December 12th : St. John Francis Regis, SJ

Saint John Francis Regis, SJ

Born : Jan 1, 1597
Died : Dec 12, 1640
Beatified : May 8, 1716
Canonised : Jun 16, 1737

St John Francis Regis was born in Fontcouverte in southern France. He was a crusader – his armour was his black cassock and the country to be reconquered was his own native

land. John attended the Jesuit school from 1611 to 1616, and in his final year decided to become a Jesuit. He entered the noviate at Toulouse in 1616 and then to Tournon, Le Puy and Auch for philosophy and theology. When he returned to Toulouse to prepare for his ordination, a dreadful plague ravaged the city and the seminarians were sent into the country. He asked to assist in caring for the plague-stricken, but that was work for priests and not scholastics. He however spent long hours at night in prayer and it was his closeness to God that prepared him to be the great apostle that he eventually became. John returned to Toulouse and was ordained in May 19, 1630.

Fr Regis’ first assignment was to teach at Pamiers, and during his breaks he joined his fellow Jesuits in various apostolic works in the diocese. He proved an excellent missionary and was sent to Montpellier in 1632 to help the bishop recall the Catholics of that diocese to the practice of their faith. There was nothing outstanding in any of the actions of Fr Regis during the eight years as a home missioner, but the results of his work were extraordinary. France still suffered from the sad effects of the Wars of Religion – the civil strife between French Calvinists and Catholics. As southern France was under the control of the Huguenots, the Catholics there were forced to abandon the practice of their faith. Fr Regis’ task as the home missioner was to rekindle the faith that had once been there.

Fr Regis was sent to Viviers and for six years tirelessly carried God’s message to those who eagerly awaited it. In each town or village, he would stay several days, preached, heard confessions, celebrated Mass and taught catechism to the children. He also visited prisons, collected food and clothing for the poor and founded homes for former prostitutes for their rehabilitation.

In mid-December 1640, Fr Regis had an intimation that he was soon to die and hastened to Le Puy, his HQ. There he told a fellow Jesuit: “I have interrupted my mission at Montregard to prepare for death” and said he would spend the next three days in retreat and then make his last general confession of his entire life. After his triduum of prayers was over he said; “The Master does not wish it.” So together with Fr Claude Bideau, his companion, he set out on December 17, 1640, reached Montregard the same day and continued the mission.

On their way to their next mission in Lalouvesc, they lost their way because it was snowing and had to seek shelter in a battered shack in the freezing cold. When they finally arrived at Lalouvesc on Christmas Eve, they found out that the people had been waiting for them since the night before. Rather than taking a few minutes to eat and rest, Fr Regis immediately went to the pulpit and preached. He then heard confessions and celebrated Mass. He continued to hear confessions and had to stop to celebrate the Midnight Mass. He continued to hear confessions the whole of Christmas Day and because of the crowd he had to hear confessions in the sanctuary because the way to the confessional was blocked. Above the chair where he was sitting, there was a broken window and the cold December air blew directly upon him. Later in the afternoon in the midst of hearing confessions, he collapsed and was taken to the pastor’s house. When he regained consciousness, the people again insisted on going to confession, though he was lying in bed.

Fr Regis was diagnosed with pneumonia and nothing could be done. He lingered on until Dec 31, always in prayer with his crucifix in his hands. Shortly before midnight, he opened his eyes wide and with a smile on his face, told Fr Bideau who was at his side: “Bro, I see our Lord and our Lady opening the gates of Paradise for me.” Then he silently uttered: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” And with these words Fr Regis went to eternal rest.

Fr Regis was buried in the church of Lalouvesc, the scene of his final mission. A basilica was later built above his tomb, which soon became and has ever since remained one of the great French centres of pilgrimage. He was canonized by Pope Clement XII on June 16, 1737 .