I grew up near Clapham South Tube Station in London and my brother went for a time to Clapham College. It was run by the Xaverian Brothers. The Xaverian Brothers are a religious institute founded in 1839 and named after Saint Francis Xavier. It is now a thriving Catholic Sixth Form College.
I next came across St Francis Xavier when preparing for a thirty day retreat and was asked to read the autobiography of St Ignatius Loyola. Here I learn that when in Paris, Francis Xavier met Ignatius. He was 24 at the time. Ignatius’s tireless persuasion finally won the young man to Christ. Francis then made the spiritual exercises under the direction of Ignatius, and in 1534, joined his little community, the infant Society of Jesus.
He was ordained a priest in 1537, Xavier went to Lisbon and from there sailed to the East Indies, landing at Goa, on the west coast of India. For the next 10 years he laboured to bring the faith to such widely scattered peoples as the Hindus, the Malayans, and the Japanese. He spent much of that time in India, and served as provincial of the newly established Jesuit province of India.
Wherever he went, Xavier lived with the poorest people, sharing their food and rough accommodations. He spent countless hours ministering to the sick and the poor, particularly to lepers. Very often he had no time to sleep or even to say his breviary but, as we know from his letters, he was filled always with joy. Xavier went through the islands of Malaysia, then up to Japan. He learned enough Japanese to preach to simple folk, to instruct, and to baptise, and to establish missions for those who were to follow him. From Japan he had dreams of going to China, but this plan was never realised. Before reaching the mainland, he died. His remains are enshrined in the Church of Good Jesus in Goa.
He and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux were declared co-patrons of the missions in 1925. St. Xavier ranks among the greatest missionaries in Christian history. Historians place the number of baptisms at roughly 30,000 people; tradition cites numbers up to 100,000. Debra Mooney Ph.D. Writes “ Today, such missionary accomplishments may be challenging to appreciate in light of present day plurality, cultural relativism, and global engagement, yet a great deal can be learned from Xavier in the way he conducted his life and work with meaning and purpose.”
Lord God, you won so many peoples to yourself
by the preaching of Saint Francis Xavier.
Give us the same zeal that he had for the faith,
and let your Church rejoice
and see the virtue and number of her children increase throughout the world.