Wednesday, June 15, 2016

St. John Francis Regis: Priest, Missionary, Social Reformer

By Jean M. Heimann

The saint of the day for June 16 is St. John Francis Regis, a French Jesuit priest who served God as a missionary and social reformer.

The son of a wealthy merchant, John Francis was so captivated by his Jesuit educators that he himself entered the order at age 18. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1631. Following his ordination, he worked as a missionary in numerous French towns. His homilies reflected his great fervor and zeal for the faith, appealing to people of all classes. He converted many Huguenots (French Protestants). He also provided for the social needs of those whom he ministered to spiritually. He set up a system of social services, using donations and volunteer workers. He organized prison visitors, nurses, guardians of the poor, a warehouse for the hungry, and a shelter for wayward women. Regis had to suffer slander from some of his enemies; but most people accepted him for what he was.

Father Regis was a gifted preacher and was known throughout France for his great piety. He dedicated himself tirelessly and unselfishly to each task he performed. When others criticized him, remarking, "you are trying too hard," he responded, "If my efforts do no more than to hinder one sin, I shall consider them well expended!"

In December, 1640, Fr. John Francis was invited to give a retreat in the town of LaLouvesc. The weather was terrible, but he and his companion left nevertheless. They lost their way, and, as a result of exposure to the cold, the priest contracted pleurisy. Still, he continued on to his destination and struggled through the mission over Christmas. On December 31, he spent most of the day with his eyes on the crucifix. That evening, he died. His final words were: "Into thy hands I commend my spirit."

 His tomb at LaLouvesc continues to be a center for pilgrimages. St. John Francis Regis was canonized in 1737. He is the patron saint of embroiderers, lace makers, and social workers.

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