October 10th: Saint Francis Borgia, SJ

St. Francis Borgia SJ

Born : October 28, 1510
Died : September 30, 1572
Feast: 10 October (General Roman Calendar 1688–1969)
Beatified : November 23, 1624
Canonised : June 20, 1670

Francis Borgia was born in his family’s palace in Valencia, Spain and was the oldest son of the third duke of Gandia. His great paternal grandfather was Pope Alexander VI and his mother’s grandfather was King Ferdinand the Catholic. He grew up in the court of King Charles V and was a well-trained and accomplished nobleman.

He married Leonor de Castro of Portugal, Empress Isabella’s first lady-in-waiting when he was 19, and was placed in charge of the imperial household at 21 because they were greatly endeared by the Emperor and Empress. They lived in the palace for ten years with their eight children. Francis began to devote his life to prayer and penance after witnessing the corrupted remains of the once beautiful Empress Isabella and understood the tragic transient nature of human life and material possessions. At 36, he decided to spend the remainder of his life in God’s service when his wife died in 1546.

As Francis was acquainted with the Jesuits and Fr Peter Favre and had founded a Jesuit college in Gandia, his hometown, he vowed to become a Jesuit as soon as he could arrange his temporal affairs including arranging marriages and positions for his eight children. He was accepted by Fr Ignatius into the Society on Feb 1, 1548 and took his vows as a Jesuit on August 20, 1550 and earned a doctorate in theology in the university he founded. In 1550, Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome but his main purpose was to see Fr Ignatius and to arrange for his public entrance into the Society. After he had renounced his title as duke to his son in 1551, Francis donned the Jesuit cassock. He was ordained a priest on May 23, 1551 and celebrated his first Mass on August 1 in the tiny oratory in Fr Ignatius’ ancestral home at Loyola.

Fr Francis spent the next 3 years as a parish priest until 1554 when he was appointed Commissary General in Spain in charge of the Spanish and Portuguese provincials. In this capacity he founded more than 20 colleges and Spain’s first novitiate at Simancas. Fr Francis was made vicar general in 1561 and was elected as the Society’s third Superior General in July 2, 1565. He spent his seven-year generalate in revising the Society’s rules, overseeing its expansion, promoting missions in India, Florida, New Spain and Peru and in reading and writing countless letters. It was he who began the Gesu church in Rome as well as the novitiate in St Andrea.

Fr Francis‘s health deteriorated due to extensive travel to overseas missions. He suffered from fever and pleurisy while he was on a mission in Spain in 1571 and wanted to return to Rome so that he could die there. His prayer was answered for when he returned Rome at the end of September 1572, and was immediately confined to bed .Three days later on the night of September 30, 1572, the 61-year old Fr General who was called the “Second Founder of the Society of Jesus” died peacefully and serenely.