Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – Saint Francis Xavier, Apostle of the Indies

Saint Francis XavierArticle

Saint Francis Xavier was descended from the ancient kings of Aragon, and was born 7 April 1506, in the castle of Xavier, a few leagues from Panipeluna. He was the young est of a large family and was chosen to assume and perpetuate his mother’s name of Xavier, she being the last of her race. His father, a man of noble birth, was a jurisconsult of distinction and a great favorite of his sovereign. Xavier’s brothers chose the military career, but he had inherited his father’s studious disposition and was sent to the University of Paris to pursue his studies, that he might make illustrious his family by his literary attain ments, as other members had done by their feats at arms. His talents justified their expectations, and after taking his degree he began to lecture with success. It was at Paris he was providentially brought in contact with Saint Ignatius Loyola, who, after many repulses, at length effected his conversion to a higher life by constant repetition of the text: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Xavier had been brought up religiously and lived an irreproachable life amid the corruption and license of the gay capital, but he was proud by nature and ambitious of worldly distinction. A thorough change was now wrought in his soul, and, resolving to devote his life irrevocably to God in the strictest sense of the term, he became one of the first members of the Society of Jesus and accompanied Saint Ignatius and his little band to Italy on foot. This was a disappointment to his parents, but his sfster, Dona Magdalena, who, after spending her youth at the court of his Catholic Majesty, had become a nun at Gandia, with the keen spiritual insight often given to people of saintly life, foretold her brother’s apostolic career and reconciled her parents to his course.

Saint Xavier was ordained priest at Venice, and then with drew for forty days to a little cabin among the Euganean hills to prepare for his first Mass, which he said at Vicenza. Appointed by St. Ignatius to the mission of the Indies, he embarked at Lisbon in April, 1541, but did not arrive at Goa till May, 1542, after a voyage of thirteen months. The hardships and difficulties of such a voyage can now be scarcely conceived, so great have been the improvements in navigation. A thousand people were crowded into the vessel, and their misery, sufferings, and defects of character made it a place of horror terrible to be confined in. But Xavier, though the dignity of papal nuncio had been conferred on him, became their physician, nurse, comforter, and father. He gave up his room to them, distributed among them the choicest dishes at his table, preached to them, and reconciled them to God, thereby converting the ship into a place of order and religious sobriety.

In India he first labored along the coast of Malabar and Travancore, where he founded forty-five churches, and by the year 1548 there were two hundred thousand Christians. He then went to Ceylon, Malacca, and the Spice Islands, where he met with equal success. In the island of Moro alone he won twenty-nine towns and villages to the kingdom of Christ, and he converted the whole city of Tolo, consisting of twenty-five thousand souls. So many flocked to him for baptism that on one occasion he could no longer raise his arm from exhaustion, and his voice became extinct from incessant repetition of the truths of religion.

He conformed as far as possible to the habits of the people among whom he labored. He never touched wine. He never tasted wheat bread, unless at the table of Europeans, for he generally took what was placed before him. When alone or with the natives he lived on rice, or, by way of better cheer, a little fish without any seasoning. His shoes being worn out or given away, he went barefoot, and he slept on the ground in a poor cabin or in the open air, but only three hours at a time, giving the remainder of the night to prayer and the service of his neighbor.

His success in propagating the Gospel was not without much opposition and constant peril. He was beaten. He was stoned. He was wounded twice. His life was attempt ed by poison. He was shot with an arrow. Though longing for martyrdom, he often concealed himself in caves or the depths of forests, that he might still live to win souls to Christ. He often crossed the tempestuous seas of the East at the risk of his life, serene when the very waves threatened to engulf him.

Saint Xavier succeeded in landing at Japan August 15, 1549, and so effectually did he sow the seed of the Gospel that when a persecution against Christians was declared about forty-five years after there were two hundred and fifty churches and four hundred thousand converts. In 1590 no less than twenty thousand natives were put to death for the faith.

Saint Xavier then endeavored to penetrate into China, at that time forbidden to foreigners under penalty of death, and had reached the isle of Sancian, where the Portuguese had a foothold, when, abandoned by his guide, he was laid up with a fever in a hospital-ship for sailors and soldiers; but their noise disturbing his union with God, he expressed a wish to be taken ashore, where he was left on the sands, exposed to a burning sun by day and cold blasts by night. A compassionate Portuguese at length bore him to a rude shelter, where he died with his eyes fastened on his crucifix, crying, “In thee, O Lord, I have hoped!”, 2 December 1552, aged forty-six. He was buried at the foot of a hill on one side of the harbor, and his grave marked by two heaps of stones set up by the Portuguese. A chapel has since been erected on the spot, in the centre of which is a tablet in the pavement bearing the following inscription in Portuguese and Chinese: “Here was deposited Saint Francis Xavier, of the Society of Jesus, Apostle of the East. This stone was placed here in 1639.” His remains were taken to Goa in 1553, where they have been placed in a magnificent shrine in a large church bearing his name. His right arm, however – the arm and hand that had baptized so many thousands – was taken to Rome, where, on high festivals, it may be seen in a rich reliquary on his altar in the Gesu.

The number of converts made by Saint Francis Xavier were rated at seven hundred thousand in the documents to prove his sanctity; but it was impossible to fully estimate them, and the Sovereign Pontiff, in the bull of his canonization, declares them to be in number like the stars in the heavens or the sands on the sea-shore.

Of Saint Xavier’s letters, 136 have been published – the last written from the isle of Sancian only nineteen days before his death. They are all eminently characteristic, displaying the solidity of his judgment, the breadth and keenness of his mind, the fervor of his piety, his unbounded zeal for the salvation of souls, and his attach ment to the Society of Jesus.

Saint Xavier’s beautiful Latin hymn, “O Deus! ego amo te,” that breathes so fully the fervor and unselfish nature of his piety, has thus been translated by Longfellow:

“O God! my spirit loves but thee:
Not that in heaven its home may be,
Nor that the souls that love not thee
Shall groan in fire eternally.

“But thou on the accursed tree
In mercy hast embraced me;
For me the cruel nails, the spear,
The ignominious scoff, didst bear,
Countless, unutterable woes –
The bloody sweat, death’s pangs and throes,
These thou didst bear, all these for me,
A sinner and estranged from thee.

“And wherefore no affection show,
Jesu, to thee that lov’st me so?
Not in that heaven my home may be,
Nor lest I die eternally,
Nor from the hopes of joys above me;
But even as thou thyself didst love me
So love I and will ever love thee,
Solely because my King art thou.
My God for evermore as now.”

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Francis Xavier, Apostle of the Indies”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1884. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 January 2017. Web. 31 October 2020. <>