SAINT JEAN-FRANÇOIS RÉGIS
Saint Jean-François Régis fut l'un des plus illustres missionnaires de la Compagnie de Jésus et l'émule de saint François Xavier; toutefois son apostolat ne s'exerça pas hors de France. Il était né apôtre; il le fut dès le collège. C'est à la suite d'une maladie mortelle, dont il guérit contre tout espoir, qu'il résolut de se donner à Dieu.
Au noviciat des Jésuites de Toulouse, où il entra à dix-neuf ans, il se montra le modèle de tous, particulièrement dans les oeuvres de zèle et de charité. Celui qu'on nommait autrefois l'Ange du collège était devenu l'Ange du noviciat.
Les succès de son premier ministère, à Tournon, furent magnifiques. Le dimanche, il parcourait les villages et les bourgs d'alentour, se faisant précéder d'une clochette; il réunissait les enfants, leur enseignait le catéchisme et leur apprenait l'amour de Jésus-Christ. L'ivrognerie, les jurements, l'impureté régnaient en maîtres en certaines paroisses; il les détruisit par l'énergie de sa parole et par la pratique des sacrements. C'est à ce jeune apôtre de vingt-deux ans que l'Église est redevable du premier germe de ces Confréries du Saint-Sacrement, destinées à faire tant de bien. Ce premier ministère n'était qu'un essai; l'obéissance exigea de lui de nouvelles études.
Huit ans plus tard il est prêtre, armé pour la lutte; une année de retraite achève sa préparation: désormais il n'a qu'un but, qu'une occupation, sauveur des âmes. Il commence par évangéliser Fontcouverte, sa paroisse natale, où l'ont appelé des affaires de famille: catéchismes, confessions, visites des pauvres, prédications, occupent ses jours; ses oeuvres humilient sa famille, on rougit de le voir porter sur son dos une paillasse à un malade; mais les conversions qu'il opère sont sa réponse. On le voit rester à jeun jusqu'au soir au confessionnal. "Les personnes de qualité, disait-il, ne manqueront pas de confesseurs; mon partage, ce sont les brebis abandonnées." Il disait au peuple: "Venez, mes chers enfants; vous êtes mon trésor et les délices de mon coeur."
La carrière de Régis fut courte; mais, en dix ans, que de travaux, que de sueurs, que de privations, que de courses, que de conversions, que de miracles! Plusieurs fois il risqua sa vie pour sauver les âmes. Un jour, il se cassa la jambe dans les montagnes; le lendemain, sans remède, elle était guérie.
Régis mourut au champ d'honneur pendant la mission de la Louvesc, où il a son tombeau toujours très vénéré.
Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950.
Né en 1597, mort en 1640 à Lalouvesc, il fut canonisé en 1737. Sa fête n’est pas inscrite au calendrier universel, mais les textes de la messe sont présents dans le supplément Propre des Saints pour certains lieux du Missel Romain.
Jésuite, appliqué au ministère des campagnes, il parcourut pendant cinq ans le Velay, le Vivarais et le Forez, prêchant, donnant des missions et cherchant à ramener les protestants au catholicisme. Dans la ville du Puy, il fonda plusieurs œuvres de charité. Tant de bien accompli lui attira beaucoup d’ennemis, qui s’efforcèrent d’entraver son apostolat par des calomnies et des menaces.
Enfin, épuisé de fatigue et atteint par une pneumonie, Jean-François Régis mourut le 31 décembre 1640, à Lalouvesc où il prêchait une mission ; les habitants s’opposèrent par la force à ce qu’on emmenât le corps du saint, et il repose aujourd’hui encore dans ce village qui est devenu un important lieu de pèlerinage.
Saint Jean-François Régis est patron des jésuites de la province de France.
St Jean-François Régis, confesseur
Né en 1597, mort en 1640 à Lalouvesc, il fut canonisé en 1737. Sa fête n’est pas inscrite au calendrier universel, mais les textes de la messe sont présents dans le supplément Propre des Saints pour certains lieux du Missel Romain [*].
Jésuite, appliqué au ministère des campagnes, il parcourut pendant cinq ans le Velay, le Vivarais et le Forez, prêchant, donnant des missions et cherchant à ramener les protestants au catholicisme. Dans la ville du Puy, il fonda plusieurs œuvres de charité. Tant de bien accompli lui attira beaucoup d’ennemis, qui s’efforcèrent d’entraver son apostolat par des calomnies et des menaces.
Enfin, épuisé de fatigue et atteint par une pneumonie, Jean-François Régis mourut le 31 décembre 1640, à Lalouvesc où il prêchait une mission ; les habitants s’opposèrent par la force à ce qu’on emmenât le corps du saint, et il repose aujourd’hui encore dans ce village qui est devenu un important lieu de pèlerinage.
Saint Jean-François Régis est patron des jésuites de la province de France 
 Notice tirée du site de la Province de France des Jésuites : http://www.jesuites.com/histoire/saints/jeanfrancoisregis.htm.
Saint Jean François Régis
jésuite - apôtre du Vivarais (✝ 1640)
Né à Fontcouverte dans l'Aude, il entra très tôt dans la Compagnie de Jésus de Béziers d'où il fut envoyé au Puy. Il se consacra alors avec succès à la prédication. Il fut l'un des plus grands prédicateurs du XVIIe siècle, parcourant le Velay, le Vivarais et le Forez, des régions qui avaient été très marquées par les Guerres de Religion ce qui lui mérita le titre d'apôtre du Velay et du Vivarais. Il meurt épuisé de fatigue et de froid au cours d'une mission au bourg de La Louvesc dans le Massif Central français et depuis les pèlerins ne cessent d'y affluer.
- "Né à Foncouverte, dans l’ancien diocèse de Narbonne en 1597, Jean-François Régis entre à 19 ans dans la Compagnie de Jésus. Ordonné prêtre le 16 juin 1630, il devient l’apôtre du Vivarais (dont certains territoires appartiennent alors au diocèse de Valence) du Forez et du Velay. Il travaille avec ardeur à refaire l’unité de l'Église et à l’évangélisation des campagnes. Il meurt à La Louvesc le 31 décembre 1640. Son tombeau attire encore de nombreux pèlerins." (Saint Jean-François Régis, prêtre (Mémoire 16 juin) - diocèse de Valence)
- "Dur avec lui-même, doux avec les autres, son activité apostolique était grande et remplie de charité et de secours auprès des plus démunis; il est appelé 'père des pauvres'. Enflammé de l'amour divin, il consacrait plusieurs heures de la nuit à l'oraison. Sa vie fut émaillée de miracles et de dons spirituels. À Ax (pays de Foix), on a conservé longtemps une croix en bois qu'il avait érigée lui-même, et son apostolat le fait parcourir un monde rural difficile dans les grandes étendues du Vivarais et du Forez, dans les montagnes du Velay au climat rigoureux. C'est à Louvesc, dans le diocèse de Vienne, qu'il contracte une maladie mortelle. Il rendit l'esprit au Créateur, le 31 Décembre 1640 alors qu'il était âgé de 44 ans. Le pape Clément XI proclama solennellement Jean François bienheureux et Clément XII l'inscrivit au catalogue des saints. Benoît XIV fixa la célébration de sa fête au 16 Juin. Béatifié en 1716 il est canonisé en 1737." (diocèse de Pamiers)
- "...il commença de dire la parole du Christ expirant 'Seigneur, je remets mon âme entre tes mains'. Ayant fini, il finit aussi sa vie. Il était âgé de 43 ans et 11 mois. De peur qu’on enlevât le corps du Père Régis, le cercueil fut placé dans un tronc de châtaignier creusé et cerclé de fer, enterré profond dans la petite église de Lalouvesc. La dévotion populaire pour le père Régis commença le jour même de sa mort..." (Saint Jean-François Régis - 1597-1640 - Église catholique en Ardèche)
- ...Le zèle dans l’action, c’est cela qui frappe dans les témoignages que nous retrouvons sur Saint Jean-François Régis. Cette action fut longuement préparée par une jeunesse durant laquelle son amour de l’Eucharistie n’a pu être dépassé par aucune autre orientation spirituelle. Sa fervente dévotion mariale accompagnait ce zèle pour l’Eucharistie. Son activité quotidienne débordante était préparée et orientée par des nuits entières et c’est là le secret de sa fécondité... (Saints du diocèse du Puy-en-Velay)
- saint Jean-François Régis, avant d'être prêtre, a été enseignant au Collège d'Auch. (L'Eglise du Gers et son histoire - texte en pdf)
- Jean-François Régis (1597 – 1640) naquit à Fontfroide (Aude). Devenu jésuite, ses supérieurs l'affectèrent aux missions de France, que le roi Louis XIII avait créées pour la conversion des protestants. Il fut l'apôtre du Vivarais et ramena une multitude de dissidents à l'Eglise. Il mourut à La Louvesc, épuisé par un apostolat surhumain à l'âge de 43 ans. Son tombeau, où se multiplièrent les miracles, devint et est resté un lieu de pèlerinage. Certaines paroisses du diocèse de Nîmes connurent le bienfait de son apostolat. (Les Saints du diocèse de Nîmes)
Fêté le 16 juin par les jésuites en France ainsi qu'au diocèse de Nîmes et le 2 juillet dans les autres provinces, il figure au 31 décembre au martyrologe romain:
À La Louvesc dans le Vivarais, en 1640, saint Jean-François Régis, prêtre de la Compagnie de Jésus, qui parcourut les monts et les villages de la région, prêchant et administrant le sacrement de pénitence et veillant sans relâche à rénover la foi catholique dans les âmes des gens du pays.
Jean-François Régis est né à Fontcouverte dans l’Aude le 31 janvier 1597.
Il grandit dans le cadre d’une famille foncièrement chrétienne. Il est envoyé pour ses études au collège des jésuites de Béziers.
Il entre au noviciat de la Compagnie de Jésus à Toulouse le 8 décembre 1616. Après ses premiers vœux en 1618, il poursuit la longue formation des Jésuites. Il fait ses études théologiques à Toulouse où il est ordonné prêtre en mai 1631.
En 1632, il est envoyé à Montpellier comme missionnaire. Il y prêche beaucoup et s’occupe des pauvres. En 1634, il est mis a la disposition de l’évêque de Viviers, Mgr de la Baume de Suze, pour l’aider dans la visite de la partie sud de son diocèse. C’est dans les rudes montagnes des Boutières qu’il montre particulièrement ses qualités de missionnaire. Il attire les populations par sa grande bonté et sa parole simple.
En 1636, il est nommé au Puy. A la belle saison, il travaille au Puy et pendant l’hiver il reprend ses missions dans les montagnes, car il sait alors qu’il peut trouver les gens chez eux.
En décembre 1640, le père Régis termine une mission à Montfaucon où sévit la peste. Il part en bénissant la ville et en annonçant la fin de l’épidémie. Il retourne secrètement au Puy où pendant trois jours, il fait retraite : « J’ai interrompu mes missions pour me préparer à mourir ».
Le 23 décembre 1640, il reprend la route par très mauvais temps. Il contracte une pleurésie. Au matin du 24 décembre, il se rend à la petite église de Lalouvesc et commence sa mission. Durant trois jours, il travaille sans relâche. Le mercredi 26 décembre, après sa messe dite à deux heures de l’après-midi, il ne peut regagner son confessionnal tant la foule est dense. Alors, il s’asseoit près de l’autel et se remet à confesser. Soudain, dans la soirée il chancelle et s’affaisse. On le transporte à la Cure. Pendant cinq jours encore, il lutte contre la maladie.
Le 31 décembre 1640, peu avant minuit, il dit au Frère Bideau qu’il « se trouvait au plus mal ». Et tout de suite après « Ah ! mon Frère, je vois Notre Seigneur et Notre Dame qui m’ouvrent le Paradis ». Puis il commença de dire la parole du Christ expirant « Seigneur, je remets mon âme entre tes mains ». Ayant fini, il finit aussi sa vie. Il était âgé de 43 ans et 11 mois.
De peur qu’on enlevât le corps du Père Régis, le cercueil fut placé dans un tronc de châtaignier creusé et cerclé de fer, enterré profond dans la petite église de Lalouvesc. La dévotion populaire pour le père Régis commença le jour même de sa mort.
L’Eglise met le Père Régis au rang des Bienheureux en 1716 et au rang des Saints en 1737. Les reliques mises dans une châsse, sont offertes à la vénération des fidèles.
Saint Jean-François Régis est fêté le 16 juin.
SOURCE : http://www.ardeche.catholique.fr/le-diocese-de-viviers/historique-et-grandes-figures/grandes-figures/saint-jean-francois-regis.html
16 juin : Jean-François Régis, le saint Père
jeudi 18 juin 2009
Une année sur le Sacerdoce, promulguée par le Pape dans toute l’Église catholique va commencer le 19 juin, avec saint Jean-Marie Vianney comme modèle. Parmi les prêtres qui ont marqué sa jeunesse, on peut parler de Saint Régis, qu’il a découvert lors d’un pèlerinage à Lalouvesc.
Le zèle dans l’action, c’est cela qui frappe dans les témoignages que nous retrouvons sur Saint Jean-François Régis. Cette action fut longuement préparée par une jeunesse durant laquelle son amour de l’Eucharistie n’a pu être dépassé par aucune autre orientation spirituelle. Sa fervente dévotion mariale accompagnait ce zèle pour l’Eucharistie. Son activité quotidienne débordante était préparée et orientée par des nuits entières et c’est là le secret de sa fécondité.
Pourtant le grand rythme de la vie de S. Régis est étonnant pour nous et ceci à la fois par sa brièveté et par sa lenteur : il entre au noviciat à l’âge de 19 ans, il sera ordonné à 33 ans et il mourra à 43. Quatorze années de préparation pour dix de ministère sacerdotal ! Et encore… une fois de plus, son zèle a-t-il accéléré les échéances canoniques en vigueur dans la Compagnie de Jésus : il n’aurait du être ordonné que plus tard.
Prêtre à la manière de Jésus-Christ, ceci jusqu’à imiter le rythme missionnaire de l’Évangile, le Père Régis nous apparaît tour à tour : "disciple précédant la venue du Seigneur", "maître parcourant villes et villages", "orant, se levant bien avant l’aube", "missionnaire assailli par les foules, si bien qu’on ne pouvait ni manger, ni se reposer".
Avant de découvrir son style de ministère, il n’est pas inutile de faire un détour préliminaire : de prendre la mesure de la crise des vocations au XVIIE siècle.
Vous avez dit : « crise des vocations » ?
Le début du siècle de Saint Jean-François voyait le sacerdoce catholique peiner à se relever d’une crise mémorable. L’exemple du diocèse de Viviers en dit long. Le Vivarais reçoit son premier évêque qui résidera dans le diocèse après 70 ans de vacance épiscopale de fait. Conversions au protestantisme, massacres et martyres, absence d’évêque pour ordonner… toutes ces circonstances on fait que le nombre de prêtres est tombé dès 1573, à vingt ; alors que seules trois ou quatre églises sur l’ensemble du diocèse, ont échappé à la fureur des guerres, et des luttes, restant intactes.
La reprise des ordinations vers 1633 se fait avec peine dans ce diocèse où on est assez exigeant pour l’époque, envers les candidats au sacerdoce : « 10 jours de séminaire avant chacun des ordres mineurs, ainsi que trois mois avant le diaconat et trois mois avant le sacerdoce ».
Quand à ceux qui n’avaient pu bénéficier de ces exigences minimales, c’est grâce aux jésuites et aux capucins récemment installés dans ou près du diocèse, qu’ils ont pu se « former » au ministère bien après leur ordination : ceci par des retraites remarquables mais d’une durée de huit jours.
A l’occasion même d’une des premières campagnes missionnaires de Régis, on rapporte le cas d’un « curé » présent dans sa paroisse depuis trente ans « sans avoir daigné se faire promouvoir à aucun ordre ». L’évêque, à l’occasion même de la mission qu’il vient faire avec le P. Régis, doit l’obliger de se faire ordonner dans l’année, sous peine de privation des bénéfices financiers et en nature qu’il tirait de la paroisse.
Une formation religieuse et sacerdotale patiente et prometteuse
J-F. Régis, bien avant son ordination, durant sa formation jésuite, fit preuve des qualités qui éclateront plus tard durant ses dix courtes années de sacerdoce. Trois anecdotes illustrent comment sa formation sacerdotale témoignait déjà des orientations essentielles de son ministère de prêtre : enseigner, sanctifier, rendre grâce.
Le précurseur de l’Évangile et de la grâce de Dieu :
L’anecdote se passe alors qu’il a vingt-cinq ans, il est étudiant en philosophie à l’université jésuite de Tournon. Le génie de la formation jésuite offre aux étudiants l’obligation d’accompagner parfois un des pères chargé de mission dans une des paroisses dépendant de Tournon : la paroisse d’Andance. Sa mission était de faire le catéchisme mais très rapidement il ‘s’invente’ une nouvelle tâche : préparer les pénitents à la confession. Non seulement ceux qui venaient à l’église mais bientôt tous ceux qui habitaient les hameaux d’alentour. Il n’agit pas sans méthode : il prend contact avec tous, ouvre les cœurs au désir de se confesser, convainc, fait l’examen de conscience, puis il prie les habitants d’attendre et revient en hâte à Andance pour chercher le Père dont voici le témoignage émerveillé : « Il ne me restoit qu’à recueillir la moisson. Et tel était le savoir-faire de cet excellent précurseur que les villageois les plus grossiers, bien loin de me donner de la peine me combloient, par leur conversion, de consolations incroyables. »
La deuxième anecdote se passe près du Puy alors qu’il effectue une expérience de professeur, pas encore prêtre, en 1625-1628. C’est un de ses élèves qui témoigne. Il emmenait ses élèves à tour de rôle pour l’accompagner dans son apprentissage missionnaire, dimanches et jours de fête à travers les villages environnant le Puy : « … Je me souviens que le peuple l’adoroit, et qu’ils disoient tous publiquement que jamais prédication n’avoit faict tant d’impression dans leur âme comme celle qu’ils avoient oüye de luy. Le Sainct Esprit estoit desja sur sa langue : et devant qu’avoir reçeu la clef de la Prestrise et de l’Ordre, il avoit desja en main celle des consciences et des cœurs. »
L’humble auditeur de la Parole
Encore à l’époque de son premier professorat au collège du Puy, pas encore prêtre, il n’a pas accès aux chaires des églises du Puy, mais il se tient au pied de celles-ci. Plusieurs prédicateurs de talent à cette époque au Puy, verront son ardeur rapide pour ‘voler’ dans leur chambre non pas pour les accabler de fades remerciements mais pour les remercier du bien qu’avait fait leur prédication à lui-même et à tous les auditeurs.
Pourquoi devenir prêtre au plus vite ?
Qu’est-ce qui l’a poussé à demander d’être ordonné plus tôt, durant ses études théologiques à Toulouse en 1629 ? – rien moins que les nouvelles des trente-cinq jésuites morts cette année-là au service des pestiférés. Sept d’entre eux étaient tombés au Puy, là où il les avait connus, deux ans auparavant. C’est devant le refus de ses supérieurs de le laisser aller au service des pestiférés : il n’est pas encore prêtre, qu’il demande avec insistance à raccourcir son temps d’études au début de 1630, allant jusqu’à promettre à son supérieur de dire aussitôt trente messes pour lui ! Le sacerdoce est pour lui le moyen de servir Dieu et les malades en tant que martyr. En le demandant au plus vite, il savait qu’il risquait de ne pouvoir combler le retard des études qui ouvrait la voie d’accès à la profession des quatre vœux jésuites, profession solennelle qui consacrait la vie religieuse du Compagnon de Jésus.
Il annonce sa première messe à sa mère pour le dimanche de la Trinité 1630. Son ordination a du précéder de plusieurs jours voire même plusieurs semaines, selon l’usage de l’époque dans la Compagnie, à l’instar de Saint Ignace qui s’y prépara pendant un an.
Prêtre au service de la paix : Sa première mission dans sa famille et son village.
Le Sacerdoce n’ouvrit pas la possibilité pour le Père Régis de servir les pestiférés. L’autorisation que l’ordination facilitait ne lui fut pas accordée et, très curieusement, c’est dans son village natal que sa première mission de prêtre l’attend et ceci avec l’autorisation du P. général de Rome. De graves dissensions à propos de règlements de famille secouent alors les Régis à Fontcouverte, le village des Corbières qui l’avait vu naître, et c’est le nouveau prêtre qui paraît le plus à même de régler les conflits.
C’est donc une mission de paix qu’il doit aller accomplir chez ses proches, précédé on s’en doute, de l’aura et de l’autorité du jésuite et peut être déjà d’une réputation de sainteté. Les arrangements de famille furent promptement réglés et le Père Régis s’adonna à ses activités favorites : zèle et charité. Catéchismes, soins des infirmes, prédications, soin des enfants, des pauvres. Voici le compte rendu des fruits de cette mission fait au Père Général qui l’avait autorisée : « Le P. François Régis a terminé avec beaucoup de succès les différents de sa famille et il a laissé dans son pays un vrai parfum de sainteté. Ses rares exemples de vertu et ses pieux entretiens, autant que ses prédications imprégnées de l’esprit de Jésus-Christ, ont gagné beaucoup d’âmes à Dieu. Ses compatriotes ont été charmés du zèle avec lequel il s’est employé à leur salut. »
Cette mission fut pacificatrice et évangélisatrice, comme devaient l’être celles qu’il réalisera au milieu de populations et de familles du Vivarais puis du Velay, déchirées par les luttes religieuses et un siècle de vengeances sanglantes.
Prêtre au service du pardon de Dieu
Un charisme particulier s’est révélé très tôt chez lui, comme on l’a vu pour préparer les cœurs au sacrement de la Réconciliation. Avant S. Jean-Marie Vianney – qui lui a vouera en son temps une véritable dévotion et qui montera à Lalouvesc à pied et en mendiant sa nourriture avant d’entrer au séminaire – Jean-François Régis a accompli le ministère de la Réconciliation d’une façon héroïque. Le temps passé au confessionnal, l’ardeur des foules à vouloir se confesser à lui, la légèreté des pénitences qu’il accomplissait souvent lui-même à la place des pécheurs, le caractère radical des conversions qu’il obtenait dans la célébration de ce sacrement, témoignent encore de cette mission qu’il a accomplie jusqu’aux derniers jours de sa vie.
La réconciliation sacramentelle et le renouveau total de la vie chrétienne étaient bien souvent l’aboutissement d’une rencontre avec lui, même quand les intentions initiales de ses interlocuteurs n’étaient pas nettes. En témoigne l’histoire de trois « jeunes hommes de condition », libertins ‘dépossédés’ par le Père Régis des filles et femmes dont ils abusaient. Tout simplement résolus à l’assassiner, ils le font appeler par le portier du collège sous un faux prétexte. Le Père change le lieu du rendez-vous : ce sera à la porte de l’église du Collège et un seul à la fois. A l’issue les trois s’en iront confessés, pardonnés et embrassés tendrement, et c’est le premier des trois qui convainquit ses complices de se confesser eux aussi comme lui.
Prêtre au service des pauvres
Laissons la parole aux cent cinq notables de la cité du Puy qui déclarent dans un acte officiel de 1676 : « Nos églises, nos prisons et nos hôpitaux parleraient si nous ne parlions pas. Nos églises diraient que c’était un homme tout de Dieu ; nos hôpitaux que c’était l’homme des pauvres ; et nos prisons qu’il portait la miséricorde dans la maison de la justice ; C’était un riche pauvre. N’ayant rien, il nourrissait tous les nécessiteux… il nous a appris la charité du prochain. Il ne fallait qu’être misérable pour voir le P. Régis auprès de soi. »
L’œuvre du Bouillon, le refuge des anciennes prostituées, la défense des 40000 ouvrières dentellières mises au chômage, marquent à jamais l’histoire du Puy et du Velay. L’engagement social de la charité de Saint Régis mériterait d’être détaillé et analysé à nouveaux frais, tout en gardant l’intuition des notables de 1676 quand ils citent, étroitement associés, églises, prisons et hôpitaux comme les théâtres de la charité pastorale de Régis. L’actualité et la radicalité de cette action sociale peut encore surprendre aujourd’hui. L’activité débordante de Jean-François Régis s’y révèle pleinement contre vents et marées : qu’ils viennent de son propre supérieur, des agresseurs ou de la rumeur publique. Rien ne l’arrêtera finalement et ce sont ces œuvres sociales qui dureront ou renaîtront le plus longtemps après lui. Elles peut-être qui lui assureront le mieux sa renommée de sainteté : ‘croyez au moins à cause des œuvres…’
L’Eucharistie, source et sommet de son action missionnaire
Au collège du Puy, ses élèves témoigneront de ce que son âme contemplative et adorante se révélait spécialement lorsqu’il célébrait l’Eucharistie.
Bien souvent c’est autour de la célébration de la messe que s’organise sa journée type au cours des missions : très tôt, vers trois heures du matin, il commence à confesser, le plus longtemps possible jusque vers 11 heures ou même plus tard pour permettre aux pénitents réconciliés de communier à sa messe qu’il célèbre alors, le tout le ventre vide depuis la veille, selon la pratique du jeûne eucharistique à l’époque. Puis c’est la tournée dans les hameaux environnants si les pénitents trop nombreux ne l’empêchent pas de sortir de l’église jusqu’au soir.
Significative est la remarque de la plus célèbre convertie de S. François Régis, Louise de Romezin, cette jeune veuve huguenote attirée par la réputation de prédicateur de ce prêtre catholique qu’elle voudrait bien confondre lui et sa fausse doctrine eucharistique. Plusieurs entretiens plus tard voici ce qu’elle rapporte de l’effet produit par les réponses, les regards et la douceur du Père Régis à ses controverses sur la Présence Réelle : ‘le Père Régis ne me dit que peu de paroles sur la vérité de ce mystère, et tout d’un coup il se fit un grand jour dans mon esprit ; j’en fus si persuadée que je n’eus plus aucun doute. Sur l’heure j’eusse donné mille vies plutôt que d’abandonner cette croyance.’
Que le centre de toute sa vie soit la messe, sa dernière prière le montre de façon frappante, au moment même de sa mort : ‘Ah mon frère, je vois Notre Seigneur et Notre-Dame qui m’ouvrent le paradis. En tes mains Seigneur, je remets mon esprit.’. Cette ultime prière est une adaptation de ce que les lectures et les antiennes de sa dernière messe, le 26 décembre 1640 à Lalouvesc, en la fête de Saint Etienne citent plusieurs fois : ‘je vois les cieux ouverts et le Fils de l’homme debout à la droite de Dieu… et tandis qu’on le lapidait, Étienne faisait cette invocation : ‘en tes mains Seigneur, je remets mon esprit’. (Ac. VII)
Cette ultime prière, imite celle du premier martyr qui ne dit ni ne fait rien d’autre que ce que le Maître avait fait sur la croix. Jusqu’au bout, saint Jean-François Régis est configuré au prêtre éternel « s’offrant lui-même » (He. VII).
St. John Francis Regis
Born 31 January, 1597, in the village of Fontcouverte (department of Aude); died at la Louvesc, 30 Dec., 1640. His father Jean, a rich merchant, had been recently ennobled in recognition of the prominent part he had taken in the Wars of the League; his mother, Marguerite de Cugunhan, belonged by birth to the landed nobility of that part of Languedoc. They watched with Christian solicitude over the early education of their son, whose sole fear was lest he should displease his parents or his tutors. The slightest harsh word rendered him inconsolable, and quite paralyzed his youthful faculties. When he reached the age of fourteen, he was sent to continue his studies in the Jesuit college at Béziers. His conduct was exemplary and he was much given to practices of devotion, while his good humour, frankness, and eagerness to oblige everybody soon won for him the good-will of his comrades. But Francis did not love the world, and even during the vacations lived in retirement, occupied in study and prayer. On one occasion only he allowed himself the diversions of the chase. At the end of his five years' study of the humanities, grace and his ascetic inclinations led him to embrace thereligious life under the standard of St. Ignatius Loyola. He entered the Jesuit novitiate of Toulouse on 8 December, 1616, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Here he was distinguished for an extreme fervour, which never afterwards flagged, neither at Cahors, where he studied rhetoric for a year (Oct., 1618-Oct., 1619), nor during the six years in which he taught grammar at the colleges of Billom (1619-22), of Puy-en-Velay (1625-27), and of Auch (1627-28), nor during the three years in which he studied philosophy in the scholasticate at Tournon (Oct., 1622-Oct., 1625). During this time, although he was filling the laborious office of regent, he made his first attempts as a preacher. On feast-days he loved to visit the towns and villages of the neighbourhood, and there give an informal instruction, which never failed--as attested by those who heard him--to produce a profound impression on those present.
As he burned with the desire to devote himself entirely to the salvation of his neighbour, he aspired with all his heart to the priesthood. In this spirit he began in October, 1628, his theological studies. The four years he was supposed to devote to them seemed to him so very long that he finally begged his superiors to shorten the term. This request was granted, and in consequence Francis said his first Mass on Trinity Sunday, 15 June, 1631; but on the other hand, in conformity with the statutes of his order, which require the full course of study, he was not admitted to the solemn profession of the four vows. The plague was at that time raging inToulouse. The new priest hastened to lavish on the unfortunate victims the first-fruits of his apostolate. In the beginning of 1632, after having reconciled family differences at Fontcouverte, his birthplace, and having resumed for some weeks a class in grammar at Pamiers, he was definitively set to work by his superiors at the hard labour of the missions. This became the work of the last ten years of his life. It is impossible to enumerate the cities and localities which were the scene of his zeal. On this subject the reader must consult his modern biographer, Father de Curley, who has succeeded best in reconstructing the itinerary of the holyman. We need only mention that from May, 1632, to Sept., 1634, his head-quarters were at the Jesuit collegeof Montpellier, and here he laboured for the conversion of the Huguenots, visiting the hospitals, assisting theneedy, withdrawing from vice wayward girls and women, and preaching Catholic doctrine with tireless zeal to children and the poor. Later (1633-40) he evangelized more than fifty districts in le Vivarais, le Forez, and leVelay. He displayed everywhere the same spirit, the same intrepidity, which were rewarded by the most striking conversions. "Everybody", wrote the rector of Montpellier to the general of the Jesuits, "agrees that Father Regis has a marvellous talent for the Missions" (Daubenton, "La vie du B. Jean-François Régis", ed. 1716, p. 73). But not everyone appreciated the transports of his zeal. He was reproached in certain quarters with being impetuous and meddlesome, with troubling the peace of families by an indiscreet charity, with preaching not evangelical sermons, but satires and invectives which converted no one. Some priests, who felt their own manner of life rebuked, determined to ruin him, and therefore denounced him to the Bishop ofViviers. They had laid their plot with such perfidy and cunning that the bishop permitted himself to be prejudiced for a time. But it was only a passing cloud. 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 causedthe discreet and enlightened ardour of Regis to shine forth with renewed splendour (Daubenton, loc. dit., 67- 73). 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. He desired ardently to go to Canada, which at that time was one of the missions of the Society of Jesus where one ran the greatest risks. Having been refused, he finally sought and obtained from the general permission to spend six months of the year, and those the terrible months of winter, on the missions of the society. The remainder of the time he devoted to the most thankless labour in the cities, especially to the rescue of public women, whom he helped to persevere after their conversion by opening refuges for them, where they found honest means of livelihood. This most delicate of tasks absorbed a great part of his time and caused him many annoyances, but his strength of soul was above the dangers which he ran. Dissolute men often presented a pistol at him or held a dagger to his throat. He did not even change colour, and the brightness of his countenance, his fearlessness, and the power of his words causedthem to drop the weapons from their hands. He was more sensitive to that opposition which occasionally proceeded from those who should have seconded his courage. His work among penitents urged his zeal to enormous undertakings. His superiors, as his first biographers candidly state, did not always share hisoptimism, or rather his unshaken faith in Providence, and it sometimes happened that they were alarmed at his charitable projects and manifested to him their disapproval. This was the cross which caused the saint the greatest suffering, but it was sufficient for him that obedience spoke: he silenced all the murmurs of humannature, and abandoned his most cherished designs. Seventy-two years after his death a French ecclesiastic, who believed he had a grievance against the Jesuits, circulated the legend that towards the end of his life St. John Francis Regis had been expelled from the Society of Jesus. Many different accounts were given, but finally the enemies of the Jesuits settled on the version that the letter of the general announcing to John his dismissal was sent from Rome, but that it was late in reaching its destination, only arriving some days after the death of the saint. This calumny will not stand the slightest examination. (For its refutation see de Curley, "St. Jean-François Régis", 336-51; more briefly and completely in "Analecta Bollandiana", XIII, 78-9.) It was in the depth of winter, at la Louvesc, a poor hamlet of the mountains of Ardèche, after having spent with heroiccourage the little strength that he had left, and while he was contemplating the conversion of the Cévennes, that the saint's death occurred, on 30 December, 1640. There was no delay in ordering canonicalinvestigations. On 18 May, 1716, the decree of beatification was issued by Clement XI. On 5 April, 1737,Clement XII promulgated the decree of canonization. Benedict XIV established the feast-day for 16 June. 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 blessedremains 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 him" (de Curley, op. cit., 371). The place where Regis died has been transformed into a mortuary chapel. Near by is a spring of fresh water to which those who are devoted to St. John Francis Regis attribute miraculous cures through his intercession. The old church of la Louvesc has received (1888) the title and privileges of a basilica. On this sacred site was founded in the beginning of the nineteenth century theInstitute of the Sisters of St. Regis, or Sisters of Retreat, better known under the name of the Religious of the Cenacle; and it was the memory of his merciful zeal in behalf of so many unfortunate fallen women that gave rise to the now flourishing work of St. Francis Regis, which is to provide for the poor and working people who wish to marry, and which is chiefly concerned with bringing illegitimate unions into conformity with Divine andhuman laws.
Besides the biographies mentioned in CARAYON, Bibliographic historique de la Compagnie de Jésus, nn. 2442-84, must be mentioned the more recent lives: DE CURLEY, St. Jean-François Régis (Lyons, 1893), which, together with DAUBENTON'S work--often reprinted--is the most complete history of Regis; CROS, Saint Jean-François Régis (Toulouse, 1894), in which the new portion consists of unedited papers regarding the saint's family. Among the early biographers LABRONE, a pupil of the saint, occupies an unparalleled place for the charm, the sincerity, and the documentary value of the relation. His book appeared in 1690, ten years after the death of the saint.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Robert B. Olson. Offered to Almighty God for Philip Tighe.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
June 16.—ST. JOHN FRANCIS REGIS.
ST. JOHN FRANCIS REGIS was born in Languedoc, in 1597. From his tenderest years he showed evidences of uncommon sanctity by his innocence of life, modesty, and love of prayer. At the age of eighteen he entered the Society of Jesus. As soon as his studies were over, he gave himself entirely to the salvation of souls. The winter he spent in country missions, principally in mountainous districts; and in spite of the rigor of the weather and the ignorance and roughness of the inhabitants, he labored with such success that he gained innumerable souls to God both from heresy and from a bad life. The summer he gave to the towns. There his time was taken up in visiting hospitals and prisons, in preaching and instructing, and in assisting all who in any way stood in need of his services. In his works of mercy God often helped him by miracles. In November, 1637, the Saint set out for his second mission at Marthes. His road lay across valleys filled with snow and over mountains frozen and precipitous. In climbing one of the highest, a bush to which he was clinging gave way, and he broke his leg in the fall. By the help of his companion he accomplished the remaining six miles, and then, instead of seeing a surgeon, insisted on being taken straight to the confessional. There, after several hours, the curate of the parish found him still seated, and when his leg was examined the fracture was found to be miraculously healed. He was so inflamed with the love of God that he seemed to breathe, think, speak of that alone, and he offered up the Holy Sacrifice with such attention and fervor that those who assisted at it could not but feel something of the fire with which he burned. After twelve years of unceasing labor, he rendered his pure and innocent soul to his Creator, at the age of forty-four.
Reflection.—When St. John Francis was struck in the face by a sinner whom he was reproving, he replied, "If you only knew me, you would give me much more than that" His meekness converted the man, and it is in this spirit that he teaches us to win souls to God. How much might we do if we could forget our own wants in remembering those of others, and put our trust in God!
St. John Francis Regis of the Society of Jesus, Confessor
TRUE virtue or Christian perfection consists not in great or shining actions, but resides in the heart, and appears to great edification, though in the usual train of common and religious duties constantly performed with fidelity and fervour. Such a life has its trials, and often a severer martyrdom than that which stands the test of the flames. This we find in the life of the holy servant of God, John Francis Regis. He was born on the 31st of January, in 1597, at Foncouverte, a village in the diocess of Narbonne, in Languedoc. His parents, John Regis, who was descended from a younger branch of the noble house of Deplas in Rovergue, and Magdalen Darcis, daughter to the lord of Segur, were distinguished amongst the nobility of Lower Languedoc by their virtue. Their eldest son was killed in the siege of Villemur, in a sally made by the Huguenot garrison. Francis was one of the youngest brothers. At five years of age he fainted away hearing his mother speak of the horrible misfortune of being eternally damned; which discourse made a lasting impression on his tender heart. In his childhood he never discovered any inclination to the amusements of that age. The same disposition made him refuse at his school to join his companions in the innocent diversions of an age generally too eager for play. His first master was one of a morose, hasty temper, under whom this modest and bashful child had much to suffer; all which he bore without the least complaint. The Jesuits having opened a public school at Beziers, he was one of the first whom the reputation of its professors drew to the new college. His gravity increased with his years, nor was he to be seen in the beautiful walks which were chiefly crowded by his school-fellows. Avaricious of his time, he scarcely allowed himself any for necessary relaxation. Sundays and holydays were a most precious time to him, and he divided them entirely between pious reading and devotions at home and in the church. He was often seen on those days retired in a chapel and bathed in tears in the presence of Jesus Christ, the tender object of his affections. His conduct made him for some time the subject of his young companions’ scorn and railleries; which his constancy changed at last into veneration. He performed many exercises in honour of the Blessed Virgin, with a particular confidence in her patronage, especially after he was enrolled in a confraternity under her name erected in the Jesuit’s College. He had a singular devotion to his good angel, and improved every escape from any danger into a motive of redoubling his fervour and gratitude towards God. By the influence of his holy example, and by his religious discourses, which were animated with a peculiar unction and divine fire, he inflamed many of his companions with the love of virtue, and reclaimed several from dangerous courses. Six of the most fervent associated themselves with him in the same lodgings, and formed a kind of regular seminary, looking upon him as their living rule, and honouring him as a saint and their master in a spiritual life.
In the eighteenth year of his age he was visited with a dangerous sickness, under which his patience and piety moved exceedingly all who came to see him. Soon after his recovery he made a spiritual retreat to deliberate on the choice of a state of life; and finding in his heart a strong impulse to devote himself to labour in procuring the salvation of souls in the Society of Jesus, and being confirmed by the advice of his confessor that this desire was a call of God, he earnestly begged to be admitted, and was readily received by F. Francis Suarez, provincial of the Jesuits, then at Beziers, upon his visitation of that college. The postulant entered his noviceship with great joy at Toulouse, in the nineteenth year of his age, on the 8th of December, 1616. Here being no longer divided between study and prayer, he gave himself to so close a union with God as to seem to be never without attention to his presence. His punctual exactness and fervour in the minutest actions and duties, raised them all to a great value; and by the excellence and purity of his motives, they became steps to an eminent interior perfection. Here he laid the deep foundation of those virtues which formed his distinguishing character during his whole life, humility, contempt of the world, holy hatred of himself, charity to the poor, and love of God, and zeal for his glory. The meanest employs were his delight, such as the most humbling duties of a religious state, to wait at table, and cleanse the house: also to make the beds and dress the sores of the poorest and most loathsome patients in the hospital, where he considered Jesus Christ in his most afflicted members. He was as austere to himself as he was tender to others, which made his companions say, that he was his own eternal persecutor. He seemed never to do anything to indulge his senses, which he studied to curb and mortify. The spirit of prayer accompanied all his actions. The interior fire of his breast appeared in his looks. He was often seen at the foot of the altar without motion as in a kind of rapture; and he spoke of God with such a feeling unction, that he inspired all who heard him with his holy love, and excited the most tepid to fervour.
After two years of probation, he made his religious vows in 1618, and was then sent to Cahors to finish his rhetoric, and the following year to Tournon to perform his course of philosophy; but to preserve the fire of devotion in his heart under the dissipation of those studies he joined to them frequent visits of the blessed sacrament, pious reading, and set times of holy recollection, though he made even his studies a continuation of his commerce with God in a continual recourse to him by devout aspirations. Such was his fidelity in every action, that his superiors attested they never observed in him the least breach of any college duty; which procured him the name of the angel of the college. Desiring to form himself principally to the sacred function of teaching the poor the ways of salvation, he undertook, by his superior’s consent, the charge of instructing the menial servants, and the poor of the town of Tournon, to whom he distributed the alms of the college. On Sundays and holidays he preached in the adjacent villages, and summoned the children to catechism with a little bell. The little township of Andance having the happiness to fall under his particular care, it quite changed its face: the saint’s zeal soon banished out of it drunkenness, licentiousness, and swearing, restored the frequent use of the sacraments, and established there first the confraternity of the blessed sacrament, the rules of which this holy man, then only two-and-twenty years old, but full of the spirit of devotion, drew up, and which were afterwards propagated to other places. He regulated families, composed differences, and reformed all manner of irregularities: such was the authority which his sanctity and holy prudence procured him.
Having finished his course of philosophy in 1621, he was sent to teach the schools of humanity at Billom, Auch, and Puy; in which employ he spared no application for the assistance of his scholars both in their studies, and in exciting them to virtue, loving them as a tender mother does her children, and being beloved and reverenced by them as a saint. He was particularly diligent in procuring them all relief in sickness, and by his prayers obtained the sudden recovery of one whose life was despaired of; but he was most sensible to their spiritual infirmities. Being informed of a grievous sin committed by one of them, he burst into a torrent of tears, and after a short recollection, he made, in the transport that had seized him, so pathetic a discourse to his scholars on the severity of God’s judgments, that the terrors with which it struck their minds never forsook them their whole lives after, as several of them used to say. The edifying example, simplicity, humility, modesty, and penitential air of the master, was a most moving and continual sermon to them; and such was the powerful influence it had, that they were visibly distinguished from others by the regularity of their lives. To solicit the blessings of heaven for them he always spent some time at the foot of the altar before he entered the school, and implored the assistance of their angel guardians in their behalf. His union with God was perpetual; and from hence flowed his other virtues, particularly his saintly exterior comportment. To animate himself in spirit, notwithstanding the fatigues of his employment, he added many other devotions to the daily hour’s meditation and other prayers enjoined by the rules of the society. He often begged leave of the superior to make extraordinary communions, besides those that were regular in the house; and having obtained it, broke out in transports of joy, which testified his insatiable desire of, and the great comfort he received from that divine food. He prepared himself to receive it by private austerities and public humiliations, and by spending a great part of the night before in the church. On Sundays and holidays he continued to instruct the poor people with wonderful unction and fruit, and even in his familiar conversation turned all to some spiritual advantage. After he had taught the lower classes seven years, two at Billom, one at Auch, and four at Puy, he began the study of divinity at Toulouse, in 1628, in which, by his assiduity and the pregnancy of his wit, he made an uncommon progress; yet out of a fear of applause, he sought to make himself contemptible by an affected simplicity and pretended ignorance. In the vacation, at the time which the students spent in their country-house for the necessary relaxation of their mind, Regis withdrew into private places to converse with God almost the whole day; and in the night, after a short sleep, he arose and stole secretly into the domestic chapel; which a companion having discovered, and informed the superior thereof, he received this answer: “Interrupt not the sweet communications of that angel with God.”
Notice being given him by his superiors in the beginning of the year 1630 to prepare himself for holy orders, he felt in his breast the struggle of the strongest sentiments of an humble terror, and a glowing zeal; but as he saw the will of God intimated in the order of his superiors, his fears were calmed, and he disposed himself for that sacrament, by retirement, austerities, prayer, and fervorous desires. He then longed for the happiness of approaching the altars, so that he promised his superior to say thirty masses for him, because he had hastened the time of his ordination. When ordained, he took time to prepare, by prayer and penance, to offer the divine sacrifice, and celebrated his first mass with the most tender devotion, and in one continued torrent of tears; so that those who were present could not contain theirs, and, by the divine fire which sparkled in his countenance, thought him more like an angel than a man at the altar. The same year Toulouse being afflicted with a violent plague, Francis made pressing instances to obtain leave to serve the sick. In 1631, after the course of his studies was over, he made the third year of his novitiate, during which he was obliged to go to Foncouverte to settle some family affairs, where he spent his time in visiting the poor and sick, catechising the children every morning, and preaching to the people twice a day. His begging for the poor, going through the streets followed by crowds of them and children, and carrying upon his shoulders a fagot, a straw bed, or such like things for the necessitous, drew on him many insults, once from the very soldiers, and bitter remonstrances from his brothers and other friends; but he rejoiced in the humiliations of the cross, and answered that they became a minister of the gospel which had been established by them. Their contempt of him was at last converted into admiration, and every one discerned in his actions a divine wisdom and zeal which differs from worldly prudence, and rejoices with David, if its simplicity appear contemptible to men. He lived amongst his kindred as one truly dead to the world: not like those religious persons, who, wanting the spirit of their vocation, seek earthly comforts among them. Having composed the differences of his relations, and edified them by his humility and heavenly life, he was ordered to go to the college of Pamiers, to supply the place of a master who had fallen sick. In the meantime his superiors, from the experience they had of his vocation and talents for an apostolic life, resolved to apply him solely to the missions; in which he accordingly spent the last ten years of his life, beginning them in Languedoc, continuing them through the Vivarez, and ending them with his life in the Velay, of which Le Puy is the capital. The summer he employed in cities and towns, as the husbandmen then were taken up with their tillage; but the winter seasons he consecrated to the villages and the country.
F. Regis entered upon his apostolical course at Montpellier in 1631, arriving there in the beginning of summer; and immediately opening his mission by instructing the children and preaching to the people upon Sundays and holidays in the church of the college. His discourses were plain and familiar; after a clear exposition of the Christian truth, which he had taken for his subject, he closed them with moral and pathetic exhortations; he delivered them with such vehemency that sometimes his voice and strength failed him; and with such unction that both preacher and audience often were dissolved in tears, and the most hardened left the church with hearts full of compunction. He was always resorted to by a numberless audience of all ranks, though principally of the poor. A famous preacher was astonished to see how his catechisms were admired, and the great conversions they effected, whilst elegant sermons had so few to hear them, and produced so little fruit. The reason was, the word of God became a two-edged sword in the mouth of Regis, who spoke it from a heart full of the spirit of God, whereas it was lost under the pomp of an affected rhetoric. The saint never refused himself to the rich, but he used to say they would never want confessors, and that the poor destitute part of Christ’s flock were his share and his delight. He thought that he ought to live only for them. He spent usually the whole morning in the confessional, at the altar, or in the pulpit, the afternoon he devoted to the hospitals and prisons, sometimes forgetting his meals; having, as he once said, no leisure to think of them. He begged from door to door for the poor; procured them physicians and all necessaries when sick, and dressed himself their most loathsome sores. He was seen loaded with bundles of straw for them; and when laughed at by the children, and told that this made him ridiculous, he answered: “With all my heart: we receive a double advantage when we purchase a brother’s relief with our own disgrace.” He established an association of thirty gentlewomen to procure assistance for the prisoners. He converted several Huguenots, and many lewd women; and when told the repentance of these latter is seldom sincere, he answered: “If my labours hinder one sin they will be well bestowed.”
Towards winter he went to Sommiers, the capital of Lavonage, twelve miles from Montpellier, and with incredible labour declaring war against vice and extreme ignorance, saw his endeavours crowned with the most surprising success over all that country, penetrating into the most inaccessible places, and deterred by no rigours of weather, living chiefly on bread and water, taking sometimes a little milk; always abstaining from fish, flesh, eggs, and wine; allowing himself very little rest at night on some hard bench or floor, and wearing a hair shirt. With a crucifix in his hand, he boldly stopped a troop of enraged soldiers from plundering a church; and another time demanded and obtained of a Calvinist officer the restitution of a poor man’s goods which had been plundered, without mentioning the high indignities and ill treatment he had received from the soldiers, to the commander’s great astonishment. The Vivarez had been for fifty years the centre of Calvinism in France, and the seat of horrible wars and desolation. The pious bishop of Viviers, in 1633, by earnest entreaties drew Regis into his diocess, received him with great veneration, and took him with him in his visitation, during which the father made a most successful mission over that whole diocess. The Count de la Mothe Brion, who had lived as a wise man of the world, was so moved with the unction of the holy man’s sermons, as entirely to devote himself to fasting, prayer, and alms. This nobleman, by his zeal and charities, very much contributed to assist the saint in his holy enterprises; in which he was seconded by another gentleman, named De la Suchere, who had formerly been the saint’s scholar. At Puy, Regis undertook the reformation of many negligent pastors, brought many lewd women, and some the most obstinate and abandoned, to become patterns of fervour among the penitents, and converted a Calvinist lady of great reputation at Usez. About that time God permitted a storm to be raised against his servant for his trial; for amidst these glorious successes he was accused loudly as a disturber of the peace of families by his indiscreet zeal, and as a violent man, who spared no one in his invectives and satires. The bishop defended him, till wearied out with repeated complaints, he wrote to his superior to recal him, and sending for the saint, gave him a severe reprimand; adding that he found himself under the necessity of dismissing him. Regis, who had all along neglected to take any measures for his own justification, answered him with such humility, and with such an unfeigned love of humiliations and the cross, that the prelate was charmed with his virtue; and being undeceived by others in regard to him, he praised him in public, and continued him in his employ, till the beginning of the year 1634; when the missionary was ordered by his superiors to repair to Puy, but went loaded with letters full of the highest commendations of his virtue and prudence from the good bishop.
The saint wrote earnestly to the general of the society, desiring to be employed on a mission to the barbarous Hurons and Iroquois in Canada, and received a favourable answer; but at the request of Count de la Mothe, he returned early the next year to the diocess of Viviers, to labour in the conversion of Calvinists, and in the instruction of the ignorant at Cheylard, and on the other estates of that gentleman. It is incredible how much the apostolic man underwent in this rough country, in the highest mountains, in which he was once locked up three weeks by the snows, lying on the bare ground, eating only black bread, and drinking water, with the addition of astonishing voluntary mortifications, fasts, diciplines to blood, and hair shirts. The count was so edified, and so moved with the inexpressible fruits of his labours, that he founded a perpetual mission for two Jesuits at Cheylard, giving to it a principal of sixteen thousand livres, and his fine house there for their residence. Regis made his next mission at Privas with equal fruit, and thence was called by the bishop of Valence to St. Aggreve, a mountainous savage place, the nest of heresy in his diocess. Amongst his heroic actions and virtues here, it is recorded, that one Sunday going into an inn to stop the excesses committed by lewd company assembled in it, he received from one a box on the ear, without any other reply than this: “I thank you; if you knew me you would judge that I deserve much more.” Which meekness overcame their obstinacy. After three months’ labours in this neighbourhood, by the same bishop’s orders he repaired to Saint André des Fangas, and was from thence recalled to Marlhes in the Vivarez, about the end of the year 1635. In the first of these two places, a boy falling from the top of a high pair of stairs to the bottom near the holy man, then at his prayer in a corner, was found without hurt; in the latter, a woman who would take his tattered cloak to mend, keeping two rags as relics, by applying them to two of her children, cured one of a fever, the other of a formed dropsy. The curate of Marlhes, in a deposition upon oath, for the process of the canonization of the servant of God, gave this testimony of him: “He was indefatigable, and employed both night and day in his sacred functions. He was under the bitterest affliction whenever he was informed that God had been offended. Then he forgot his natural meekness, and appearing transported with holy anger, he with a voice of thunder deterred the most resolute libertines. He would have sacrificed a thousand lives to prevent one sin. A word from him sufficed to inflame the coldest hearts, and to soften the hardest. After the mission, I knew not my own parishioners, so much did I find them reformed. No violence of colds, no snows blocking up all passages, no mountains, or torrents swelled by rains, could be an obstacle to his zeal. His ardour communicated an intrepidity to others; for when he went to any place, innumerable troops followed, and met him through all sorts of difficulties and dangers. I have seen him in the most rigorous season stop in the middle of a forest, to content the crowds, desirous to hear him speak concerning salvation. I have seen him at the top of a mountain, raised on a heap of snow, hardened by the frost, preach and instruct the whole day, and after that spend the whole night in hearing confessions.” Winter being over he returned to Puy about the end of April, in 1636, testifying that he found his strength and courage not abated, but increased by his labours. He met at the college here his general’s refusal of the mission of Canada, which frustrated his hopes of martyrdom. This refusal he imputed to his sins.
The four remaining years of his life were taken up in missions in the Velay, a mountainous country, the winters in the villages, the summers in Puy, the bishop of which city made use of his counsels and ministry to reform his flock. He preached and catechised at Puy, first in the Jesuits’ church; but this being too little he removed to that of St. Peter Le Monstiers, belonging to the Benedictins. His discourses were without art, but clear to the meanest capacities, and delivered with that emotion of heart, and so moving a tone of voice, that he seemed transported by a divine fire above himself; and all who heard him declared, that “Francis preached the word of God as it is in itself; whereas others seemed, in comparison of him, to preach themselves.” His audience usually consisted of four or five thousand. His provincial in his visitation, hearing him, wept during the whole sermon. He formed an association of virtuous ladies to relieve the poor, and another in favour of the prisoners; for both which incredible funds were raised, and in times of need God miraculously multiplied the corn he had stored up, three several times; of which verbal processes were drawn up, and juridical informations taken before ecclesiastical and secular judges; and these miracles were confirmed by fourteen credible witnesses in the acts of his canonization.
His constant readiness and extreme diligence to run to the sick, and his happy success in assisting them in spirituals, were recompensed by several cures effected on the spot by his prayers, the unexceptionable relation of which may be read at length in F. Daubenton’s History of his life. 1 Nor were the conversions of many sinners less miraculous. Amongst these, a certain voluptuous rich merchant had long endeavoured to blacken the saint’s reputation by his slanders; who in return bought of him all he wanted for his poor. Having softened him to a more tractable temper by these and other good offices, he laid hold of a favourable opportunity of representing to him what could be the end of his pains, and the fruit of all his riches which death must soon bereave him of; the man was struck, and having revolved in his mind all night the reflections the words of the man of God raised in him, came the next day to lay open the agitation of his soul to him. The saint having for some time continued to excite in him still livelier apprehensions of the divine judgments, and conducted him through sentiments of hope and divine love to the dispositions of a perfect penitent, he heard his general confession, which the other made with such a flood of tears that the confessor judged the greatness of his contrition might require a smaller penance. The penitent asked him why he had so much spared his weakness. The zealous pastor answered that he took upon himself to discharge the rest of his debt; which mildness added still more to the fervour of this repenting sinner. His meekness and patience made a conquest of those souls which were so hardened as to be able to resist his zeal. A young man enraged that the saint had converted, and drawn from him the object of his impure passion, resolved to kill him. The man of God discovered by a divine sight his wicked intention, and said to him: “Dear brother, why do you bear this ill-will to one that would hazard his life to procure you the greatest of blessings, eternal salvation?” The sinner overcome by his sweetness, fell at his feet, begged his pardon, and became a sincere convert. Three other young noblemen, on a like occasion, resolved revenge. Regis met them with courage, saying to them: “You come with a design upon my life. What concerns me is not death, which is the object of my wishes: but the state of damnation that you are in, and regard so little.” The libertines stood as if stunned: Regis embracing them with the tenderness of a parent, induced them to repent; and they made their confessions to him, and led regular lives till their deaths. Addressing drunkards and other sinners, with his eyes all on fire with zeal, he often by one moving sentence reclaimed them from their disorders. When he had received a blow on the cheek, the magistrates could not prevail upon him to denounce the delinquent; but the offender moved by his charity, became of his own accord his sincere penitent.
The servant of God was extremely solicitous in removing all occasions of sin, and preventing the promiscuous company of young men and women. He converted many prostitutes with the help of charitable contributions, founded a retreat to secure the virtue of such penitents, till his rector fearing that house could not be maintained, forbid him to intermeddle in it; he moreover gave him many severe reprimands even in public, accused his zeal as too forward, and forbid him to hear confessions, instruct the poor, or visit the sick, only on certain days and at appointed times. Regis suffered many humiliations and mortifications under this superior, without even allowing any one to speak in his justification; till the succeeding rector, convinced of his innocence and prudence, restored to him the care of the refuge, and the whole field of his former labours. His zeal exposed him often to occasions of martyrdom, and to open insults; and once he was cruelly beaten. He was also censured bitterly by many, and even by several of his own brethren; but his rector undertook his defence, and God crowned his labours with incredible success; in which he was seconded by the great vicar Peter le Blanc, his constant friend, without whose council he undertook nothing. This is the summary of his transactions at Puy during the four last summers of his missions: the winters he employed in labouring in the country, the most abandoned part of which was his first care and chief delight.
The country inhabitants of the Velay in some parts, especially in the mountains were very rustic, and perfectly savage: Calvinism had insinuated itself, and ignorance and the grossest vices prevailed in many of the wilder places. The boroughs and villages are situated in the diocess of Puy, Vienne, Valence, and Viviers. The saint’s first mission amongst them was in the beginning of the year 1636, to Fay and the neighbouring places. Hugh Sourdon, LL.D. engaged him to lodge in his house. The man of God finding his kind host’s son Claudius Sourdon, aged fourteen years, entirely deprived of all sight for the six months past, from a defluxion upon his eyes, with excessive pain, he exhorted him to confidence in God, and retired into a neighbouring room to prayer with some of the family, which he had not ended when the child recovered his sight, and distinguished every body in the assembly which then met to hear the first catechistical instruction; and from that time never felt any more either of that pain or defluxion, as he attested before the bishops of Puy and Valence, being then fourscore years old. Upon this, another man forty years of age, who had been blind eight years, was brought to the saint, who making the sign of the cross over him, immediately restored his sight. By the fame of these two miracles, this mission was opened with wonderful concourse and fruit. His conduct in it is thus described by Claudius Sourdon with whom he lodged, in a juridical deposition that grave person gave before two bishops: “His whole behaviour breathed sanctity. Men could neither see nor hear him without being inflamed with the love of God. He celebrated the divine mysteries with such devotion that he seemed like an angel at the altar. I have observed him in familiar conversation become silent and recollected, and all on fire: then speaking of God with a fervour and rapidity that proved his heart to be carried away with an impulse from heaven. He pronounced his popular instructions with an unction which penetrated his hearers. He spent not only the day, but also a considerable part of the night in hearing confessions, and violence was necessary to oblige him to take some nourishment. He never complained of fatigue, or of the disagreeable behaviour of any who thronged to him. After he had laboured to sanctify the inhabitants of Fay, he set out early every morning into the country amidst the forests and mountains. When storms, rains, snows, or floods made the roads seem impassable to others, nothing ever stopped or daunted him. He went the whole day from cottage to cottage, and fasting, unless my mother could prevail with him to take an apple in his pocket. We never saw him again till night, and then he resumed his ordinary functions, unwearying himself only by fresh labours. The Calvinists were as forward as the Catholics in following him every where. In the beginning of summer in 1637, he returned to his labours at Puy; and in November set out to pass his winter at Marlhes, being called on a second mission thither by the pressing instances of James André the zealous curate. His road was horrible, sometimes through briers and thorns, sometimes over vallies filled with snow, and rocks covered with ice. In climbing one of the highest, his hold by a bush failed him and he broke his leg by a fall; yet he cheerfully got over six miles further with the help of a stick, and the support of his companion. Arriving at Marlhes, instead of sending for a surgeon, he went directly to the church where multitudes were waiting for him, and heard confessions for several hours; till the curate, informed of his accident by his companion, drew him out to have his leg examined, when it was found perfectly sound. To his immense labours he added such astonishing austerities, that, upon remonstrances, his rector at Puy sent him a command to obey the curate of Marlhes in all that belonged to his refreshment and the care of his health. The saint from that time submitted most exactly to the good priest’s rules in that regard, how troublesome soever he found his indulgence. This curate declared in his deposition, that narrowly observing the man of God at all times, he saw him in the night one while on his knees, bowed to the ground bathed in tears; then standing with his eyes lifted up to heaven, and absorpt in contemplation. He often heard him fetch deep sighs, and cry out in transports of love:—‘What in the world can engage my heart, besides thee, my God?’”
He frequently beheld him in prayer all on fire, like a seraphim, motionless for many hours. The same gentleman adds, that he saw the holy man by his blessing restore a countryman’s arm, put out of joint by a fall near his house as he was crowding to the saint, on a steep descent; and that by the sign of the cross he dispossessed an Energumen; who redoubled his contortions and bowlings when brought to his presence, but was immediately calmed by the impression of that sign, and continued ever after unmolested. He had been possessed by the evil spirit eight years, and been often exorcised without success. In the village of St. Bonnet le Froid, the curate found the saint in the night praying at the church door on his knees and bare-headed; and not being able to draw him from his divine conferences, he gave him the key of the church, in which he observed that he afterwards passed whole nights, notwithstanding the intolerable cold. To the remonstrance of the curate of Vourcy concerning the care of his health, the saint said in confidence, that since God had visibly testified his goodness by healing his leg broken in his journey to Marlhes, he owed his health to him by a fresh title, and put it in his hands. In the year 1638 from Puy his winter mission was to Montregard; where upon his arrival he prayed at the church door till he was quite covered with snow, and was found by passengers in that condition. He no where reaped a greater harvest of souls than in this place; and converted, besides many other Calvinists, the lady Louisa de Romezino, a young widow of great reputation as well as quality. He gained her esteem in his visits; then cleared her difficulties, principally in regard of the blessed eucharist; and lastly removed the obstacles of her heart from the fear of shame for leaving her party. This lady gave the most ample deposition of the admirable sanctity of the servant of God, in a continual stream of tears during four hours, to the bishops of Puy, and Valence, published in his life. The summer in 1639 recalled the missionary to Puy, and the end of the next autumn he went out to his country harvest in the places near Montregard, as Issenjaux, Chambon, Monistrol. About the end of January in 1640 he repaired to Montfaucon, a little town twenty-one miles from Puy. His successes were wonderful in the ample field which his zeal found here, till interrupted by the plague which broke out in that place. Regis devoted himself to the service of the infected, and was so fearless as to carry the abandoned sick on his back to the hospital, and to perform the most laborious offices to assist all corporally and spiritually. His charity excited that of the ecclesiastics of the place. The curate, however, fearing his death in the imminent dangers to which he exposed himself obliged him to leave the town, which the saint did with great reluctance and many tears. The contagion soon after ceasing, he returned to resume his mission there, but was recalled to Puy by the rector to supply the place of a master there. This interruption was so great a grief to him that he begged and obtained from the general of the Society leave to follow his missions, for which the bishop of Puy had conferred on him his full power. He moreover formed a design for the establishment of a perpetual mission for those provinces, to be settled in the college of Puy or Tournon, which project was highly approved by his superiors and by the general. But to give some idea of the life of this great servant of God, it is necessary to draw, if a full delineation is impossible, at least a faint sketch of his heroic virtues.
His true love of God appeared in the constant union of his soul with the Divine Spirit: often a pious word or song would throw him into a rapture: frequently he could not contain the transports of his heart in company or in the streets: his eyes and inflamed countenance often discovered the strong emotions of his soul. His most familiar aspiration was that of the royal prophet,—“What can I desire in heaven, or love on earth, besides thee my God?” which he repeated with seraphic ardours. He vehemently desired to procure God’s greatest honour in all things, saying,—“We are created by God, and for him alone; and must direct all things to his glory.” His love of the cross, and his thirst of sufferings and humiliations was insatiable, and he was accustomed to say, that to suffer for God deserved not the name of suffering, so light is it made by love, and the sweet unction of grace. When persecuted and beaten, he was heard to cry out: “O my God! that I could suffer still more for thy holy name!” He found true pleasure in hunger, cold, and all manner of hardships, saying once to his companions: “I own that life would be intolerable if I had nothing to suffer for Jesus Christ: it is my only comfort in this world.” He never excused or justified himself if reprehended, and never answered any calumny, even though carried to his superiors. He seemed equally insensible to praises and insults, receiving cheerfully all ill-treatment in silence, as his due. Martyrdom was his perpetual desire, though he sincerely esteemed himself unworthy of such an honour. He called injuries and scorn his due, and was ingenious to court humiliations and disgraces, being accustomed to say, that if justice were done him, he ought to be trodden under foot by all men. When one presented a drawn sword threatening to kill him, he said: “I desire nothing more ardently than to die for Jesus Christ.” He spared nothing to prevent sin, and once said with tears to an obstinate sinner: “Ah, I beg of you rather to despatch me with your sword than to offend the Divine Majesty.” His confidence in the safeguard of providence made him fear no harm from men, and rendered him intrepid in the midst of dangers, the sight of which often shook his companion with horror. He would walk all night, and often on the edge of precipices, or over mountains covered with snow, and cross impetuous torrents, only not to disappoint some poor people a few hours. His devotion to the blessed eucharist made him spend much of his time in prayer before the blessed sacrament, saying mass whatever it cost him to find an opportunity. He called the holy eucharist his refuge, his comfort, and his delight. Under all censures and crosses he preserved the same evenness of mind, so effectually had the love of God destroyed in his heart all human earthly affections. He allowed himself only three hours a night for sleep; and often not above one. He never touched flesh, fish, eggs, or wine; and the bare ground or boards were his bed. His chamber was the most inconvenient room he could choose, and his habit all over patches; nor would he wear a new cassock. His obedience was so perfect, that with regard to it he looked upon himself as a dead body without any motion or feeling of his own, nor had he any other rule of his will than that of his superiors. He had the greatest respect for, and an entire dependence on the bishops in whose diocesses he was employed and their vicars-general. His purity was so perfect, that his very presence inspired a love of that virtue; nor durst calumny itself charge him with the least reproach on that head. It is assured upon the testimonies of those who had the most perfect knowledge of his interior, that he seemed exempt from all sting of the flesh; so perfectly had he subdued his domestic enemy by assiduous mortification, a watchful humility, and dread of all occasions of temptations. The same vouchers assure us, they were persuaded that he never had offended God by any mortal sin in his whole life.
He resumed the mission of Montfaucon in the beginning of autumn in the year 1640. The ardour he found in the people to profit by his labours redoubled his fervour in serving them. After he had sanctified the whole district of Montfaucon, Rocoulles, and Veirnes, he gave notice for opening a mission at La Louvese about the end of Advent. But understanding by a divine light that his death was near at hand, he went back to Puy to make a retreat in order to prepare himself for it. After three days spent in the strictest solitude he made a general confession, and expressed in the warmest and tenderest sentiments, an impatient desire to possess God. Eternity was the sole object of his wishes. He confidently told some of his friends in open terms, and others by mysterious expressions which became clear by the event, that he should never return from that mission. The inclemency of the weather could not detain him; he left Puy on the 22nd of December to reach La Louvese the day following, to be ready there for Christmas-eve; he suffered much in crossing the mountains and the waters, and missed his way on the second day. Overtaken by night in the woods and quite spent, he was forced to lie in a ruinous house open on all sides, near the village of Veirines, on the ground exposed to a piercing wind. Here, after a sudden sweat succeeded by a cold fit, he was seized by a pleurisy, which increasing, his pain grew excessive. This decayed house represented to him the hardships our new-born Saviour suffered in the stable of Bethlehem, on which he made the most tender reflections. Next morning he crawled to La Louvese, went straight to the church, and opened the mission by a discourse in which his zeal recruited his strength and courage. He preached thrice on Christmas day, and thrice on St. Stephen’s spending the rest of these three days in the confessional. After the third sermon on St. Stephen’s day, when he went to hear confessions, he swooned away twice. The physicians found his case past recovery. The holy man repeated the general confession he had made eight days before, then desired the holy viaticum and extreme unction, which he received like a person all on fire with the love of God. He refused broth, begging to be nourished like the poor with a little milk, and desired to be left alone. Under his violent pains his countenance was always serene, and he kissed incessantly a crucifix which he held in his hand. Nothing was heard from him but tender and warm aspirations, and longing desires of his heavenly country. He asked to be laid in a stable that he might resemble his new-born Saviour laid on straw; but was answered, that his weakness would not suffer it. He thanked God for the favour of suffering him to die in the midst of the poor. All the 31st day of December he continued in a perfect tranquillity with his eyes tenderly fixed on Jesus crucified, who alone took up his thoughts. At evening in a transport he said to his companion: “What a happiness! how contented I die! I see Jesus and Mary, who come to conduct me to the mansions of bliss.” A moment after he joined his hands; then lifting up his eyes to heaven he said: “Jesus my Saviour, to thee I recommend, and into thy hands I commit my soul.” With which words he calmly expired towards midnight, on the last day of the year 1640, being forty-three years of age, whereof he had lived twenty-six in the society. Twenty-two curates with incredible crowds of people assisted at his funeral. He was interred on the 2nd of January near the altar at La Louvese.
The universal grief for his loss was succeeded by the highest veneration; and innumerable flocks of pilgrims visited his tomb; and a poor private religious man, who only breathed abjection, who placed all his satisfaction in being despised, and lay dead on the top of a frightful mountain, was on a sudden crowned with glory, and his ashes on earth honoured by continual miracles. La Louvese, then only a chapel of ease under the curate of Veirines, is become the parish church, and much enriched. Twenty-two archbishops and bishops of Languedoc wrote to Pope Clement XI. in these words: “We are witnesses, that before the tomb of F. John Francis Regis, the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb speak; and the fame of these surprising wonders is spread over all nations.” Fourteen eye-witnesses attested upon oath the miraculous and sudden recovery of Magdalen Arnauld, a nun at Puy, sick of a dropsy and palsy, and in her agony, the physicians declaring that she could not live half an hour, a relic of the servant of God was put into her hands, and applying it to her stomach, she offered a fervent prayer to him, and that moment she found herself perfectly cured, and her monstrous swelling dispersed. This happened in 1656. A burgher of Puy was healed of a great rupture formed in three places; his cure was sudden and entire, as Physicians, surgeons, and many other witnesses attest. No less sudden were the cures of two blind women; of a young man of the king’s evil; of many paralytic, crooked children, and others under all sorts of distempers; several of them being persons of rank, and of different provinces; and the facts being all attested by many witnesses, and by the persons themselves. The holy see requires incontestable proofs of miracles to which it gives a sanction; and so strict is this inquiry, that F. Daubenton informs us, that an English Protestant gentleman being at Rome, and seeing the process of several miracles, said they were incontestable, if the church of Rome approved of none but such; but was much surprised at the scrupulosity of this scrutiny when told, that not one of all those had been allowed by the Congregation of Rites to have been sufficiently proved. After the most severe juridical examination of the heroic virtues and evident miracles of St. John Francis Regis, he was beatified by Clement XI. in 1716, and canonized by Clement XII. in 1737, 2 at the request of the kings Lewis XV. of France, and Philip V. of Spain, and of the French clergy assembled at Paris in 1735. His festival was appointed to be kept on the 16th of this month.
The saints make it their constant and earnest endeavour to make every step they take an advance in the path of virtue; an addition to the number of their good actions, whose sum total will render their happiness the more exalted and complete. How happy is the life of that faithful servant of God, whose years, days, and moments, whether in public or private, are all filled with good works, so many fruitful seeds of a glorious eternity! whose desires, thoughts, and actions are all directed to the honour of God, and his own advancement in goodness! Viewed with such a life in whatever station, how mean and contemptible do the idle amusements of the great ones of the world appear! How trifling that uninterrupted succession of serious folly or empty pleasures which engages the greater part of mankind! How many weary themselves in restless toils of vanity, or often put their invention to the rack to find out amusements for passing the day! How many make their whole lives one barren circle, to which they seem enchanted, going round and round in a dull repetition of the same trifles! who forget they have every moment the affair of an eternity upon their hands, and neglect the only real concern of life. After all their turmoils they find their hands empty, and feel their hearts filled only with fears, remorse, and bitterness, instead of holy peace and joy, with the riches of eternity in store. See the life of St. John Francis Regis written in French by F. Daubenton, done into English by F. Corn, M—Y S—I. Also his life compiled by F. Croisset, t. 1, and an abstract of the same by F. Nieuville, with the relation of two new miracles.
Note 1. B. 3.
Note 2. Bullar. Roman, t. 15, p. 127.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). The Lives of the Saints. 1866. Volume VI: June.
Saint John Francis Regis
Born 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 age 18. 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 toward 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 Viviers, observing the success of Father Regis in communicating with people, sought to draw on his many gifts, especially needed during the prolonged civil and religious strife then rampant throughout France. With many prelates absent and priests negligent, the people had been deprived of the sacraments for 20 years or more. Various forms of Protestantism were thriving in some cases while a general indifference toward 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.
Though Father Regis longed to work as a missionary among the North American Indians in Canada, he was to live out his days working for the Lord in the wildest and most desolate part of his native France. There he encountered rigorous winters, snowdrifts and other deprivations. Meanwhile, he continued preaching missions and earned a reputation as a saint. One man, entering the town of Saint-Andé, came upon a large crowd in front of a church and 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 in 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 conclusion. 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 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.”
He was canonized in 1737.
John Francis Regis, SJ (PC)
(also known as Jean-François Regie)
Born at Fontcouverte near Narbonne, Languedoc, France, on January 31, 1597; died at La Louvesc in Dauphine, France, on December 30, 1640; canonized in 1737; feast day formerly December 31; he may have another feast on July 2.
While John Francis Regis was born into a family of landed gentry, he preferred the company of humble people. His father was a prosperous merchant. He attended the Jesuit college of Béziers before seeking admission into the Society of Jesus when he was 18. After a successful year as a novice, John Francis went to study at Cahors, Le Puy, Auch, and Tournon. While in Tournon, he accompanied the priest who served the town of Andance on Sundays and holidays, and his catechism instruction was so effective that he inspired the parents through their children.
He returned to Toulouse to begin his theology course, and he spent much of each night in prayer. The plague raged in the town for four consecutive years and he was sent into the country. Finally, he was ordained in 1631. He tended the plague-stricken in Saint James Hospital in Toulouse, where "he did the most menial tasks in the kitchens with greater willingness and pleasure than vain people derive from the glory of dignified offices." But when his companion in this work died, he was sent to Pamiers to teach.
So successful was the preaching of John Francis Regis that, in 1632, he was commissioned to devote himself entirely to evangelization of the illiterate farmers in the diocese of Montpellier. The area had suffered tragically during the Wars of Religion, which ended in France with the Edict of Nantes in 1598. The Huguenots had overrun the churches and many Catholics had abandoned their faith. The rest of his life was spent in this missionary work among the lapsed. He worked in Languedoc, throughout the Vivarais, and ended in Velay.
To some people his preaching was "banal and common, mediocre and crude, and even quite vulgar." To such people he appeared as a "man of wretched appearance, dressed in tattered clothes, without any talent for preaching. . . . Father Regis, no matter how saintly he may be, is a disgrace to his ministry because of the triviality and indelicacy of his language."
One of his colleagues said, "Ah, how vainly do we study to polish and ornament our sermons! Crowds hasten to hear the simple catechisms of this man and conversions multiply, while our own studied eloquence produces nothing."
This tall, attractive, physically strong man had a simple, homely style of preaching that drew large crowds. He gained the confidence of the people by speaking to them in their own patois. While people of all ranks were eager to hear him, Regis preferred a congregation of poor and unlettered people, saying "the rich never lack confessors." There was little that he would not do for the poor, and when he was warned that by doing so he appeared foolish, he responded, "So much the better."
He was as severe with himself as he was gentle with others. He loved the poor and wished to associate himself with them. He never ate meat or fish, and his usual diet was apples and black bread. But sometimes there were so many penitents after his preaching, he had no time for any meal. "I cannot remember my dinner," he said, "when I am ministering to these poor wounded souls." Like his admirer, the Curé d'Ars, he spent long hours in the confessional and slept no more than three hours a night. Among the many mortifications he inflicted upon himself, he used to expose his hands to the freezing cold "so that they were sometimes so red and blotched that they aroused compassion."
For ten years he preached his way through France with simplicity, joy, emotion, and fierceness. He concentrated his efforts on the Auvergne and Languedoc. In the summer he preached in the towns and in winter he evangelized in the villages, when the farmers had time to listen. In Montpellier he converted several Huguenots and many lapsed Catholics, and also established hostels for fallen women, called "Daughters of Refuge," for which he was physically assaulted numerous times.
Among his converts were people of wealth and distinction. At Puy Regis devoted himself to the care of the poor, the sick, and prostitutes. He helped the young country girls who did not want to leave the city but could not find employment by providing them materials with which they could make a living. They worked at home, making lace, embroidering, and doing other types of needlework. Regis collected and sold the work for them at the best possible price.
To handle the rest, Regis made two lists: one of those in need, and the other a register of the devout who were ready to engage in acts of charity. This was the beginning of his social service called the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. To the ladies of high society he offered the "gift" of a few hungry mouths to feed. To others he sent notes such as: "Sir, you will provide food for the poor people who names are listed below and you will give them six sous for their lodging. If you are unable to provide them with food, you will give them a further six sous so that they may buy it themselves. For this is the decision that has been made by the office of the poor at the town hall on May 9, 1631." Pretty audacious, isn't it?
Not really; for the simple reason that he engaged others with his unstinted enthusiasm. Regis established a granary for the poor. Several times it was miraculously refilled. He called for nurses and doctors, asked pharmacists to provide medicine, sought out guardians of the poor, and assigned overseers of prisons to ensure humane conditions. Nothing could deter him: vermin, ulcers, outbreaks of plague. He faced them all and entered hovels and hospitals "with joy, as if he were entering a palace."
He became the infirmarian of sick bodies and sick souls. When a Jesuit visiting from Lyons asked Regis to show him the most interesting sights of Puy, the saint took him to see a sick pauper who "was rotting in his bed." Afterwards the visitor reported, "I was more pleased than if I had seen all the wonders of Europe." Occasionally John effected miraculous cures by commanding something as simple as: "Fever, leave this young girl for she needs her health to earn her living." And the girl was immediately cured. He did not put much stock in this kind of miracle. He was known to say: "Every time that God converts a hardened sinner he is working a far greater miracle."
His greatest effort, however, was the establishment of the Daughters of the Refuge in imitation of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, who opened the Refuge of Saint Martha at Rome for repentent women. When Regis experimented with the idea at Montpellier, he placed the girls in private homes, but found it necessary to house them under one roof. His second and more important Refuge was at Puy. He succeeded with these women because he treated them "in a manner full of honor and respect. . . . So great was his deference and politeness that he might have been talking to queens." The refuge for women and girls was endangered by the vindictive slander of unprincipled people who had lost the supply of females that they wished to exploit, and his activities were stopped for a time. But the bishop of Puy, Just de Serres, stoutly defended Regis before the rector of the Jesuit College.
But Regis did not limit himself to healing bodies; souls were more important. The regions of the Vivarais had experienced civil and religious discord, and the people had become uncivilized. Churches were neglected and some parishes had not received the sacrament for twenty years. In the course of a three-year ministry launched by Bishop de la Baume and his assistants, with John traveling a day or so ahead of them, the mission returned the area to religious observance, in addition to converting a large number of Protestants.
Charges made by those who resented his zeal. Such "signs of simplicity and indiscretion" were forbidden and he was ordered to make reparation by "being recalled to the College from the mission where he is conducting himself so badly." Nor was that enough for "he must also be punished in proportion to his fault." These accusations came close to causing his recall, but the excellent bishop of Viviers, Louis de Suze, recognized them for what they were: the attack of lethargic priests whose comfort had been disturbed. After this, Regis asked to be allowed to go to Canada. But the answer from the Jesuit general in Rome, Father Vitelleschi, was categorically: "Your Canada is the Vivarais."
And, indeed, it was as difficult to evangelize these former Catholics and Huguenots as it would be those who had never heard the name Jesus. In 1629, the Edict of Alès reneged on the guarantees made in the Edict of Nantes. Protestants were now deprived of the "places of security" they had been promised. Those who refused to surrender were subject to the "Dragonnades"--a persecution whereby "dragons" (soldiers) were quartered in Protestant homes with permission to behave as badly as they willed. It was very difficult for a missionary to follow in the wake of these troops and encounter the bitter hostility of the Protestants. Nevertheless, Regis continued. He sought out the peasants in the mountains, slept in barns and forests, often lost his way, and wherever he went he kindled a flame of evangelism. Men hung on his words, were moved by his very presence, and came in their need to seek his guidance and blessing.
One day as he was leaving the church after preaching, he found a group of weary peasants waiting at the gate. "We have walked all night," they said, "we have come 12 leagues to hear you, and now we are too late!" Though Regis himself was exhausted, he answered, "No, my children, you are not too late. Come with me." And returning with them into the church, he preached to them with his usual power.
On another occasion, a Jesuit father, on a journey, saw from a hilltop a swarm of people approaching in the distance and, as they came nearer, heard them singing. He enquired what it meant, and was told: "It is the saint followed by the inhabitants of whole villages who cannot leave him." As he was about to proceed on his way, he was overtaken by another crowd, approaching from the opposite direction. "And who are these?" he asked. "We are going out to meet the saint," was their answer.
When he reached his destination he found the small town full of excitement, with lines waiting at the church doors. Again he asked and again received the answer: "The saint! We are waiting to hear the saint." Then he remembered how in the ancient days men came to Christ from every quarter and the common people heard Him gladly. "That man," said one who went to hear Regis, "is full of God. I do not know his equal. I would walk forty leagues to hear him."
In mid-September 1640 (age 43), Regis had a premonition of his death. He spent the next three days in retreat, made a general confession, and continued his mission to Louvesc, a remote mountain village. Thus, on a cold December day, he travelled to his last mission. Overtaken by a snowstorm, he slept that night in a wayside barn and developed pleurisy. The next day he continued his journey in great pain and discomfort.
They reached the village on Christmas Eve and travelled directly to the church, where Regis began to preach immediately without stopping to rest. He spent the whole of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day without intermission conducting services, preaching, and giving counsel. Zealous to save souls, the following day he preached three times in the draughty church and contracted pneumonia. On leaving the pulpit the third time, he fainted. Four days later he died, his last words were: "Jesus, my Savior, I recommend my soul to You."
John Francis Regis was one of those saints, like the Curé d'Ars and Saint Vincent de Paul, who was eminently likeable and approachable. He is one of those saints for whom sanctity is not a personal adventure but something which is to be put to the service of others. His tomb is still the destination of thousands of pilgrims each year (Attwater, Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Gill, Farmer, White).
In art, he is a Jesuit wearing a leather cape and holding a staff surmounted by a crucifix. He is venerated in the Auvergne, particularly Montfauçon and Puy (Roeder). A contemporary portrait shows that Regis was a handsome, distinguished-looking man. John Francis Regis is the patron of lace-makers (Encyclopedia).
Voir aussi : http://365rosaries.blogspot.ca/2010/06/june-16-saint-john-francis-regis.html