Today is the feast day of Saint John Francis Regis. Ora pro nobis.
Saint John Francis Regis was born January 31, 1597, at Font-Couverte, Languedoc, France, he died at la Louvesc, 30 Dec., 1640. At the age of five he fainted when he heard his mother speak of the terrible misfortune of being eternally damned. He was a modest, quiet, studious child. His seriousness increased with his years; frequently he retired to the chapel and could be seen bathed in tears in the presence of Jesus. In his eighteenth year he was visited with a serious sickness. Soon after his recovery he made a retreat to decide on a state of life. Following the advice of his confessor, he asked admittance into the Society of Jesus. He entered the Jesuit novitiate of Toulouse on 8 December, 1616, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
After his ordination in 1631, he began his apostolic work at Montpellier and spent himself in preaching to the unlettered people of Languedoc and Auvergne. He made many converts among the Huguenots; established an association of women to procure aid for prisoners; and founded Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament. In his works of mercy God frequently helped him by miracles. On one of his missionary journeys in November, 1637, snow and ice filled the valleys and precipitous crags he had to cross. Despite the fact that he fell and broke his leg, with the help of his companion, he continued the remaining six miles of the journey. Instead of seeing a surgeon when be reached his destination, he insisted on going into the confessional. After hearing confessions for several hours the parish Priest learned of his accident. When the leg was examined it was found to be miraculously cured.
He was so inflamed with the love of God that he seemed to breathe, think, speak of that alone, and he offered up the Holy Sacrifice with such attention and fervor that those who assisted at it could not but feel something of the spiritual fire with which he burned.
When not preaching, Saint John Francis engaged in continuous charitable work, for the improvement of many. He established hostels for prostitutes who wished to reform and leave the business, whom he referred to as “Daughters of Refuge.” He also engaged in preventative work, forming many societies and confraternities dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. One such group, for example, helped country girls stay away from the cities (and turning to prostitution) by establishing them in the lace making and embroidery trade. Other societies focused on procuring food and aid for prisoners and the poor. (4)
St. John Francis’ successes everywhere were wonderful, but, as in the life of every Saint, God permitted him to be misunderstood, slandered, and persecuted. He edified all by his humility and saintly life. While on his way to his last mission assignment, he fell ill and took refuge in an abandoned house. Exposed to the piercing winter wind, pleurisy set in. The following morning he crawled to the church and opened the mission. After preaching three times on Christmas day and three times on St. Stephen’s day, he went to hear confessions and fainted twice. The physicians found him seriously ill. On December 31, 1640, at the age of forty-three, St. John Francis Regis rendered his pure soul to God.
On 18 May, 1716, the degree of beatification was issued by Clement XI. On 5 April, 1737, Clement XII promulgated the degree of canonization. Benedict XIV established 16 June 16 as the feast day. Pilgrims came in crowds to his tomb. Mention must be made of the fact that a visit made in 1804 to the blessed remains of the Apostle of Vivarais was the beginning of the vocation of the Blessed Curé of Ars, Jean-Baptiste Vianney. “Everything good that I have done”, he said when dying, “I owe to him.” The place where Regis died has been transformed into a mortuary chapel. Near by is a spring of fresh water to which those who are devoted to St. John Francis Regis attribute miraculous cures. The old church of la Louvesc has received (1888) the title and privileges of a basilica. On this sacred site was founded in the beginning of the nineteenth century the Institute of the Sisters of St. Regis, or Sisters of Retreat, better known under the name of the Religious of the Cenacle; and it was the memory of his merciful zeal in behalf of so many unfortunate fallen women that gave rise to the now flourishing work of St. Francis Regis, which is to provide for the poor and working people who wish to marry, and which is chiefly concerned with bringing illegitimate unions into conformity with Divine and human laws.
The old church of la Louvesc has received (1888) the title and privileges of a basilica. On this sacred site was founded in the beginning of the nineteenth century the Institute of the Sisters of St. Regis, or Sisters of Retreat, better known under the name of the Religious of the Cenacle; and it was the memory of his merciful zeal in behalf of so many unfortunate fallen women that gave rise to the now flourishing work of St. Francis Regis, which is to provide for the poor and working people who wish to marry, and which is chiefly concerned with bringing illegitimate unions into conformity with Divine and human laws.
Besides the biographies mentioned in CARAYON, Bibliographic historique de la Compagnie de Jésus, nn. 2442-84, must be mentioned the more recent lives: DE CURLEY, St. Jean-François Régis (Lyons, 1893), which, together with DAUBENTON’S work—often reprinted—is the most complete history of Regis; CROS, Saint Jean-François Régis (Toulouse, 1894), in which the new portion consists of unedited papers regarding the saint’s family. Among the early biographers LABRONE, a pupil of the saint, occupies an unparalleled place for the charm, the sincerity, and the documentary value of the relation. His book appeared in 1690, ten years after the death of the saint. (5)
Image: crop of Juan Francisco Régis, artist: Michel Ange Houasse, circa 1722 (7)