St. Francis Borgia was born in Spain in 1510. Although born into wealth and prominence, this man, the patron saint of our parish, went on to become a priest and a leader of the Jesuits in Rome.
St. Francis’ father was the Duke of Gandia and his mother was the granddaughter of the King of Aragon. At the age of 18, St. Francis began a career on the council of Emperor Charles V which spanned 20 years. Shortly after starting his career, St. Francis married Eleanor de Castro of Portugal, and they started a family. During this period of his life, St. Francis enjoyed success and was appointed to positions of greater authority and responsibility.
Career and Entry into the Priesthood
When St. Francis’ father died in 1543, he became Duke of Gandia and Emperor Charles V appointed him as master of the household of his son and heir, Prince Philip. St. Francis’ diplomatic abilities came into question when his attempt to arrange a marriage between Prince Philip and the Princess of Portugal failed, thus ending an attempt to bring these two countries together and resulting in his retirement. Shortly thereafter, St. Francis’ wife died, leaving him to raise eight children on his own.
These events lead him to question the direction of his life. After five years had passed and his children were grown, he gave his wealth and his title to his son. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1551. In secret, he had already taken formal vows as a Jesuit, which allowed him to join the Society while getting his affairs in order.
Although his entry into the priesthood may seem drastic, St. Francis was known throughout his career for being modest, virtuous, and steadfast to Christian ideals. Additionally, he built hospitals, established monasteries, and helped the poor.
The “duke turned Jesuit” became the talk of all Spain and he was called to preach in many cities. His example made a deep impression everywhere, and he was responsible for many high-born youths joining the order.
Upon St. Francis’ return from a journey to Peru, Pope Julius III made known his intention to make him a cardinal. Due to his great sense of humility, St. Francis did not wish to have this honor bestowed upon him, and he asked the Pope to reconsider his decision. Pope Julius III honored St. Francis’ request, and his successive attempts to elevate St. Francis to the cardinalate were ended by St. Ignatius who intervened on St. Francis’ behalf and also by successive popes who loved him too much to cause him distress.
In 1554 St. Francis was appointed head of the Jesuits in Spain by St. Ignatius. After only two years, St. Francis was also given responsibility for missions in the East and West Indies. Every area that he went into was strengthened by his influence and benefited from his initiatives. During this period, he fostered education by starting colleges and schools, and he became chaplain to Charles V on whose council he had served prior to his entry into the priesthood.
In 1565, his previous successes led him to Rome to serve as the General of the Jesuits. There he quickly gained the admiration of the public. Under his generalship the Society established its missions in Florida, New Spain (northwestern Mexico and southern Arizona) and Peru, and greatly developed its internal structures. His concern that Jesuits were in danger of getting too involved in their work led him to introduce their daily hour-long meditation. Due to his changes and revitalization of the Society, he is sometimes called the “Second Founder of the Society of Jesus.”
Death and Sainthood
In 1571, St. Francis returned to Spain for one last visit which drew huge crowds. He died in 1572, two days after his return to Rome.
St. Francis Borgia was beatified on November 23, 1624, by Pope Urban VIII, and canonized on June 20, 1670, by Pope Clement X. His feast is October 10. Many Catholics pray to him for protection from earthquakes.
The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia provides more detailed information on the life of St. Francis Borgia.