Saint Francis de Sales died in France in 1622, but made the news just a few months before our Philadelphia church building was dedicated in 1911, and his message is strangely relevant today.
Our Patron Saint is used to working through turmoil. He was known in his lifetime for perilously hand-distributing his carefully-reasoned writings during the Protestant Reformation in the 1600s, when Catholicism was forbidden in France; and for his patient efforts to reconcile deeply divided peoples.
His bones were hidden for protection in the 1790s, in the chaos of the French Revolution.
In 1905, when France became a secular state, with religion officially separated from government, its church properties were claimed by the bureaucracy. Our saint was newsworthy when his remains, along with those of St. Jane Chantal, had to be moved from the Church of the Visitation “to the new convent which the Sisters have been obliged to erect in a different part of the town, the Government requiring the site of their former church and convent for public buildings.”
The procession in Annecy on August 2, 1911, was an international event, both ceremonial and festive: “Two Cardinals and upwards of fifty Bishops and Archbishops from various countries, even from the far distant Argentine Republic and New Guinea, were present…” with many pilgrims. Celebrations were not without shadows, however: The Tablet International Catholic Weekly reported that
“it was scarcely to be hoped that so religious a demonstration could be allowed to pass unnoticed by the Anticlerical party. The Superior of the Visitation and some of the town authorities had received anonymous letters threatening bombs during the procession, if it took place. After prayer and deliberation it was decided that no changes should be made in the programme, all trust being placed in the intercession of the two Saints with God. This confidence was not misplaced ; all went off without the least attempt at molestation.”
News writers at that time were proud to note that St. Francis de Sales was the “Patron Saint of Journalists” – named by Pope Pius IX during a turbulent period in the 1870s — and “the choice…was an apt one, for St. Francis was a man of letters.” In 1923, in an uncertain modern age with increasing media communication capabilities, Pope Pius XI made an official declaration.
Our early parishioners might have been pleased to have such an enduring, inspirational and newsworthy patron saint. In today’s tumultuous “post-truth” age, our saint’s fortitude and journalistic intercession are more vital than ever!