Tag: Patron Saint

Gender Bender

71. St. Francis de Sales

We come to thee, O happy Saint

To claim thy care and love,

To beg thy guidance through this life,

To endless bliss above.

Chorus

Oh, pray for us, St. Francis,

For dangers hover near;

Oh pray for us, St. Francis,

To conquer every fear.

While in the rosy bloom of youth,

To God thy soul was given,

And true, through life, thy spotless soul

‘Mid suffering soared to heaven.

Thy purity has won for thee

A crown of fadeless light;

Oh, may its beauty shine on us

And cheer the gloom of night.

              The verses above are from a hymnal printed for SFDS by the Catholic Standard in 1926, under the direction of Rev. Charles McGinley who was the Director of the women’s BVM Sodality organization at the time.

              The words to the hymn are somewhat peculiar for our Patron Saint – particularly the second verse, about “the rosy bloom of youth” and the suffering of a spotless soul. Saint Francis de Sales wasn’t tortured or martyred; he became the Bishop of Geneva in 1602 and died peacefully of a heart ailment at what was then a respectable age of 55. It seems odd that the hymn doesn’t reference his patient efforts to keep the faith alive during the Protestant Reformation; his advice on the Devout Life or his other inspirational writings (“We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh“); or his designation as patron saint of journalists and the deaf (a role Pope Francis is now highlighting).

              Curiously, an internet search finds the same song used to honor Saint Charles Borromeo in Monterrey, CA in 1914: “…then all the people form a long procession. In the center is carried the statue of San Carlos, and, while the choir sings the Hymn to San Carlos, they march slowly around the church… ‘We come to thee, O happy Saint/ To claim thy care and love,/ To beg thy guidance through this life,/To endless bliss above…’” Here, too, the words don’t fit the life of that 16th century Bishop known for founding seminaries.

              Hymnary.org, which tracks different versions of hymns printed over time, provides an answer. Its first recorded instance of the verses, is as a Hymn to St. Agatha, “dedicated to St. Agatha’s Sodality by a member” in 1872 and popular from 1872 to 1935. Ah, now it all fits! St. Agatha made a vow of virginity in rosy youth; kept her purity, through the suffering of torture and imprisonment; and soared to heaven to claim a martyr’s crown, around the year 251 AD.

              So why was the hymn repurposed? Since saintly feast days fall once a year, usually on a weekday, there hasn’t been much call for special songs – surprisingly, even for use in the annual Forty Hours or for institutions named for saints. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, now working on a new English language breviary, notes that music has existed for a number of saints but “Many of the nearly 300 Latin hymns, some dating back to the early centuries of the Church, have never had an official English translation…” If a need arose for an anthem, churches improvised. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has now approved the Green Book of the hymns of the Proper of Saints, so more official songs could eventually be available in English, but here’s a challenge and an opportunity for our own parish tribute to our patron St. Francis de Sales!

The View from the Belltower

SFDS Belltower

One afternoon a few weeks ago, the perilous hatch up into the belfry creaked open and the pigeons were astonished by a rare human visitor. Who was it? Not Quasimodo the Hunchback, but Tim Verdin, President of the Verdin Company of Cincinnati OH – the sixth-generation family-owned company that inherited the mantle – and the records — of the Old Meneely Bell Foundry of West Troy, NY, which made our bells back in 1916 (not to be confused with the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, NY – a different family branch and a separate competing company. Verdin notes that the Meneely vs Meneely trademark case of 1875 actually set a precedent, establishing “the legal right to use one’s surname commercially, even if a business using the same name already existed”).

In any case, Verdin, who was in town to work on the 58-bell Meneely carillon at Valley Forge (one of the world’s largest carillons), was especially interested in seeing our bells because he knew that there was something special about them: “Starting just before 1900, Meneely began experimenting with tuning their bells. What they do is cast the bells slightly thicker than they thought they should be and then they would remove metal from the outside of the bell to flatten the tone. Meneely is the only bell company to have tuned their bells on the outside; in Europe at the time all bell foundries tuned their bells by removing metal from the inside of the bell. Meneely would put the bell on a large metal lathe and then use a cutting tool to remove the appropriate bronze.” Eventually, the firm developed a new method of tuning to all “five different partials or frequencies that make up the note the bell is perceived to be” rather than just the middle three, and bell shaving became obsolete.

 Verdin observed that “Meneely cast some of the finest bells of any of the early American bell founders.” Our “chime consists of a total of (11) bronze bells..The largest bell weighs about 2,300 Lbs. and rings the note E1 in the middle octave. All of the bells except the largest are stationary which means they hang from the wooden frame…and don’t move.” Verdin notes that   they are “cast of bronze which is a mixture of approx. 80% copper and 20% tin. They are showing a nice greenish/blue patina which is perfectly normal for this age of bell in the environment they are in…These bells were not tuned before they were installed, but sound very nice. This is very typical of early American bell founders…The largest bell which sit on top of the wooden frame is designed to be a swinging bell, although it looks like it’s been a long time since it actually did swing.” He further notes that “The chime is a wonderful example of preserved history. It is still very much original and is basically using all of the same components as it did one the first day it was installed 104 years ago,.” which is, apparently, unusual!

Verdin located the original 1916 records for our bells in his archive. In addition to the technical specifications, labor costs, and stated fifteen-year warranty(!), there is an historic notation that “the bells to be arranged for blessing ceremonies after which they are to be placed in chiming order in the tower…Less allowance towards installation concert programs. Mr. C. to receive gratis about 250 copies.” That’s a lot of copies of our 1916 Parish Bell-Blessing ceremony program potentially floating around. What was the first music played on our bells? Can we dare hope that one of those programs may someday turn up in somebody’s attic?!

Incidentally…

Tim Verdin commented: “My Great-Great-Great Grandfather was Francis de Sales Verdin. He and several of his brothers are the ones that brought their families to America, from Marlenhiem, France, in the early 1830’s (and started the company). I am unsure…how he came to be named Francis de Sales. We actually have a Francis de Sales Catholic Church here in Cincinnati which I always thought was kind of cool because of his name. in fact, the Francis de Sales Catholic Church here in Cincinnati has the largest bell that has ever been cast in America in the tower. The bell was cast right here in Cincinnati in 1896 by the Buckeye Bell Foundry. It weighs almost 35,000 Lbs. and is called ‘Big Joe.’

Here is a picture of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Francis de Sales Verdin; and here’s ‘Big Joe’ – Largest bell ever cast in America.

Saint Francis de Sales: Saintly Geography

St. Francis de Sales

Our patron Saint Francis de Sales was born in Savoy (France) in 1567. Appointed Bishop of Geneva (Switzerland) in 1602, he worked with gentle firmness to preserve the Catholic faith through the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation. He was an inspirational preacher; a powerful writer; a friend of the poor; and a saint who, like his model, Saint Francis of Assisi, promoted a simple and devout life. Today he is known as the patron saint of journalists and the deaf, and his worldwide footprint is surprisingly broad!

An informal survey has so far identified 120 churches and cathedrals named for St. Francis de Sales in India, Africa, South and Central America, Canada, Britain, Europe, and the South Pacific; and in 32 U.S. states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico! Many educational institutions have also been named for the saint, who is one of the Doctors of the church. His worldwide religious orders include the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitation Sisters), cofounded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances Chantal; as well as several 19th century orders including The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, the Salesians of Don Bosco (officially known as the Society of St. Francis de Sales), The Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales, and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

A few of the cities and towns named to honor him include:

The city of St. Francis, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, formed around Saint Francis de Sales Seminary when it was established in 1845.

San Francisco de Sales, Guatemala, is perched on the edge of the active Pacaya volcano.

Saint-François-de-Sales, Quebec in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, Canada, with its blueberry field and municipal campsite, is considered an “oasis of tranquility.

São Francisco de Sales, Minas Gerais, Brasil, was the site of a purported alien abduction in 1957

St. François Atoll in the Seychelles archipelago (Indian Ocean off East Africa) is an island nature refuge known for shipwrecks and a small, short-lived unsuccessful coconut harvesting business.

Described as a “charming little mountain village,” the town of Saint-François-de-Sales in the department of Savoie of the French region Rhône-Alpes (the region where St. Francis de Sales was born) was once known for farming; today it is focused on tourism and mountain sports such as cross-country skiing and hiking.

Our patron saint’s fame has spread well beyond geography and religion. Some of his odder associations include the St. Francis de Sales Cricket Club in Victoria, Australia; St. Francis de Sales Broadcast Center radio station in Batangas City, Philippines; and Historic St Francis de Sales Church Inn & Event Venue in Hatch, NM, home of an annual chili festival. He even has a dental office, Dental San Francisco de Sales, near Lima, Peru!

Dental San Francisco de Sales

Over the centuries, many people have been named after the saint, including several children in our historic parish record books. A Mexican-Italian Visitation Sister, Sister Saint Francis de Sales Bortoni, emigrated to the United States in 1926. A Philadelphia-born Hollywood actor named Francis de Sales appeared in a surprising number of old 1950s-1970s movies and TV shows. And parishioner Mary Brewster wrote a few months ago that “an Inquirer article about a posthumous pardon in Virginia caught my eye because it highlighted capital punishment and racial injustice. When I read the story, I noticed Francis de Sales Grayson was one of the men referred to as the Martinsville Seven. I wondered about Mr. Grayson’s connection to the Black Catholic community in Richmond and thought about how the de Sales name connects us all.” Around the world and back, and through history.

Francis de Sales Grayson

French Heritage

A lot of ideas came together – by chance or by providence – when the statue of our patron Saint Francis de Sales was mounted above the door of our Guastavino-domed Byzantine-Romanesque style church back in 1911.

                Architectural historian Roger Moss, writing about Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia, explains that the Byzantine Revival movement originated in France in the late nineteenth century and our church owes “its architectural genealogy to medieval Byzantine-Romanesque churches of Southern France.” He notes that French architects in the late 1800s looked back at those earlier churches and “embraced the Byzantine-Romanesque style as an alternative to the Gothic style” which was considered too “Protestant.” Romanesque design featured a rectangular building with welcoming rounded arches and vaults — rather than stern, angular Gothic pointed arches and steeples — and with a heaven-like dome to complete the thought.  The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur in Paris began construction in1875 and the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille was finished in 1896, so the energy was in the air with some striking new examples as guides.

                Architect Henry Dagit, who lived in the parish at 4529 Pine St., had a deeply personal interest in the building, even memorializing some of his relatives in its decorations. The Dagit family were of French/German heritage, so Henry was naturally attracted to French and German design inspiration for his family church.

                For an American twist, Dagit realized that a distinctive Guastavino Dome roof — an engineering marvel — could complete the design, and allow a generous open-space floor plan for the church. Spanish immigrant Rafael Guastavino was famous for his unique building system in which tiles were layered with special mortar to create a strong, lightweight dome structure which did not require interior bracing, or space-taking, view-obscuring rows of supporting columns. The magnificent dome is one of only three Guastavino projects in Philadelphia: Girard Bank (Ritz-Carlton Hotel today) was built in 1908, and the Penn Museum’s dome would be constructed in 1916.

                The French-inspired architectural style, updated with the modern dome, offered an especially appropriate setting to honor our 17th century French patron saint, who acquired new visibility just as our church was being finished. France became a secular state in 1905. In 1911, when the French government took over the church where the saint was buried, journalists around the world reported on the procession of relics, as his remains were moved across town to a new shrine, and remarked on his then-unofficial title – dating back to the 1870s –as their patron saint.

Over time, our parish sense of identity – once so neatly linked to our building — has become obscured as our building has changed. Our patron saint’s statue was removed from his perch above our door in the 1980s for safety reasons, and stood in the parking lot for several years before disappearing. Our historically significant Guastavino dome – still intact inside the church — was covered with a cement shell on the outside in the 1950s. Our architecture and details of our history have been mischaracterized over time, contributing to a muddled sense of identity and purpose. What we are  remains elegantly simple: a diverse, welcoming congregation in a historic, architecturally significant, neighborhood church, built by immigrants and named for a saint who was known for his kindness and his gentle persuasion in drawing people back to the faith – and whose efforts to write truth earned him the title “Patron Saint of Journalists.” Merged in 2007 with Most Blessed Sacrament Parish – named for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ — we have an added reminder of our core mission, to actively promote what is best and truest about our faith in our neighborhood and beyond.

Particles of Truth

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A widely-circulated online bio of our patron saint Francis de Sales as a “patient man” — picked up over the past few years by organizations and churches around the world — offers a tale that differs surprisingly from the accounts of his life that seem to have inspired it. This muddiness of facts is especially troubling for the Patron Saint of Journalists!

Many of the picturesque details of the saint’s early life in the anonymous online bio seem to have been drawn from  a 1909 book St. Francis de Sales: A Biography of the Gentle Saint by Louise Stacpoole-Kenny, but the online information has been oddly summarized and re-interpreted out of  context.

As an example, one paragraph in the online version addresses why it took so long for Francis to enter the priesthood, suggesting he needed to experience other things first, and “was wise to wait, for he wasn’t a natural pastor. His biggest concern on being ordained was that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair cut off. And his preaching left the listeners thinking he was making fun of him. Others reported to the bishop that this noble-turned- priest was conceited and controlling.”

The Stacpoole-Kenny book does state that when, in 1578, Francis “took the tonsure” – the monastic haircut that marked his interest in Holy Orders — “indeed, it cost him bitter pangs to part with his beautiful golden curls…” The online re-telling of the incident omits the important information that this was an event of his childhood: Stacpoole-Kenny notes that “in actual years Francis was only just eleven” when he chose to undertake this sign of spiritual commitment, just before he left home for school, with many years of study and career choice still ahead! And his father still hoped he would become a lawyer and assume his family’s noble title.

The comment about Francis’ poor public speaking is equally odd, since Francis is generally known for his eloquence. An early account by the Abbe de Marsollier does mention that Francis experienced stage fright before giving his first sermon, when he saw that “a numerous crowd were eagerly awaiting him,” but he gathered himself together and “electrified his audience by the strength and fervour of his language and the grace and clearness of his ideas. Many shed tears…” It was his father — having finally, reluctantly, accepted his son’s career choice – who claimed to be unimpressed with his son’s preaching, feeling that “his style was far too simple and unaffected…”

The online article is accurate in observing that Francis’ patience carried him through hard times, as he tried to convert protestants back to Catholicism on the French-Swiss border. On this, Stacpoole-Kenny reports in less dramatic prose that his chosen technique was to “take things quietly, to progress slowly but steadily….” and “it was by means of the most gentle persuasion that he endeavoured to convert the gloomy and stubborn Calvinists. The pamphlets which he wrote during his mission and caused to be distributed among the people breathe a spirit of sweetness and gentleness, at the same time clearly and decidedly expounding the truths of the Catholic Religion. The heretics, though they would not come to listen to his sermons, read these documents through curiosity; but many found them so convincing that they desired to learn more of a doctrine that appealed, not only to their reason, but to their hearts.” The success of this pamphlet campaign was what caused de Sales to later be named “Patron Saint of Journalists.

Was the online article deliberately misleading? Details were selected and events were exaggerated and re-framed to build a dramatic story, possibly intended to energize a particular audience at a particular time. It is a colourful tale, but at the same time, it does a disservice to the real saint, who wrote: “Let us be as precise and balanced as possible in our words” and “When you speak of your neighbour, look upon your tongue as a sharp razor in the surgeon’s hand, about to cut nerves and tendons; it should be used so carefully, as to insure that no particle more or less than the truth be said.” Truth matters.

To Infinity and Beyond

B029 It might be hard to get away from the city this summer, so let’s check out some distant worlds inside St. Francis de Sales church at 47th and Springfield!

We think of our 1911 church as old and elegant, but it was futuristic when it was built, decorated with the state-of-the-art fireproof tilework designed to sheath modern skyscrapers, and fully-wired for newfangled electricity. A 1922 photo of the church interior shows dramatic movie theatre light bulbs around all of the arches. Look closely: those antique back-to-the-future light fixtures are still embedded in the clay tiles!

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From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

Our church bells have some curious associations. An early American translation of Jules Verne’s 1865 novel of space travel,  From the Earth to the Moon, used the name of the Meneely Bell Foundry – the same company that made our bells – for the manufacturer of the bell-shaped metal spacecraft in which astronauts were catapulted to the moon. One of our bells is named Gervase, probably after Bishop Crane’s sibling, who became Mother Mary Gervase, IHM. But there was also a medieval English monk named Gervase who was famous for describing a strange phenomenon in 1178 AD, when the horn of the moon split in two and  “from the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks…” Scientists hypothesize that Gervase-the-monk could have observed the formation of a crater on the moon, or, more likely, an exploding meteor between the earth and the moon – an event to think about when our bells toll!

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Artistic rendering of Gervase of Canterbury’s moon observation

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Detail from Saint Francisde Sales Church window

High in the tower on the East side of our church, is a window with a spectacular “outer space” theme showing stars, planets, and a big ball of light with radiant beams – or a tail. It may represent the Creation as described in the Book of Genesis. It could also have marked the arrival of Halley’s Comet, when our church was being built in 1910. Though it appeared every 75 years, the comet that year was supposed to be exceptionally bright, and the earth was scheduled to pass right through its dusty tail. No one quite knew what would happen and tabloids predicted the end of civilization. Our window-designer may have commemorated that fortunate escape.

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Bishop’s Insignia of Saint Francis de Sales

Even the Bishop’s insignia of our patron Saint Francis de Sales has an other-worldly reference in the form of twin stars Castor and Pollux. These were added to the Sales family shield around 1310, after an ancestor, Pierre de Sales, observed “two flying lights appeared above the mast” during a fierce storm at sea. Other sailors were terrified, but Pierre correctly identified “Castor and Pollux” – a name used to describe a double jet of Saint Elmo’s Fire – an eerie sea-going weather phenomenon. He advised the ships to stay their course through the Mediterranean to aid the Knights of St. John at Rhodes, and as a result, was awarded the right to embellish his family shield. Francis de Sales incorporated the stars from his family emblem in his Bishop’s insignia in 1602, perhaps also thinking about St. Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, who sailed on an Alexandrian ship “whose sign was Castor and Pollux.”

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Detail from the cover of Atlantis: the Andtedilivian World

Finally, back to earth, our Blessed Mother altar was donated in by Eleanor Donnelly, the “poet laureate of the American Catholic Church,” in memory of her deceased family members — including her brother, Ignatius Donnelly, who taught her to write poetry. Ignatius, who was a Minnesota senator, is celebrated today for his 1882 book  Atlantis: the Antediluvian Worlda cult classic of  undersea “Lost City of Atlantis” lore.

So, though you may have to take a “staycation” this summer due to covid; there’s plenty of room for your mind to wander, from outer space to the depths of the ocean, back at church!

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Prayer for Journalists

Our church is named for Saint Francis de Sales, the Patron Saint of Journalists (1567-1622), who wrote:

We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh.

Let us be as precise and balanced as possible in our words.”

When you speak of your neighbour, look upon your tongue as a sharp razor in the surgeon’s hand, about to cut nerves and tendons; it should be used so carefully, as to insure that no particle more or less than the truth be said.

Above all, avoid false accusations and the distortion of truth regarding your neighbor.

“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

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St. Francis de Sales (1940 Parish Silver Jubilee Anniversary Book).

 

A modern Prayer for Journalists is shown on a plaque in St. Bride’s Episcopal Church in London, which ministers to the Fleet Street press:

Almighty God,
Strengthen and direct, we pray, the will of all whose work it is to write what many read,
and to speak where many listen. May we be bold to confront evil and injustice: understanding and compassionate of human weakness; rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives, and the slanted word which corrupts.

May the power which is ours, for good or ill, always be used with honesty and courage,
with respect and integrity, so that when all here has been written, said and done, we may, unashamed, meet Thee face to face,
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.

On World Communications Day, May 24, 2020, Pope Francis entreated: “May this event encourage us to tell and share constructive stories that help us to understand that we are all part of a story that is larger than ourselves, and can look forward to the future with hope if we truly care for one another as brothers and sisters.”

The Passing of Saint Francis de Sales

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The long stained-glass window on the 47th Street side of our church, showing the final moments of our patron St. Francis de Sales (by Nicola D’Ascenzo in 1911), features a detail of a small green plant on the mantel as a reminder of his connection to God through the natural world.

An 1871 biography notes that after years of defending the Faith, Francis, Bishop of Geneva, “began to feel worn and weary” at age 55 (old in the 1600s), and dreamed of retiring “to a quiet spot on the Lake of Annecy,”  (Duchy of Savoy; part of France today) to spend his final years writing books, close to nature. Francis was in poor health: “his legs swelled painfully, so that he could scarcely walk, and they were also covered with sores;” and his chest pains were “distressing.

In May 1622, Pope Gregory XV, nonetheless, ordered him to travel to Turin (Savoy then; Italy today) to settle a religious dispute. There, after Francis fainted in the church, he stayed on to recover, returning to Annecy in August, after he heard that crops at home had failed, and people were suffering. Francis decided “I will sell my mitre and crosier (hat and staff), and my garments themselves, to relieve my poor people.” He got rid of everything he could – including a valuable diamond ring he had just received from the princess in Turin. Upon hearing this, some of his flock bought it back for him, then he sold it again: “This happened several times, till it became a popular saying that it was the beggars’ ring rather than the Bishop’s.”

Francis made one final journey that November. The Duke of Savoy planned to meet French King Louis XIII at Avignon and accompany him on a royal tour. The Duke’s daughter-in-law, the Princess of Piedmont, wanted to bring the Bishop, who was her Grand Almoner (the most important member of the Church in the royal court), as part of her entourage. Unable to refuse, Bishop Francis wearily acknowledged “we must go where God calls us, as long as we can move at all…” Hoping to petition the King for aid for his diocese, he prepared to travel, knowing he probably would not return.

The plant shown in our window signals the humble surroundings at his final stop in Lyon, where “the Bishop avoided all Court entertainments and gatherings, save such as were a part of his duty…and refused all invitations…preferring to occupy a little apartment in the gardener’s house belonging to the Visitation Convent…The Sisters were distressed at their Founder being so unsuitably lodged,” but Francis insisted that he preferred the simple, natural setting.

Though frail, he was still busy: “Madame de Chantal (with whom he had co-founded the Visitation Order in 1601), who had not seen him for more than three years…came to Lyons to see her beloved Spiritual Father again…Persons of every class and age poured in upon him to gather up precious words of instruction and guidance, and the gardener’s little cottage was besieged with visitors from the town and from the members of both Courts…”

A few days after Francis celebrated Christmas Midnight Mass for the Visitation Sisters in Lyon, and the Superior remarked that the sermon was so inspired that “I could have fancied that I saw the Angel Gabriel standing beside you....,” Francis had a seizure and was carried to his bed in the gardener’s house. He received medical treatments of the day: “blisters applied to the head, hot irons, and even cauterizations to the spine...” but nothing helped, and the priests administered Last Rites.

Madame de Chantal was at the convent in Grenoble, saying her prayers, “when she distinctly heard a voice say He is no more.’” She did not understand until later what this meant: it was at that moment, back in Lyon, at about eight in the evening on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), that Saint Francis de Sales died. He was buried, as was his desire, at the Church of the Visitation in Annecy on January 24.

 

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Saint Francis de Sales

The Feast Day of Our Patron SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES is January 24.

Born in 1567, Francis de Sales grew up to become an inspirational preacher; a powerful writer; a friend of the poor; and a saint who, like his model, Saint Francis of Assisi, promoted a simple and devout life. Some of his story was told by stained glass artist Nicola D’Ascenzo in the lower half of our long windows. On the St. Joseph side of the church, starting at the left, young Francis learns the catechism from his mother in Savoy (part of France today). He receives his First Holy Communion in the middle window, then his father agrees to let him take Holy Orders in 1593. Across the aisle, on the Saint Mary side of the church, Saint Francis de Sales is a priest, preaching a mission at Annemasse in 1597. In the middle window he has become a bishop, co-founding the order of the Visitation, an order of nuns, with St. Jane Chantal in 1610. The right-hand window depicts his deathbed in 1622. What happened in the spaces between the windows?  Francis was appointed Bishop of Geneva in 1602, but resided in nearby Annecy, Savoy, because Geneva was under Protestant control. There, he worked with gentle firmness to keep the Catholic faith alive in his diocese. He is known for sliding written sermons under the doors of the faithful who could not, by law, attend mass — which is how he became The Patron Saint of Journalists. He is also patron saint of the deaf, based on a miracle he performed.

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Doctors in the House

 

In 1908, when architect Henry Dagit wrote about the church he was starting to build at 47th and Springfield, he mentioned that its dome would be supported inside on four Columns topped with “marble mosaic emblems of the four Evangelists…and under them in sculptured niches will be statues of the four Doctors of the Church.

The statues were absent from descriptions of the finished interior in 1911, but they crept back into church descriptions written in 1928 and 1938, before vanishing again in 1940.

Who were the “Doctors of the Church” and why did they come and go?

Wikipedia defines the term as “a title given by the Catholic Church to saints recognized as having made significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing.” A document from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) notes that “The title was first given in the Middle Ages, and originally, there were four great Doctors of the Church: St. Ambrose, 4th century bishop of Milan, St. Augustine, 5th century bishop of Hippo, St. Gregory the Great, who was pope at the start of the 7th century, and St. Jerome, the 5th century biblical scholar and translator.”  The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art identifies these as the four Latin Doctors and also lists four important Greek Doctors: St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. John Chrysostum, and St. Athanasius, who appear more often in mosaic artwork. Which doctors would have been most suited to our mosaic-filled Byzantine-styled church? Maybe that was the problem!

So many doctors! So many choices! And the list kept growing. The 2015 USCCB document notes that “Over the years the church has added about 30 (now 36) additional saints with the title ‘Doctor of the Church’… Since 1970….women have also been declared ‘Doctors of the Church’: St. Teresa of Avila; St. Catherine of Siena; St. Thérèse of Lisieux…, and St. Hildegard of Bingen.”

DSCN6373 (2)  DSCN6373 (3)In the end, the references to the Doctors in our church in 1928 and 1938 are likely mistakes from hastily recopying outdated text: the interior niches do not exist and we have no evidence that the statues were ever commissioned (though there are two full and two partial never-used niches on the 47th Street exterior!). We do have at least three Doctors “in the house,” though: our own patron Saint Francis de Sales was declared a Doctor in 1877. Saint Anthony of Padua (statue behind the mesh on the St. Joseph side of the church), became a Doctor in 1946; and St. Thérèse of Lisieux (statue in the former confessional by the parking lot door) was named in 1998 – both receiving the title long after our church was built. Our Saint Anthony statue – the patron of lost things — arrived in 1916 as a gift from Mrs. Elizabeth Lippe, who also bequeathed our bells (ironically, his correct pedestal is under St. Anne). St. Therese arrived near the time of her canonization in 1925 and was accompanied by a relic, venerated regularly through 1937.

In addition, parish records indicate that our church, located near several universities and medical centers, has always had a few medical doctors, PhDs, and probably some honorary titles among its congregation!

The Cross at Annemasse

annemasse tek editWhy did stained glass artisan Nicola D’Ascenzo choose the image of St. Francis de Sales preaching at Annemasse for one of our long windows (nearest the Vatican flag)? Perhaps it spoke to him, because it is a story about how visual symbols — like the artwork he was creating – could inspire people.

In the 1500s — the time of our patron Saint Francis de Sales — the town of Annemasse, Duchy of Savoy (today part of France), was separated from the Republic of Geneva, (Swiss Confederacy) by a narrow river, and the wide gulf of the Protestant Reformation. On the Savoy side of the divide, the Forty Hours Devotion in 1597 aimed to reconnect people through words of gentle encouragement, preached in outdoor sermons by our patron Saint, and in celebrations through town and countryside, centered around visible emblems of faith.

Why is the crucifix shown in D’Ascenzo’s window? A stone cross in Annemasse — which was both a town landmark and a shrine — had been destroyed in religious conflicts. During that Forty Hours Devotion, Francis de Sales led a procession bringing a wooden replacement – invoking the past, restoring the landscape, and providing a symbol to inspire all who would pass along the road. It was a joyous homecoming. Andre Ravier, SJ, noted that “For two days this was the ‘festival’ at Annemasse, a festival above all religious, but the ceremonies, processions, sermons, and so forth were mixed with popular songs and music – even the detonations of arquebuses” (large guns).  And Jill Fehleison observes that “The cross was placed “so that it could be seen from the city of Geneva, fashioning both a symbol of triumph and a challenge” to the Protestant followers of John Calvin, who declared that every word in the Bible was a literal truth that came directly from God, and any other object or image was a distraction.

Centuries later and across an ocean, Christians still have their differences, but immersion in a modern consumer culture filled with secular landmarks, images, and advertising, provides fewer opportunities to connect with faith. Our historic 1911 church dome, Like the monument at the crossroads in Annemasse, is one prominent feature of the local skyline that offers a quiet reminder of God’s enduring presence to anyone who sees it. And if an old adage is true that each “picture is worth a thousand words,” our church is a walk-in encyclopedia of spiritual life and local history.