Francis Xavier was born in the Castle of Xavier, in Navarre, Spain.
The youngest of a large noble family linked to Spanish royalty, he had ambitious dreams, and at eighteen set out to study law at the University of Paris. Good-looking, intelligent, charming and regal in stature, young Xavier had the world at his feet.
Having attained his Degree, he one day met a man – somewhat old among such a young class – who had the appearance of a soldier, yet the air of a hermit. Like himself, he was a nobleman from Northern Spain. His name: Ignatius of Loyola.
Ignatius had recently undergone a profound conversion, had spent a long time in solitude and was now studying Latin in preparation for the priesthood. He was also feeling the call to found a new company of men, soldiers willing to fight for the kingdom of Christ on earth.
Detecting in Xavier the seeds of greatness, Ignatius endeavoured to turn Xavier’s worldly ambition heavenward. Every time the two met, Ignatius commented, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if, in the end he loses his soul?”
In the end, Xavier was among the first seven men who vowed themselves to the service of God at Montmartre in 1534, the first members of the Company of Jesus, or Jesuits.
Appointed as a missionary to the East Indies in 1541, Francis Xavier finally arrived in Goa after a gruelling sea voyage lasting thirteen months. He had also been nominated by the Pope as “Apostolic Nuncio to the islands of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, as well as to the provinces and places of India… and the promontory called the Cape of Good Hope, and beyond.”
At his missionary post, Francis Xavier was untiring in the pursuit of souls, ministering not only to the natives of India and the Malabar Coast, but to the Portuguese colonizers of the area, who, at times, had lapsed into scandalous conduct. His unquenchable zeal was also full of charitable tact and he made people feel he was one of them. With the learned he was learned, with those in authority he was a statesman, with the simple he was simple, and with the poor he was poor. His charity and charm were irresistible, and his power of miracles amazing. For people ignorant of the Faith, he fit the truths of religion to popular tunes that spread all over. He once baptized so many in a day, he could hardly lift his arms.
In 1549, hearing of the island of Japan, which had never been introduced to Christ, he set out with a Jesuit priest, a lay brother, and three Japanese converts. Learning Japanese in a short time, and realizing that evangelical poverty did not have the same appeal in Japan as in India, he presented himself and his retinue to the authorities as representatives of Portugal. They wore fine clothes and offered costly gifts, provided by the authorities of India. St. Francis Xavier planted in Japan the first seeds of Christianity.
In 1553 Xavier fulfilled another great dream, that of reaching China. Prevented by a fever from reaching the mainland itself, he died within sight of it, on the island of Sancian.
He was only forth-six years old. His body, incorrupt despite having been laid in lime, was brought back to Malacca where it was received with great honours. Later translated to Goa, it remains incorrupt to this day.
Francis Xavier was canonized in 1622 along with Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Isidore the Farmer.
In 1927, Pope Pius XI declared St. Francis Xavier and the then recently-canonized St. Thérèse of Lisieux, patron Saints of all Catholic foreign missions.