It is the great paradox of the modern world that at the very time when the world decided that people should not be coerced about their form of religion, it also decided that they should be coerced about their form of education. — G. K. Chesterton

Saint Francis Xavier

1506–1552
Civilization: Christian — Navarre
   Field of Renown:  saint — Missionary
Era:  Early Modern

St. Francis Xavier is famous for his missionary work in the Far East during the 16th century, shortly following the opening of Western trade routes in the east. Based in Goa, he worked with an unparalleled apostolic zeal, preaching, converting natives, founding schools and missions, and forming novitiates. He was aided by a number of western priests, but also recruited dozens of talented native believers into the priesthood. He learned numerous languages, translated hundreds of documents into native languages, and worked with a fervor nearly unequaled in missionary history. His enormous productivity, and the hardships under which he work inspired Jesuit missionary activities in foreign missions for years to come.

St. Francis was born in Navarre, a region of northern Spain near the border of France. At age 19 he went to study at the University of Paris and there met Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius had been a soldier, was older than most other students, and had an apostolic zeal which inspired all who surrounded him. Francis Xavier became one of his earliest followers, and with a group of seven was ordained in 1537. The Jesuit Order was recognized by the pope in 1540, and soon after the King of Portugal sought a priest to lead an evangelical mission to the East Indias. Francis Xavier volunteered for this duty, and in 1541 left Europe for the Far East.

Throughout the following eleven years, Portuguese Goa was his base of operations. He began preaching and converting natives in India. He ministered and preached to the sick in hospitals and gathered children around to hear stories of the gospel. He preached up and down the coast of India, encountering many hardships and persecutions. The bad example of many of the Portuguese sailors tended to retard his efforts, but this only redoubled his effort to set a good example by his works and behavior. After three years Xavier sailed for Malacca, and continuted his labors on nearby islands. It is thought he may have traveled as far north as the Philipines. In Malacca he met a Japanese native named Anjiro who told him fascinating tales about the Island country. Xavier resolved to establish a missionary presence in Japan, but first returned to Goa to attend to administrative matters, including the founding of a novitiate.

Xavier landed in Japan in 1549 with Anjiro and several other priests. The first year was spent learning the language and preparing materials for preaching and catechizing. For two more years he preached in Japan and founded a few Christian communities which grew rapidly after his departure. In 1552 he returned to Goa and began to plan a missionary trip to China, but fell sick and died en route the the Celestial Kingdom. He made thousands of converts and left hundreds of growing Christian communities in his wake. He still considered the most successful missionary after Paul the Apostle.


Key events during the life of St. Francis Xavier:


Year
Event
1506
Born into an aristocratic family in the Kingdom of Navarre.
1515
Traveled to Venice after the death of his father.
1525
Went to study at the University of Paris.
1529
Met Ignatious Loyola.
1534
With seven other, made the vow of the first Jesuits.
1537
Ordained into the Priesthood.
1540
Agrees to lead and evangelican mission to the East Indies.
1542
Arrived at Goa, in India.
1545
Traveled to Malacca and visted nearby islands.
1547
Returned to Goa. Planned missionary trip to Japan.
1548
Established a Jesuit novitiate and ordained native priests.
1549
Established missions in Japan with the aid of several native speakers.
1552
Returned to Goa and began planning a mission to China.
1552
Died en route to China.

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Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
Christianity in Japan  in  The Story of Japan  by  R. Van Bergen
 in  Japan: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Manchus and Europeans  in  China's Story  by  William E. Griffis
Apostle of the Japanese  in  The Book of Saints and Heroes  by  Mrs. Lang
Progress of Christianity in Japan  in  Historical Tales: Japanese and Chinese  by  Charles Morris
India, Africa, and America in  Saint Ignatius of Loyola  by  John Hungerford Pollen, S.J.

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Image Links


Sts. Ignatius and Francis Xavier at the University of Paris
 in  Life of St. Ignatius

St. Fancis Xavier teaches the Japanese children their Catechism
 in The Book of Saints and Heroes

The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier
 in History of the Church: Early Modern Times


Contemporary
Short Biography
Saint Ignatius of Loyola Founder of the Jesuits order, dedicated to the Pope. Important counter-reformation figure.
John III King of Portugal who supported the Jesuit missions in the East
Anjiro Japanese native who assisted St. Xavier in his missions in Japan. Baptized as Paulo de Santa Fe.