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The Catholic Defender: Saint John Francis Regis the angel of the college.


Born into a family of some wealth, John Francis was so impressed by his Jesuit educators that he himself wished to enter the Society of Jesus. He did so at age 18. Despite his rigorous academic schedule, he spent many hours in chapel, often to the dismay of fellow seminarians who were concerned about his health.


John Francis Regis, a 17th-century French Jesuit known for his zealous missionary efforts and his care for the poor and marginalized, especially at-risk women and orphans. St. Regis was born on Jan. 31, 1597, in southern France to a wealthy merchant father and a mother descended from nobility.


Following his ordination to the priesthood, John Francis undertook missionary work in various French towns. While the formal sermons of the day tended toward the poetic, his discourses were plain. But they revealed the fervor within him and attracted people of all classes.


Father Regis especially made himself available to the poor. Many mornings were spent in the confessional or at the altar celebrating Mass; afternoons were reserved for visits to prisons and hospitals.


The bishop of Viviers, observing the success of Father Regis in communicating with people, sought to draw on his many gifts, especially needed during the prolonged civil and religious strife then rampant throughout France.


After being educated by the Jesuits, when he was nineteen years old he decided, with the approbation of his confessor, to enter the Society of Jesus at Toulouse.


With many prelates absent and priests negligent, the people had been deprived of the sacraments for 20 years or more. Various forms of Protestantism were thriving in some cases while a general indifference toward religion was evident in other instances.

John Francis Regis, a 17th-century French Jesuit known for his zealous missionary efforts and his care for the poor and marginalized, especially at-risk women and orphans. St. Regis was born on Jan. 31, 1597, in southern France to a wealthy merchant father and a mother descended from nobility.


For three years, Father Regis traveled throughout the diocese, conducting missions in advance of a visit by the bishop. He succeeded in converting many people and in bringing many others back to religious observances.


Though Father Regis longed to work as a missionary among the Native Americans in Canada, he was to live out his days working for the Lord in the wildest and most desolate part of his native France.


There he encountered rigorous winters, snowdrifts and other deprivations. Meanwhile he continued preaching missions and earned a reputation as a saint. Upon entering the town of Saint-Andé, one man came upon a large crowd in front of a church and was told that people were waiting for “the saint” who was coming to preach a mission.


The last four years of his life were spent preaching and organizing social services, especially for prisoners, the sick and the poor. In the autumn of 1640, Father Regis sensed that his days were coming to a conclusion.


After two years of probation, he made his religious vows in 1618, and was then sent to Cahors to finish his rhetoric, and the following year to Tournon to perform his course of philosophy; but to preserve the fire of devotion in his heart under the dissipation of those studies, he joined to them frequent visits of the blessed sacrament, pious reading, and set times of holy recollection, though he made even his studies a continuation of his commerce with God, in a continual recourse to him by devout aspirations. Such was his fidelity in every action, that his superiors attested they never observed in him the least breach of any college duty; which procured him the name of the angel of the college.


The interior fire of his breast appeared in his looks. He was often seen at the foot of the altar without motion as in a kind of rapture; and he spoke of God with such a feeling unction, that he inspired all that heard him with his holy love, and excited the most tepid to fervor.


After two years of probation, he made his religious vows in 1618, and was then sent to Cahors to finish his rhetoric, and the following year to Tournon to perform his course of philosophy; but to preserve the fire of devotion in his heart under the dissipation of those studies, he joined to them frequent visits of the blessed sacrament, pious reading, and set times of holy recollection, though he made even his studies a continuation of his commerce with God, in a continual recourse to him by devout aspirations. Such was his fidelity in every action, that his superiors attested they never observed in him the least breach of any college duty;


He settled some of his affairs and prepared for the end by continuing to do what he did so well: speaking to the people about the God who loved them. On December 31, he spent most of the day with his eyes on the crucifix. That evening, he died. His final words were: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”


John Francis Regis was canonized in 1737.


He is the patron saint of lacemakers, medical social workers, and children who are born outside of marriage and family.


In a 1997 letter to the Bishop of Viviers, Pope John Paul II commemorated the fourth centenary of St. John Francis Regis' birth, honoring him as a "lofty figure of holiness" and an example for the Church in the modern world.


John Francis Regis was beatified by Pope Clement XI on 18 May 1716, and canonized by Pope Clement XII on 5 April 1737.


John longed to travel to the New World and become a missionary to the Native Americans, but he was called instead to work among his own compatriots.


Unlike many famous preachers, he isn’t remembered for golden-tongued oratory.


What people who listened to him heard was his own fervent faith, and it had a powerful effect on them.


We can recall homilists who impressed us for the same reason. More importantly for us, we can also remember ordinary people, neighbors and friends, whose faith and goodness touched us and brought us to deeper faith. That is the calling most of us must follow.

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