St. Francis Xavier (Francisco De Javier, 7 April 1506 - 2 December 1552) was a Spanish pioneering Roman Catholic Christian missionary and early companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola before the founding of the Society of Jesus. Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit missionary and the prototype who inspired many men to enter the Society of Jesus and evangelize far off nations. At age 19, he went to study at the University of Paris, where he received a licentiate of arts in 1530. At the Collège of Sainte-Barbe, Xavier was assigned to share a room with Ignatius, a nontraditional student then in his mid-thirties who was frequently at odds with the Inquisition. Under Ignatius' influence, Xavier and six others, including fellow roommate Pierre Favre, discerned lives of service in the Catholic Church and made religious vows at Montmartre on August 15th, 1534, the feast of the Assumption. Their small company would eventually become the first Jesuits with the official founding of the order in 1540.
St. Francis Xavier was born in Navarre on April 7, 1506, the youngest of the five children of Juan de Jassa and Maria de Azpilcueta. Xavier’s family was loyal to the rulers of Navarre. Castile had annexed this territory, after much fighting, and in 1521 Navarre rebelled against Castile. Many of Francis’ relatives were involved in this fight, as was Ignatius of Loyola; however, Ignatius was fighting on the side of Castile, as that was where his family’s loyalty lay. This battle was the one in which Ignatuis’ leg was injured.
Xavier was taught first by his mother, then by the local parish priest. When he was nineteen, his father sent him to Paris to study at the College of St. Barbara. Here he was the roommate of Pierre Favre (Peter Faber), also a student at the college, and these two were joined in 1529 by Ignatius. He received his Master’s degree in 1530, and became a philosophy professor at the college of Beauvais (also in Paris). His ultimate goal was to be appointed to a benefice in Pamplona, and thus he had his noble status confirmed. This status caused many expenses which he could not afford himself, so he depended upon help from Ignatius, who had extra money from his trips to Flanders to beg for alms. Even after his help, Xavier still resisted joining Ignatius. It was not until 1533 that Xavier finally became one of Ignatius’ followers.
Masters of Paris
On August 15th, 1534, Ignatius, Xavier, and five others (Faber, Lainez, Salmeron, Bobadilla, and Rodrigues), the founding group of the Society of Jesus, celebrated Mass in a chapel near Montmartre and made vows of poverty and chastity. They had resolved to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem together, and to spend their lives in the service of God. At the end of that summer, Xavier completed the Spiritual Exercises.
Xavier and the rest of the group, which had grown by two, left Paris in November of 1536 and traveled to Venice. There they met Ignatius, who had gone to Spain due to health problems. Ironically, just before leaving Paris, Xavier found out that he had been appointed a canon at Pamplona, the position he had wanted so much prior to joining Ignatius. The “Masters of Paris,” as their group was sometimes called, worked in hospitals in Venice as they waited to go to Rome to request permission to go to the Holy Land. When they went to Rome, the Pope gave them his blessing, but they still had to wait on account of rumors of war, and Xavier and the others were ordained as priests during this time. They dispersed, Xavier to Monselice, and later Bologna. When the pilgrimage to Jerusalem still did not take place after a year, they placed themselves at the Pope’s disposal. At this point, they had started calling themselves the Society of Jesus.
While in Rome, they preached, begged for alms, fed the hungry, and performed other ministries. The pope started to get requests for Jesuits from elsewhere. John III, king of Portugal, wanted to send two Jesuits to India. Bobadilla and Rodrigues were chosen to go, but Bobadilla was sick, and the only other one available at such short notice was Xavier. Xavier’s reply to Ignatius was “Well then, here I am”. He left for Lisbon the next day with the ambassador, and about a year later for India.
Xavier did an incredible amount of missionary work in India, the islands of the East Indies, Japan, and even attempted to go into China. A brief summary of his travels is presented in timeline form, for brevity’s sake, and those interested in a more detailed account are encouraged to go to the sources listed. In all of the places he went, he taught the people about God and the Christian faith, baptized children and adults, and cared for the sick in the hospitals.
- 1542: Xavier arrives in Goa, India, the capital of the Portuguese empire in the East Indies, on May 6th. He went to Cape Cormorin (southern tip of India) to the Paravas, pearlfishers who had already converted to Christianity but had very little formation in the Christian life.
- 1543: Xavier returned to Goa for a month, then sailed to Cannanore (on the western coast of India).
- 1544: He travels to Cochin, an important Portuguese port city, then to Ceylon, back to Cape Cormorin, and finally back to Goa.
- 1545: He goes back to Cochin, Ceylon, and to some places on the eastern coast of India. He departs for Malacca, an important seaport.
- 1546: He travels to the Molucca Islands (also known as the Spice Islands), spending time on several of the islands.
- 1547: He goes back to Malacca for six months, and there hears about Japan and starts to form plans to go there.
- 1548: He goes back to Cochin and travels around to different parts of India.
- 1549: He reaches Japan in August and gets permission from the local feudal lord in Kagoshima to preach to the people.
- 1550: He goes to Yamaguchi, the second-largest city in japan, but does not have much success winning over the local lord.
- 1551: He arrives in Miyako, the capital of the Japanese imperial court, but is not well-received, and goes back to Yamaguchi, where he is finally accepted. He hears about China and is intrigued, but has to go back to Goa, India, to take care of the missions there.
- 1552: He spends the first part of the year in Cochin and Goa, then travels to Sancian, a small island off the coast of China. He tries for three months to gain entrance to China, but dies on Sancian on December 3rd.
Xavier is remembered as an extraordinary missionary, both for the great zeal conveyed in his letters and for the prodigious amount of traveling that he did. His letters to the Society were circulated around Europe, and often urged the importance of the missions in India: “Multitudes out here fail to become Christians only because there is nobody to instruct them. I often feel urged to go to the universities of Europe, especially Paris and its Sorbonne, and to cry aloud like a madman, telling them how many souls miss heaven and fall into hell through their negligence.” He was the inspiration for many who joined the Jesuits. He was also filled with love for his fellow Jesuits: “If the hearts of those who love one another in Christ could be seen in this present life, believe me, my dearest brothers, that you would be clearly visible in mine. If looking there you did not recognize yourselves, it would be your humility that veiled your eyes, for the image of each one of you is stamped on my heart and soul.”
Xavier is also recognized as a great saint because of the numerous miracles attributed to him, both during his lifetime and after his death. Although some modern critics discount some of his miracles, there are eighteen miracles that were declared valid in the Bull of Canonization issued by Pope Urban VIII in 1623. One of the most famous ones, that of a sea crab bringing him a crucifix he had lost in the sea, has in fact been declared valid by the Church. He also raised numerous people from the dead, healed the ulcerous legs of a beggar, and restored a blind man’s sight by reciting the Gospels and making the sign of the cross over him. The miracles attributed to him after his death were are the following: "restoration of limbs withered since birth; resuscitation to life of a child about to be buried; sight to a blind man; a leper healed; bleeding internal tumor cured; cancer of the breast healed; ulcerous legs restored to normal; and a blind paralytic instantly recovering sight and the use of his limbs."
There is also much debate over whether Xavier had the gift of tongues. H.J. Coleridge asserts that, "he spoke the languages (which he had never learnt) of nations to whom he went to preach the Gospel as freely and elegantly as if he had been born and educated in the midst of those nations; and ... it not unfrequently happened that men of different nations heard him at the same time, each in his own language. It is estimated that he preached in thirty different languages over the ten and a half years of his missionary work.
- ↑ Echaniz, Ignacio. Passion and Glory: A flesh-and-blood history of the Society of Jesus. India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2000, pg. 5
- ↑ Ibid., p. 16-17
- ↑ Ibid., p. 24
- ↑ Ibid., p. 39
- ↑ Francis Xavier and the Jesuit missions in the Far East. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: The Jesuit Institute of Boston College, 2006, p. 15-19.
- ↑ Echaniz, p. 73
- ↑ Ibid., p. 90
- ↑ Hardon, John. "The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier." American Ecclesiastical Review Vol. 127, October 1952, pp. 248-263. Accessed at 
- ↑ Ibid.
- ↑ Coleridge, H.J. The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier. London: Burns and Oates, 1912, p. 384.
- ↑ Ibid., p. 386.
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909 on St. Francis Xavier
- St. Francis Xavier - Pictorial Biography
- Brief History of St Francis Xavier
- Patron Saints at Catholic Forum
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