About St Francis Xavier

St Francis XavierFrancis Xavier (Francisco de Jassuy Javier, 1506-1552), was the first Jesuit missionary and was of the original group who founded the Jesuits. It could be said that he has inspired many men to enter the Society of Jesus.

Francis was born in Navarre at his family's castle. In September 1525 he went to Paris to begin university studies at the College of Sainte-Barbe. As fate would have it, his roommate was Peter Faber (Pierre Favre) from the Savoy region of France. Four years later, Ignatius of Loyola (Iñigo Lopez de Ignatius) was to move in and change their lives forever.

Ignatius soon won Faber over and inspired him to become a priest working for the salvation of souls. Francis, however, aspired to a worldly career... He earned his licentiate degree and began teaching at the College of Dormans-Beauvais. But he continued to share quarters with Favre and Ignatius.

The turning point came in 1533, when Francis, through the intercession of Ignatius, yielded to the graces God was offering him. Francis joined his other friends who had been inspired by Ignatius on 15th August 1534 in the Chapel of Saint-Denis in Montmartre, where they pronounced private vows of poverty, chastity and of going to the Holy Land to convert infidels.

Ignatius and Francis began studying theology in 1534. Two years later Francis set out for Venice with the rest of the group except for Ignatius. The companions spent two months waiting for a ship to go to the Holy Land. Working in hospitals, they then went to Rome to ask papal permission for their pilgrimage and ordination of the non-priests among them.

Francis, Ignatius and four others were ordained on June 24, 1537. And they continued to wait for a ship... The companions then decided that Ignatius should go to Rome and place the companions at the disposal of the pope. Meanwhile, they would go to various university centres and continue preaching. Francis and Nicholas Bobadilla went on to Bologna.

In April 1538 Francis went to Rome. He also took part in the deliberations in which the companions agreed to form a new religious order. Before Pope Paul III granted his approval, Ignatius was asked to agree to King John III of Portugal's request to send two companions to India. Ignatius chose Simon Rodrigues and Nicholas Bobadilla, but the latter became ill and could not travel.

Ignatius then requested that Francis go. They were the closest of friends and both knew that they would never see each other again.

Francis and Rodrigues left Rome on 15th March 1540 and arrived in Lisbon at the end of June. The fleet had left by then and so the priests had to remain in Lisbon until the following spring. The king was so impressed by their work of preaching and caring for prisoners that Rodrigues was chosen to stay and start a school.

Francis was left to head off alone as the first Jesuit missionary.

Francis was named Apostolic Nuncio which meant that he had authority over all Portuguese clergy in Goa and set sail 17th April 1541 (his 35th birthday). It took 13 months for Francis to arrive in Goa. The young Spaniard set about preaching to the Portuguese, visiting prisons and ministering to lepers. His first mission was to the Paravas, pearl fishers, Francis instructed them in the faith and baptised.

By the end of 1544 he is reported to have baptised 10,000 persons. He moved northward to Cochin, and then sailed to Malacca; from there he headed for the Moluccas. In July 1547, he returned to Malacca and had two Jesuits to replace him.

In Malacca, he learned about Japan from a Japanese nobleman named Anjiro. He was not able to go to Japan until April 1549. The mission seemed to go smoothly initially. The local prince gave permission to preach Christianity. Francis believed the best way to convert Japan was to begin with the emperor. But after short stints in Kagoshima, Hirado and Yamaguchi - he managed to convert only 200 people. They were finally fortunate enough to meet a prince willing to take them to the Imperial City.

Francis and Br. John Fernandez arrived in January 1551, the first Catholic missionaries to see Asia's largest and most beautiful city. They were unsuccessful in being granted an audience with the emperor. The Jesuits then realised that the the daimyo of Yamaguchi was the most powerful lord in Japan. A determined Francis changed his strategy, they rented horses and a litter and presented themselves enrobed in rich silken robes. They were finally received at the palace of the daimyo. Francis presented him with expensive gifts and letters of credentials from King John III of Portugal and Pope Paul III. The Jesuits were granted their request to preach the Christian religion in the empire. The people of Japan were allowed to convert if they wished to.

Francis decided to return to India. In September 1551 he set sail for Malacca with plans to return to Japan eventually. The ship was tragically thrown off course by a typhoon. On December 17, the vessel sailed into the Bay of Canton and anchored off Sancian Island. As Francis looked towards nearby China, it is said that he felt the country calling him. Finding themselves in Singapore later on, Francis received a letter from Ignatius appointing him provincial of the "Indies and the countries beyond."

He was back in India in January 1552 and another letter arrived instructing him to return to Rome. Francis, however, decided to go to China first. By April 1552, he landed on Sancian Island, a hideout for Chinese smugglers and a base for Portuguese traders. None were willing to take him to China; sadly Francis was cheated of his money as well.

On 21st November, he became feverish. His humble abode was a leafy hut on the island's shore. Seven days later he fell into a coma. 1st December - Francis regained consciousness and devoted himself to prayer. He died on the morning of 3rd December and was buried on the island. His remains were later taken to Malacca and then to Goa where they were interred.

Francis Xavier was canonised in 1622 and made patron of the Propagation of the Faith in 1910. In 1927, this truly amazing Jesuit was named Patron of the Missions.