St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was born of a rich, noble family. His father, Francis, castellan of Nouvelles and a master of de Boisy, had high hopes for his talented son. Young Francis attended university in Paris and Padova, where he studied theology, the Bible, and obtained a doctoral degree in law. Despite objections from his father he decided to join the clergy. He became a priest in 1593, and by 1603 was already a bishop of Geneva. In a growing atmosphere of Reformation, he became aware of the damage that was being caused by religious ignorance, which prompted him to support the Brotherhood of Christian Teaching and to be involved with promoting a deeper religious understanding among the faithful. In an era of fanaticism and deep-seated divisions, Francis de Sales projected calm and humility. His social graces and good nature have caused him to be called "a worldly man among saints". In interpersonal relationships he preferred to seek common ground rather than resort to confrontation. He is credited with the conversion of several thousand Calvinists to the Catholic Church. He died on December 28th as he was returning from meeting with the King of France, Louis XIII. Because of the prevailing opinion about his sainthood, he was beatified as early as 1661, and canonized in 1665. Pope Pius IX declared Francis de Sales a Doctor of the Church, and Pius XI named him as a patron of journalists and Catholic publications. He is also revered as a patron of scholars who seek the truth about God and man through reconciliation of faith and reason.
Francis de Sales was an outstanding representative of Christian humanism, a school of thought characterized by faith and optimism. He proposed looking at Christianity from the standpoint of man and raising him above nature. Francis's main conviction was a harmony between faith and everyday life. He believed that a man's dignity is imago Dei. He praised the beauty of the natural world and believed in the possibility of attaining sainthood under any circumstance. He drew attention to beauty and nobility present in all individuals. He encouraged good humor as well as wholesome and prudent forms of entertainment. He emphasized the importance of literature, education, and joyful temperance on a path to Christian and human perfection.
It is our hope that Francis de Sales, a man in love with God and man, will be an inspiration to many initiatives of our scientific Society. Let his example set the standards of research and scholarly dialogue in the pluralistic world of modern science.