The Patron : St. Francis Xavier

The Patron

Often an institution is named after a famous man or woman or after the founder, or patron, or benefactor of the project, to honour the memory of one who ought to be remembered, “Lest we forget “as Kipling wrote.

St. Xavier’s School is no exception to this. But who is St. Xavier? We know that he was a holy man and has been proclaimed a saint and an example to follow. Perhaps we know vaguely that ha was a Jesuit Father, for so many Jesuit institutions are called “St. Xavier’s”. Perhaps also we think that he was the founder of the Jesuit Order,-which he was not, – and that he had some connection with India, which he certainly had.

Francis Xavier (his full Spanish name was Francisco de Yasu y Javier) was born in the family caste of Xavier in Navarre (Northern Spain) on 7 April 1506, the 5th child and 3rd son of Dr. Juan de Yasu and his wife Dona Maria. He was educated at home until at the age of 19.Later he went to Paris, ambitious to follow his father’s example and become a doctor in law (1525).

He studied one year of Latin, and then three years Philosophy after which he obtained his Licentiate and shortly afterward his Master’s degree in philosophy (1530). Master Francis then became a teacher of philosophy at one of the colleges of Paris University, and was well on the way of fulfilling his ambitions of acquiring a lucrative position and fame. But things turned out differently from what Francis hoped for.

For three years Francis Xavier resisted Inigo’s appeal, and refused to consider his idle dreams and decided to become a close follower of Christ. Favre and Xavier were the first to associate themselves with Inigo in the formation of a group of companions out of which would grow the Society of Jesus. Four others, Salmeron, Roadrigues, Laynes and Bobadilla, having joined them, the seven made their well-known vow at Montmartre (Paris), on 15 August 1534, binding themselves to the service of God.

The service of God led Francis Xavier to India. Ordained a priest with Inigo in June 1537, at Venice, the companions went to Rome where they put themselves at the disposal of the Pope, and prepared the foundation of the Society of Jesus. Before written approval of the Order was received from the Pope (September 1540), Xavier was appointed to substitute for the sick Bobadilla, who, at the request of King John III of Portugal, was to have gone to minister to the Christians of South-East India. Xavier left Rome for Lisbon where he remained nine months, and occupied himself in giving catechism, hearing confessions, and tending to the prisoners of the Inquisition, before he could sail for India.

Appointed Apostolic Nuncio in the East, Xavier embarked for India on his 35th birthday, 7 April 1541. After an adventurous and dangerous journey, interrupted by winter spent in Mozambique, he landed at Goa 13 months later, on 6 May 1542. He immediately busied himself learning the language, preaching and ministering to the sick in the Goa hospital, and composing a catechism. Success came quickly, for he had a special way of dealing with people, individually and in groups, a cheerful manner that was irresistible, and he soon became known as “the holy priest”.

In September 1542 he set out for the Pearl Fishery Coast (Cape Comorin), where Christianity had been introduced a few years earlier but had almost disappeared owing to lack of priests. Xavier devoted 2 years to the work of preaching to the Paravas, with notable success. Multitudes flocked to hear him and his followers were counted in their thousands.

Francis’ zeal for establishing Christianity knew no bounds. He visited Malacca and other islands that he referred to as Moluccas(1545-1547). At Malacca in 1547, he met Japanese, called Anjiro, from whom he gathered information concerning Japan. Back in Goa(1548-49), he settled out-standing matters, saw to the establishment of the Society of Jesus in India, inspired and directed the works undertaken, and then set out for Japan with two Jesuit companions and the Japanese Anjiro, on 17 April 1549. After an apostolate of two years and three months in Japan, the Christian community in that nation numbered some 2000 and later increased rapidly. Leaving Father de Torres in charge of the Mission, Xavier returned to Malacca, where at the end of 1551, he was appointed Provincial of the newly erected Province of India, and then continued his journey to Goa where he arrived at the end of February 1552.

During his studies at the College of St. Barbe, Francis became a friend of his room companion, Peter Favre, a Savoyard of the same age as Francis, and doing the same studies. But more significant was the arrival in 1529 of a new room-mate, Inigo de Loyola, a Spanish nobleman, 37 years old, who had come from Barcelona to complete his studies at Paris. This Inigo was a very special kind of man, who, besides studying Latin and Philosophy, also gave “Spiritual Exercises” to fellow students and teachers, leading them to “Conversion”, i.e. a better Christian life, even to forsaking the world. Favre was won over to Inigo’s ideal without too much resistance; with Francis, however, it was otherwise. But as an old soldier, Inigo knew how to storm the fortress of the proud and ambitious Navarrese at its weakest point. With patience, charity and perseverance, he impressed upon his friend Francis: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

After settling once again outstanding affairs and problems of the Province of India of the Society of Jesus, Xavier now turned his attention to China. He had heard much of that empire during his stay in Japan, and he knew what an important influence its conversion would have upon the Japanese. He left his beloved India for Malacca and then for China where his ship reached the desolate island of Sancian (Shang-chwan) near the Chinese coast and not far from Canton, at the end of August 1552. There, while trying to arrange means of gaining entry into China, he was seized by fever on 21 November, 1552. He grew weaker, and in the early morning of 3 December 1552, he died. He was buried the following day. After more than two months the grave and coffin were opened, and his body was found to be incorrupt and fresh. It was taken first to Malacca and then to Goa where it is still enshrined in the Church of the God Jesus. Canonized in 1622, St Francis Xavier is also honored as Patron of all Missions as well as of navigators.

The ambitious, proud, hard-working, dedicated and upright man saw his great desire of achieving fame and a lucrative and influential position and life, fulfilled, – not for himself but for Christ. He underwent a complete conversion and his life-ambition turned into an ambition of total dedication to Christ and to bring Christ’s message to the world. Francis Xavier’s charity reflects the love of God for all men; his care for education was inspired by God’s desire to see men living a decent human life; the hardship and suffering he endured were cheerfully and courageously accepted as the price of inner freedom. His fiery and dynamic character, prayer and unstinted labour, were all put generously and fully in the service of others to bring glory to God and happiness to men. St Francis Xavier has something to tell us, Xaverians.