St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier was born on April 7, 1506 near Pamplona, Spain. The son of a Basque noble family, St. Francis Xavier had a privileged upbringing. At the age of eighteen, he went to Paris where he entered the College of Sainte-Barbe. Here, he met Ignatius Loyola (the future founder of the Society of Jesus) and Peter Favre from Savoy. A sincere friendship developed between these men, and they began to share a genuine desire to serve God and win souls for Him.

Xavier and Favre offered themselves as companions to Ignatius and became the first men to join Ignatius in his founding of the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. When King John of Portugal requested that a missionary be sent to the Indies, the king turned to Francis Xavier, and in 1541 Francis Xavier was appointed apostolic nuncio to the East. He soon embarked for India.

St. Francis Xavier was a true missionary. Upon his arrival in India, he immediately set to work learning the language, preaching, baptizing, ministering to the sick and poor, and composing a catechism – a central tool for teaching the Faith. In addition to very dangerous voyages, Xavier had many other hardships and trials to face. For example, the amount of work often caused great fatigue. The climate was different from his native Spain. Groups began persecuting and killing Christians, and the Portuguese merchants and officials could be cruel, greedy, and very immoral toward the natives. However, none of these challenges hindered the deep faith and apostolic zeal of Xavier.

As the Christian Faith continued to establish itself and grow in India, Xavier moved onto missionary work in Japan. Once again, St. Francis Xavier worked hard to learn the language and ways of the people. After an apostolate of more than two years in Japan, the Christian community in that country grew to some 2,000 people and later increased tremendously. Xavier left the Japanese mission in the hands of another Spanish Jesuit (Cosmas de Torres). He returned to India where he was appointed provincial of the newly erected “Province of India.”

After settling some domestic troubles in India and naming a new vice provincial, Xavier turned his attention to China. He had heard much about that empire during his days in Japan, and was now very eager to evangelize its vast domain. Having encountered many difficulties entering China, he sailed to the island of Sancian – just off the Chinese coast and very near Canton. Here he was ceased by a fever and, while still waiting for permission to enter China, died on December 3, 1552.

Francis Xavier was canonized on March 12, 1622 along with Philip Neri (note: see “About St. Philip Neri” above), Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and Isidore the Farmer. St. Francis Xavier’s feast day is December 3rd.

St. Phillip Neri

St. Philip Neri was born in Florence, Italy on July 22, 1515. Like many of the Florentines around him, St. Philip Neri was a lover of art and beauty. At the age of eighteen, he went to live with an uncle who was a merchant and was prepared to set Philip up in business. However, the prospects of a prosperous commercial career did not appeal to Philip, for he desired to give his life to God.

With a strong spiritual yearning, Philip left for Rome, where he took up residence with a Florentine, Galeotto del Caccia, whose two small sons he tutored. He began to study theology at Sant’ Agostino and philosophy at Sapienza University. He soon became the center of a group of laymen interested in living a more dedicated Christian life and organized the group into a confraternity to help poor and sick pilgrims. In 1551, with the Council of Trent – a major vehicle of the Counter Reformation – still in session, Neri was ordained a priest and became popular as both a preacher and a confessor.

During his early days as a priest, Neri’s concept of the Oratory began to take form. The concept of the Oratory was apostolic at its very core. It would be a place for prayer, informal talks, discussions, and excursions into the countryside, stopping off at places of pilgrimage. At the same time, there were picnics and musical performances. However, it was not until 1564 – by which time several of St. Philip’s followers had become priests and began to live in community with him – that the Oratory began in a more formal sense; and not until 1575 – after having undergone periods of persecution – that the Congregation of the Oratory was formally approved by Pope Gregory XIII.

Up until his death in 1595, Neri’s spiritual advice was continually sought. Visitors, including many cardinals and Church leaders were drawn to his very deep and holy insights. Saints Ignatius of Loyola, Camillus de Lellis, John Leonardi, Charles Borromeo, Felix of Cantalice, and Francis de Sales were said to have been deeply influenced by his life. While Neri had this influence on leaders and popular figures of his day, he had the same impact on many ordinary followers and on those of future generations. Most notably, 19th Century scholar and theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman was attracted to Neri, joined the Oratory, and founded the first English-speaking Oratory in Birmingham, England.

In time, St. Philip Neri earned the title of “winning saint” (used in Cardinal Newman’s Litany of St. Philip) as people of all ages and classes, but particularly young people, had a remarkable attraction to him and were won over by his genuine faith and character. St. Philip Neri is symbolized in art, as seen in one of the large banners at the school, with a heart of fire. It was in his heart that he is recorded to have felt the heat of God’s love. In fact, many people during his lifetime noticed that he seemed constantly warm and often flushed. Followers reported that he would walk about in winter with his cassock unbuttoned at the chest, and that the beating of his heart could be heard and felt (in his presence) when he preached and prayed.

Praying, saying Mass, hearing Confessions and offering holy advice to his spiritual children right up to his very last hours of life, St. Philip Neri passed in Rome on May 26, 1595. He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1615 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on May 12, 1622.

Interesting Connections

  • Both men were canonized on the same day – May 12, 1622 – by Pope Gregory XV.
  • Both men were very close friends with St. Ignatius of Loyola.
  • Both men experienced trials, persecution and hardships in their apostolates.
  • Both men spread the Faith through teaching.
  • Both men worked tirelessly in their respective apostolates till the final moments of their life.
  • While St. Philip Neri was not a Jesuit (St. Francis Xavier was a Jesuit), he – Neri – had a long-time Jesuit confessor in Francesco Marsuppini. Marsuppini, incidentally, later left the Jesuits and entered St. Philip’s circle.
  • St. Philip Neri’s father happened to be named Francesco (Francis).
  • St. Francis Xavier knew St. Philip Neri, and most certainly the two men had a lasting impact on one another. In his book titled Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy, Fr. Paul Turks, C.O. writes, “Among the Jesuits Philip was especially well known by Francis Xavier, whom he met several times after Easter of 1538” (p. 22). Fr. Turks later adds, “The small group which met in Philip’s room used to read the letters of the Jesuit missionaries to the Far East, especially those of Francis Xavier” (p. 39).
  • Moved by the missionary letters of St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri and his close followers seriously contemplated following Xavier’s path and joining the missions in India. So close in fact did Philip come to following Francis Xavier, that it took lots of prayer and strong spiritual direction (including an apparition by St. John the Baptist to the visionary monk Vincenzo Ghettini) for him to discern that his “India is [was] to be Rome.”
  • St. Francis Xavier and St. Philip Neri could be described as having the same apostolic spirit with one man, Xavier, doing the apostolate abroad and the other man, Neri, doing the apostolate at home. Thus, the spiritual work of both men complemented the other, truly demonstrating a universal call to holiness and a desire for the Faith to reach the ends of the earth.