St. John Francis Regis
John Francis Regis – confessor of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was born January 31, 1597, at Foncouverte, a village in the diocese of Narbonne in Languedoc in southern France. True virtue, or Christian perfection, consists not in great or shining actions, but resides in the heart, and appears to great edification, though in the usual train of common and religious duties constantly performed fidelity and fervor. Such a life has its trials, and often a severer martyrdom than that which stands the test of the flames. This we find in the life of the holy servant of God – John Francis Regis. His father was a descendent from a younger branch of the noble house of Deplan in Rovergue, and his mother was the daughter of the lord of Segur. Both were distinguished among the nobility of Lower Languedoc by their virtue.
John Francis Regis was educated at the Jesuit College of Beziers. On December 8, 1616, in his nineteenth year, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Toulouse and he took his vows two years later. After finishing his course in rhetoric at Cahors, Regis was sent to teach grammar at several colleges. While he was teaching, he also pursued his studies in philosophy at the scholasticate at Tournon. Owing to an intense love of preaching and teaching the Faith, as well as the desire to save souls, Regis began his study of theology at Toulouse in 1628. Less than two years later, in 1630, he was ordained as a priest at the age of thirty-one. The following year, having completed his studies, Regis made his Third Probation.
Regis was now fully prepared for his lifework and entered his apostolic career in the summer of 1631. He was a tireless worker who spent most of his life serving the marginalized. As a newly ordained priest, he worked with bubonic plague victims in Toulouse. From May 1632, until September 1634, his headquarters was at the Jesuit College of Montpellier. Here he labored for the conversion of the Huguenots, visited hospitals, assisted the needy, withdrew from vice wayward women and girls, and preached Catholic doctrine with tireless zeal to children and the poor.
Regis is most famous for his work with at-risk women and orphans, for whom he established safe houses and found jobs. Regis established the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, which organized charitable collections of money and food from the wealthy. He also established several hostels for prostitutes and helped many become trained lace makers, which provided them with a stable income, and an opportunity to maintain their humanity under the threat of exploitation.
In 1633, Regis went to the Diocese of Viviers at the invitation of the local bishop to give missions throughout the diocese. From 1633 to 1640 he evangelized more than fifty districts in leVivarais, leForez, and leVelay. Regis labored diligently on behalf of both priests and laymen. His preaching style was said to have been simple and direct. He appealed to the uneducated peasantry and numerous conversions resulted.
Regis’ labors reaped a harvest of conversions. However, his boldness – perceived as arrogance in some cases – led to a conflict with certain other priests, a period of tension with the local bishop, and even threats of violence from those whose vices he condemned. Although he longed to devote himself to the conversion of the indigenous inhabitants of Canada, he remained in France all his life.
Regis walked from town to town, in rough mountainous areas where travel was difficult, especially in the winter. He succumbed to pneumonia at age forty-three on December 31, 1640, at Lalouvesc, in France’s Dauphine region. He is the patron saint of lacemakers, medical social workers, and illegitimate children. He was beatified by Pope Clement XI on May 18, 1716, and canonized by Pope Clement XII on April 5, 1737.