St Francis Borgia
Confessor (1510 -1572)
Saint of the day October 10
The eldest son of Juan Borja, third Duke of Gandia, and Joanna of Aragon, Francisco de Borgia embarked on a brilliant political career at the age of 18 with his entry into service at the court of Emperor Charles V. The following year he married Eleanor de Castron, the first lady-in-waiting and intimate friend of the Empress, who was, like himself, known for her exceptional piety and virtue. The young couple enjoyed high favour and, upon being appointed to manage the affairs of the imperial household, travelled about with the court for the next ten years.
Then the Emperor made the energetic young grandee Lieutenant Governor and Viceroy of Catalonia on 26 June 1539. Here Francis proved himself an excellent organizer and administrator, for in the four years of his incumbency he was able to root out the previously widespread banditry, reform the corrupt administration of justice, and provide adequately for the suffering poor during times of famine. His pious practice of receiving Holy Communion each Sunday was in those days something singular. On the death of his father on 17 December 1542, he became Duke of Gandia.
Having lost his beloved wife in 1546, and left with five children to provide for, Francis put into effect his determination to become a Jesuit. Privately and in utter secrecy, he took up the study of theology and Latin, was secretly professed in 1548, and received his doctorate on 20 August 1550. When his eldest son reached maturity and his daughter was married, the Emperor permitted him to abdicate his dukedom in favour of his son.Francis was ordained to the priesthood on 4 February 1551, and celebrated his first Mass in the oratory of the Ignatian family castle at Loyola, a fact that when became known, created no little sensation all over Europe!
Francis Borgia advanced rapidly in the Jesuit Order. St Ignatius de Loyola employed him at first in delicate diplomatic missions, then, on 11 April 1554 made him Commissary General for Spain, Portugal, and the East and West Indies. This entailed much travelling during the next seven years. He built several colleges, opened twenty novitiates, and won new friends for the Society of Jesus everywhere. On the death of Diego Lainez, successor of Ignatius, in 1565, Francis was nominated Vicar General and on 2 July the same year he was elected 3rd General of the Jesuits.
St Pius V, the great Dominican Pope of the Counter Reformation, found in Francis an invaluable assistant another reforming instrument of Divine Providence like his contemporaries Sts Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri and Peter Canisius.
As Father General, Francis greatly developed and strengthened the young Jesuit order. He founded 31 new colleges throughout Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and Poland. In the foreign mission field his enterprising zeal extended the Society’s work to Florida, Mexico, Peru and the island of Crete, and during his generalship 66 Jesuit missionaries sealed their faith in blood in Japan.
Noted for the depth of his interest in the mystical life, which obviously thrived even amidst the business environment, Francis Borgia died on 10 October 1572 while on a Papal diplomatic mission, in a bid to win the courts of Spain, Portugal and France to the Pope’s plan of exploiting the great sea victory at Lepanto by a combined land expedition against the Turks.
Beatified on 24 November 1624 by Pope Urban VIII and canonized by Pope Clement X on 12 April 1671, St Francis is the Patron of Portugal.