On the finger of my right hand is a gold ring with a large X on it. It serves as a constant reminder that back in 1988, I graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. It is also a reminder of the constant companionship of my school patron, whose feast we celebrate today. “St. F.X. Day” is an important day on campus as it is the day rings are blessed at the “Ring Ceremony” in anticipation of graduation later that academic year.
St. Francis Xavier was born in Navarre, Spain on April 7, 1506. When he was nineteen, he began his studies at the University of Paris. It was here he met a man who would change his life. This man was another Spaniard named Ignatius from the village of Loyola in the Basque region of Spain. Ignatius suggested that Francis and his roommate Pierre Favre consider the priesthood. Pierre was amenable but Francis had more worldly aspirations and is reported to have scoffed at Ignatius’ suggestion and, indeed, to have made fun of his religious fervour. A call from God is not easily dismissed, however, and eventually, Francis responded. After acquiring his Masters degree and teaching philosophy for a few years, he accepted the call to be ordained on June 24, 1537.
Two years later, Pope Paul III approved the formation of the Society of Jesus – known as the Jesuits – which was then comprised of Ignatius, Francis, Pierre and four others. The men had hoped to travel to the Holy Land to spread the Gospel to the non-believers there. However, then, as for much of history, it was plagued with war. Besides, the pope had other plans. He requested that this band of men go on a mission to India (then a Portuguese colony). Francis was appointed Papal Nuncio in the East. Francis would take on his mission with the fervour which he had previously mocked in Ignatius. He spent time in Goa, India as well as in Japan and China. His work was difficult and, though he had great success, he met with hostility and obstacles that would have deterred many others. He died of a fever on December 3, 1552 on an island off the coast of China, while waiting for a ship to take him to the mainland. He was buried there but later his body was moved to Goa where most of his missionary time had been spent. Francis was canonized by Gregory XV along with his companion Ignatius of Loyola.
I am sure it was due to the guidance of St. Francis Xavier that I found myself constantly crossing Harvard Yard during my Masters of Divinity program to take as many classes as possible from the Jesuits at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I suspect it was also he who led me three years later to enrol as a doctoral student with the Jesuits at Regis College in Toronto, Ontario. The Society of Jesus has had a profound influence on my thought, prayer and spirituality. It seems that St. Francis has been gently guiding me since we were first introduced back when I was eighteen.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!
Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on a Doctorate in Theology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She enjoys exploring the arts, gardening and engaging conversations. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.
Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic Online, Jesuits of Canada, Wikipedia