XAVIER, St. Francis

XAVIER, St. Francis
Canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, Francis Xavier led the mission of the Society of Jesus to Asia from 1540 until his death. The force of his person­ality and vivid accounts of his activities extended Jesuit influence to India, Japan, and China and also made Xavier into the quintessential missionary and a symbol of the Counter-Reformation. As the Jesuits' first superior, he naturally laid the foundations of the overseas missions, a philosophy that the Jesuits transplanted to their operations in the Americas.
A member of the Basque aristocracy, Xavier took a master of arts degree at the University of Paris. There he met Ignatius of Loyola* and by 1533 had accepted the way of life later codified in the older man's Spiritual Exercises. On 15 August 1534 Xavier, Ignatius, and their six companions—the founders of the Society of Jesus—vowed to offer their services to the pope and swore themselves to a life of poverty. Xavier was ordained priest in 1537.
The Mediterranean political situation frustrated the companions' plans to visit Jerusalem, but King John III of Portugal, an early supporter of Ignatius, wanted a mission sent to the Indies. The Jesuit leader, after some hesitation, viewed this prospect as vital to the society's political future and to its self-appointed task of furthering Catholic education. He gave Xavier the job, and the mission­ary arrived in Goa on 6 May 1542.
There he translated prayers into Tamil and other Indian languages, taught the catechism, and led simple prayers. He also attracted other Jesuits and traveled far afield in search of fertile territory for his gospel. By 15 August 1549 he and two comrades were in Japan. Highly optimistic about prospects among the Jap­anese, a people he regarded as highly moral, Xavier pursued a policy of catering to the elite in order to receive licenses to preach and minister as well as to induce conversion from the top of Japanese society down to the lower orders. He bestowed gifts that demonstrated Western technology upon officials, intel­lectuals, and other important individuals and generally cultivated Japanese con­tacts based on a common interest in learning. By late 1551 several thousand Japanese had accepted baptism, and this number increased to some 30,000 by 1570.
Xavier learned of China and spent the last year of his life trying to gain entry into that country. However, he was unsuccessful and died on 3 December 1552 just a few miles away from his goal.
J. W. O'Malley, The First Jesuits, 1993.
Louis Roper

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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