Saint Francis de Sales was born in the Chateau de Sales in Thorens-Gileres, Haute-Savoie, France (which at the time was part of the Duchy of Savoy, a part of the Holy Roman Empire) on August 21st, 1567 to Francois de Sales (Lord of Boisy, Sales and Novel) and Francoise de Sionnaz (the daughter of a noblewoman). His parents baptized him as Francis Bonaventura to honor the two great Franciscan saints. Following in the foot steps of his father to be a nobleman, he entered the Capuchin college in Annecy at the age of eight and began attending the College de Clermont in Paris in 1583.
While attending in 1584, Saint Francis took a course on theology that completely upended his life. The professor, along with other leading theologians of the day, gave a lecture on predestination. Saint Francis was convinced from this lecture that he was damned to hell and began to greatly despair, causing illness and deep depression. In early 1587, Saint Francis travelled to the parish of Saint-Etienne-des-Gres, Paris and prayed before the famous Our Lady of Good Deliverance statue. Immediately the despair was lifted and Saint Francis was filled with joy and comfort, so much so that eh consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin and took upon a vow of chastity.
He left Paris in 1588 to study law at Padua and asked the Jesuit Father Possevin to become his spiritual director. He returned to Savoy in 1592 where the Senate of Chambery admitted him as a lawyer. His father, still believing his son would continue in his own path, began securing positions for him including a very prestigious position as Senator and an engagement to an extremely wealthy noblewoman. Saint Francis wanted none of these positions, telling his father that he was meant for the priesthood. A struggle broke out in the family home between father and son with two very different visions of the future. The Bishop of Geneva, Claude de Granier, intervened on his own initiative and offered Saint Francis the position of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva. This position was the highest office in the diocese and a post in the patronage of the Pope. His father relented, and Saint Francis received his Holy Orders in 1593.
Saint Francis had a massive undertaking ahead of him. He volunteered himself to evangelize Le Chablais, an area of almost completely Calvinist faith. He risked his life daily by walking through the streets preaching and confronting Calvinist preachers. At night he would slip pamphlets and letters arguing against Calvinism that were so effective thousands would return to the Catholic church. These letters and writings would later be combined and published as "The Catholic Controversy". Bishop Claude de Granier asked Saint Francis to join him as his coadjucator, something Saint Francis initially turned down. The Bishop then sent him to Rome where Pope Clement VIII ratified the choice but asked Saint Francis to be personally examined in the presence of the Sacred College. Pope Clement said to him:
"Drink, my son, from your cistern, and from your living wellspring; may your waters issue forth, and may they become public fountains where the world may quench its thirst."
On his return home, he stopped in France and became close friends with Cardinal de Berulle, the secretary of King Henry IV and Henry IV himself. King Henry IV asked him to remain in France after being moved on his sermon at Lent to the Court. King Henry IV reportedly wrote of him:
"A rare bird, this Monsieur de Genève, he is devout and also learned; and not only devout and learned but at the same time a gentleman. A very rare combination."
In 1602 Bishop Granier passed away, leaving Saint Francis to be consecrated the Bishop of Geneva. His diocese became famous for its very efficient organization and well educated laity. While working with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin he made such an impact on the Order that he was made an official associate of the Order in 1617 (the highest honor available to a non member). Working alongside Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Saint Francis founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary followed by establishing an Oratory of Saint Philip Neri.
In 1622, Saint Francis travelled along side Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy for the Duke's Christmas tour. While in Lyon, he suffered a terrible stroke and died on December 28th, 1622.
Saint Francis de Sales was buried on January 24th, 1623 in the church of the Monastery of the Visitation in Annecy. His relics were highly venerated and many miracles are reported at this location. Pious Catholics were able to save his remains from French revolutionaries when they stormed the grounds and the Visitation nuns carried them from Lyons to Venice. Pope Alexander VII officially beatified him in 1661 before canonizing him in 1665. Pope Pius XI proclaimed him the patron of writers and journalists due to his extensive writings in his efforts to convert the Calvinists. To teach a deaf man about God Saint Francis is reported to have created a sign language; he is therefore often regarded as the Patron Saint of the Deaf.
Today, Saint Francis de Sales is considered a Doctor of the Church. His feast day was originally set for January 29th but was moved in the 1969 revision to January 24th.