Saint of the Day|
This duke left the court, family, to court God's family
St. Francis Borgia became a second founder for Jesuits
By Tony Staley
It's said that everything happens for a purpose. An incident early in the life of St. Francis
Borgia provides an example.
As a young man, Francis saw St. Ignatius Loyola, who later founded the Jesuits, being
taken to the Inquisition prison. Years later, Francis himself joined the Jesuits and is often
called their second founder.
But many things happened to Francis before that. Hardly surprising, given that he was a
member of the famous Borgia family that in the late 15th and early 16th centuries
controlled the church and central Italy.
Francis was born in 1510 at Gandia, near Valencia, Spain. He was the great-grandson of
Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) and King Ferdinand of Spain, and the cousin of Emperor
Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.
Francis was educated by his uncle, the archbishop of Saragossa and in 1528 became a
member of Charles V's court and the marquis of Lombay. The next year, he married
Eleanor de Castro. He served until 1539 as an adviser to Charles, who then named him
viceroy of Catalonia. In 1543, after the death of his father, Francis became the Duke of
After the death of his wife in 1546, Francis decided to become a Jesuit. He contacted St.
Ignatius, who said Francis must first make arrangements for his eight children, the
youngest of whom was eight. In the meantime, he advised him to study theology at the
university at Gandia, which Ignatius had founded.
In 1550, after making arrangements for his children and completing his studies, Francis
went to Rome to join the Jesuits. Four months later, he returned to Spain and transferred
his title and estates to his son, Charles.
When the duke turned Jesuit celebrated his first public Mass in 1551, the crowd was so
large that it was celebrated outdoors and the pope granted a plenary indulgence for those
He was assigned to Guipùzcoa, where he went through the village ringing a bell to call the
children to catechism. Soon, he traveled around Spain preaching. He was among the first
to recognize the genius of the Carmelite nun who was to become St. Teresa of Avila.
After Ignatius named him commissary general of the Jesuits in Spain in 1554, he started
numerous communities and 12 colleges. He also spoke out against the Inquisition and
worked for the Jesuits in Portugal.
In 1561, he was called to Rome to continue his ministry and in 1565 was elected father
general of the Jesuits, a position he held for seven years. During that time, he started what
is now known as the Gregorian University in Rome, began the Jesuit novitiate and the
Gesù (the main Jesuit church and the burial place of St. Ignatius) and improved the
He expanded the Jesuits' role in France and began their missions in Poland and the
Americas. He wrote rules for Jesuit ministries and collected alms when a pestilence struck
Rome in 1566.
When he was sent by the pope on a special mission to Spain, France and Portugal in 1571,
large crowds gathered to hear him.
He died in 1572 after praying for his children and grandchildren. On Oct. 10, his feast day,
be aware of how some past encounter has changed your life.
Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, 365 Saints, Voices of the Saints and World Book Encyclopedia.