Saint of the Day – 16 June – St John Francis Régis SJ (1597-1640) Priest, Confessor., renowned Preacher, Missionary., miracle-worker. Born as Jean-François Régis on 31 January 1597 at Fontcouverte, Aude, France and died on 31 December 1640 (aged 43) at La Louvesc, Ardèche, France of natural causes. Patronages – lacemakers, medical social workers, illegitimate children, Regis University, Regis High School (New York City), Regis Jesuit High School (Aurora, Colorado).
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “In the village of La Louvese, formerly of the Diocese of Vienne in Dauphiny, the decease of St Jean-Francois Régis, Confessor, of the Society of Jesus, distinguished by his zeal for the salvation of souls and by his patience. He was placed on the list of Saints by Pope Clement XII.”
John Francis ministered to Catholics suffering neglect after civil conflict between Calvinists and Catholics devastated France. Much of southern France had fallen under control of the Huguenots who destroyed Catholic Churches and killed the Priests. Home missioners such as Régis had the task of rekindling a once-strong faith.
John Francis was born on 31 January 1597 in Fontcouverte, in southern France. His father, Jean Régis, had recently been ennobled as a result of service rendered during the Wars of the League. His mother, Marguerite de Cugunhan, was of a noble family. John Francis was remarkably holy from childhood. He was disinterested in children’s games, preferring instead, to contemplate the things of God. Sensitive and devout as he was, he managed not to be insufferable and was well-liked by his peers. He was educated at the Jesuit College of Béziers.
In 1616, at the age of 19, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Toulouse and began to prepare for a priestly ministry that would save thousands of souls. He studied humanities, philosophy and then theology. After finishing his course in rhetoric at Cahors, Regis was sent to teach grammar at several colleges: Billom (1619–22), Puy-en-Velay (1625–27), and Auch (1627–28). While he was teaching, he also pursued his studies in philosophy at the scholasticate at Tournon. Noted for an intense love of preaching and teaching the Faith, as well as a great desire to save souls, John Francis began his study of theology at Toulouse in 1628. Less than two years later, in 1630, he was Ordained a Priest at 31. The following year, having completed his studies, John Francis made his tertianship.
He was now fully prepared for his vocation and life’s work and entered upon his apostolic career in the summer of 1631. He was a tireless worker who spent most of his life serving the marginalised. As a newly ordained Priest, he worked with bubonic plague victims in Toulouse. From May 1632 until September 1634, his headquarters was at the Jesuit College of Montpellier. Here he laboured for the conversion of the Huguenots, visited hospitals, assisted the poor and the needy, withdrew from vice wayward women and girls and preached Catholic doctrine with tireless zeal to children and the poor. John Francis is best known for his work with at-risk women and orphans. He established safe houses and found jobs for them. He established the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, which organised charitable collections of money and food from the wealthy. He also established several hostels for prostitutes and helped many become trained lace makers, which provided them with a stable income and an opportunity to avoid the threat of exploitation.
In 1633, he went to the Diocese of Viviers at the invitation of the local Bishop,, Monsignor Louis II de la Baume de Suze, giving missions throughout the Diocese. From 1633 to 1640 he evangelised more than fifty districts in le Vivarais, le Forez, and le Velay. John Francis laboured diligently on behalf of both Priests and laypersons. His preaching style was said to have been simple and direct. He appealed to the uneducated peasantry and immense numbers of conversions resulted.
Others it seems, were jealous of his success in reaping a harvest of conversions.His boldness – perceived as arrogance in some cases – led to a conflict with certain other Priests, a period of tension with the local Bishop and even threats of violence from those whose vices he condemned. Although he longed to devote himself to the conversion of the indigenous inhabitants of Canada, he remained in France all his not very long life. The influence of the best people on the one hand and on the other the patience and humility of the Saint, soon succeeded in confounding the calumny and caused the discreet and enlightened ardour of Father John Francis to shine forth with renewed splendour.
Less moderate indeed was his love of mortification, which he practiced with extreme rigour on all occasions, without ruffling, in the least, his evenness of temper. As he returned to the house one evening after a hard day’s toil, one of his confrères laughingly asked: “Well, Father Regis, speaking candidly, are you not very tired?” “No”, he replied, “I am as fresh as a rose.” He then took only a bowl of milk and a little fruit, which usually constituted both his dinner and supper and finally, after long hours of prayer, lay down on the floor of his room, the only bed he knew.
John Francis walked from town to town, in rough mountainous areas where travel was difficult, especially in the winter. On one particularly treacherous journey, Fr John Francis slipped and broke his leg. Leaning on his companion, he managed to make it to town, where he refused the help of the doctor in favour of spending a few hours in the Confessional. When he emerged several hours later, his badly broken leg had been healed.
In mid-December 1640 the Jesuit Missioner was giving a Mission at Montregard; – he interrupted his work there to return to his home at Le Puy because he had an intimation that he would soon die. He wanted to prepare for his death so he spent three days in retreat before making a general confession. Then he and his companion, Brother Claude Bideau, went back to Montregard to finish the Mission there.
On 23 December the two set out for La Louvesc, the site of the next Mission but a winter storm blew in and they lost their way in the snow and had to spend the night in a battered shack. The next day they were able to reach La Louvesc where they found people waiting for them. Rather than taking a few minutes to eat and rest, John Francis immediately began preaching, then heard Confessions and celebrated Mass. So many people came for Confession that hedid not stop until it was time for Midnight Mass. Both Christmas day and the following day were also spent in the Confessional. Because of the crush of people, John Francis had to hear Confessions in the Sacristy where a broken window let in cold air directly onto him. By late afternoon he felt weak and suddenly collapsed. He was put in the Parish Priest’s bed but people followed him even there, seeking to confess. He lapsed into unconsciousness and the physician who attended him, confirmed that pneumonia had set in. Nothing could be done. John Francis lingered on until 31 December, praying constantly. He died as he had lived:,entirely poured out for souls.
But immediately after his death Regis was venerated as a saint. Pilgrims came in crowds to his tomb and since then, the concourse has only grown. Mention must be made of the fact that a visit made in 1804 to the blessed remains of the Apostle of Vivarais, was the beginning of the vocation of the Blessed Curé of Ars, Jean-Baptiste Vianney, whom the Church has raised in his turn to her altars. “Everything good that I have done”, he said when dying, “I owe to [John Francis] him.” The place where John Francis died has been transformed into a mortuary Chapel. Nearby is a spring of fresh water to which those who are devoted to Saint John Francis attribute miraculous cures through his intercession.
Today, Régis’ name lives on across the world. There are Churches, lakes, mountains, Schools. hotels, apartment complexes, swimming pools and Streets with his name. The Jesuit mission at Conewago, PA was named after him.
John Francis Régis was Beatified om 18 May 1716 by Pope Clement XI and Canonised on 5 April 1737 by Pope Clement XII.