream, inspiration and vision of Father Louis Brisson and Mother Marie de Sales Chappuis - embraced over and over again by each new member of the Community - is the ongoing story of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
The Venerable Fr. Louis Brisson, OSFS, co-founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales was born on June 23, 1817, in Plancy, France, the only child of Toussaint and Savine Brisson. He was educated by a local priest who had a large library. Louis read everything; he had a special interest in the sciences.
Brisson was ordained a priest on December 19, 1840. He began as an instructor at the Visitation School in Troyes. He then became chaplain to the Sisters of the Visitation. Mother Marie Therese de Sales Chappuis, the superior, told him many times that the Lord wanted Louis to found a society of priests who would live the Spiritual Directory of St. Francis de Sales and promote Salesian Spirituality. Brisson refused; Chappuis was persistent in her demands.
One day after again arguing with Mother Chappuis, Christ appeared to Louis. As he looked into the Lord's eyes, Louis' heart was converted and he gave his consent to follow the Good Mother's direction.
In 1859, Brisson opened a home for girls working in textile factories. Louis needed he help of religious for his girls' homes and invited (St.) Leonie Aviat to begin a new congregation, the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales.
On August 27, 1876, Louis and five other priests professed vows as Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Louis instructed both Oblate communities: "Hold the child in high esteem and instead of frustrating, lend a hand to the work grace accomplishes in these young souls."
Louis argued with the bishop over authority in the Oblates. In 1881, he spoke with Pope Leo XIII and accepted a foreign mission which put the governance of the Oblates under the Pope through the Propagation of the Faith.
In 1887, Brisson finished the biography of Mother Chappuis for the opening of her cause for beatification. On December 7, 1887, the Constitutions of the Oblates were approved by Rome for ten years. Final approbation came from Rome on December 7, 1897.
In the early 1900's, the French government closed religious houses in France. The Oblates transferred their General House to Rome. Because he was too old to travel, Fr. Brisson went to his family home in Plancy. He died on February 2, 1908, with Mother Leonie Aviat, OSFS, and Oblate priests at his bedside.
Father Brisson was beatified on September 22, 2012. The next step to sainthood will be his canonization. Please pray for this blessed event.
-Taken from Spending a Month with Louis Brisson, compiled by Michael S. Murray, OSFS.