He was born in France in 1567, and originally trained in law. However, one day he fell off his horse several times and every time it happened, his sword fell from its scabbard, and together, they always landed on the ground in the form of a cross. Francis took this as a sign from God. He joined the priesthood.
As a priest, Francis travelled to Switzerland, in the hope of converting 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism: an impossible task in many people’s eyes. He spent three years, knocking on doors and having them slammed in his face. When he thought of giving up, another idea occurred to him. He sat down and wrote his sermons on paper, and then slipped them under the doors that had been slammed in his face.
It worked. Eventually, he converted 40,000 of his target audience back to Catholicism.
In 1608 he wrote a book called, Introduction to the Devout Life, which, apparently, became a bestseller. (I’ve tried researching which number on the Sunday Times bestseller list it reached, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful!) However, the reason it was so popular was because he wrote it not for other priests, but for lay people.
He was made a saint in 1923 by Pope Pius XI, and became patron of writers and journalists.
It doesn’t matter what religion we choose to follow, I think Frances de Sales should be celebrated for his skills as a writer. He faced rejection on a daily basis, but kept going, and eventually his ideas won through. And when he wrote a book, he wrote it with his target readership in mind. These are both characteristics today’s writers need.
St Francis de Sales day is 23rd January. Or 24th January. Or 29th January. (Different branches of Catholicism celebrate on different dates - something not helped by the historical joys of switching to the Gregorian calendar too.) But it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. This week, if you feel despondent about your writing, just stop and think about St Francis de Sales. He didn’t let rejection get him down. And he always remembered for whom he was writing. Two lessons that we as writers shouldn’t forget today.