SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS (1597-1640), priest and missionary – Patron saint of medical and prison social workers and religious cenacles
Today, the Church honors Saint John Francis Regis, a servant of the Body of Christ, who faithfully devoted his life to preaching and ministering to the poor and disadvantaged, no matter where it took him or under what conditions he had to endure.
Born on January 31, 1597 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 the age of eighteen. Despite his rigorous academic schedule, he spent many hours in chapel, often to the dismay of fellow seminarians who were concerned about his health.
Following his ordination to the priesthood, he undertook missionary work in various French towns. While the formal sermons of the day tended towards 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 the Diocese of Viviers in France, after observing the success which Father Regis had in communicating with the people, sought to draw on his many gifts which were especially needed during the prolonged civil and religious strife then widespread throughout France. With many prelates absent and priests negligent, the people had been deprived of the Sacraments for twenty years or more.
Various forms of Protestantism were thriving in some cases, while a general indifference towards religion was evident in other instances. 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.
Father Regis lived out his days working for the Lord in the wildest and most desolate parts of his native France. There he encountered harsh winters and other deprivations. Meanwhile, he continued preaching missions and earned a reputation as a living saint.
There is a story about a certain man entering the town of Saint-Andé, who came upon a large crowd in front of a church and inquired about the purpose of the gathering. He 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 close. 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 30th, he spent most of the day with his eyes on the Crucifix. That evening, he died. His final words were: “Jesus, my Savior, I commend my spirit to You.” John Francis Regis was canonized a saint on June 16, 1737 by Pope Clement XII.
We commemorate his feastday on June 16.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ missionary)
“God of Mercy, You gave us Saint John Francis to proclaim the riches of Christ. By the help of his prayers, may we grow in knowledge of You, be eager to do good, and learn to walk before You by living the truth of the Gospel.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”