| By Candace Bryant-Lester

St. Francis Xavier

1506-52 | Feast: Dec. 3

Patron of missions and co-founder of the Jesuits

St. Ignatius of Loyola didn’t start the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, alone – he had the help of six companions, one of whom was one of the Church’s greatest missionaries, also known as the Apostle of the Indies and Japan.

Francis Xavier hailed from a noble family in the Basque region of northern Spain; he left the area at the age of 19 to study and eventually teach at the University of Paris. There, he met Ignatius of Loyola, and the two initially clashed: While Francis had worldly ambitions, Ignatius sought to glorify God. Ignatius’ austere influence eventually broke down Francis’ resistance, and Francis gave himself over to God’s will. In 1534, Ignatius, Francis and the other companions met in the crypt of a church on the hill of Montmartre to make vows of poverty, chastity, dedication to the Gospel and obedience to the pope. Three years later, Francis was ordained, and the formation of the Society of Jesus came about in 1540 upon approval of Pope Paul III.

In the months following, the Society was charged with sending missionaries abroad. Francis was joyful and enthusiastic to be a part of this venture. He cared for the sick, taught children and catechized the baptized of India, the Indonesian islands and Japan. Francis preached and converted thousands, creating Christian missions wherever he went. He is considered one of the greatest Christian missionaries in the history of the Church, and many believe he baptized more people than anyone had done since St. Paul.

Francis was canonized alongside Ignatius of Loyola by Pope Gregory XV in 1622; he is the patron of Catholic missions.