What’s in a name? This question may be cliché by now, but we often forget what a name actually means. For example, the very name of our school is just that: the name of our school. In most candid conversations, at least among students, it is almost never in our minds that the word “Xavier” actually stands for a VIP, or very important preacher/priest, in the history of the Society of Jesus.
St. Francis Xavier, our patron saint, should be honored beyond the customary portrait hanging on the wall of our classrooms, beyond even his feast day on December 3. After all, he achieved in ten years what most of us couldn’t in practically our whole lives, but despite all the supplementary lessons we students have up to Grade 3 or 4, St. Francis, when mentioned, has rung a bell in our minds for so long, that it is actually hard to actually remember what exactly he did in his 46 years of existence. We all know by heart, as part of our stock knowledge, who St. Francis is, but it’s harder to remember the specifics. What did he do?
I feel that St. Francis Xavier should be called St. Francis of Xavier like St. Ignatius of Loyola, because he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in Xavier, Navarre, Spain. He was born in 1506 to an aristocratic family which unfortunately turned destitute. St. Francis was bent on restoring his family’s fortune and regaining their material wealth, but in the end, he got more than what he bargained for. In 1525, he went to the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris, France to complete his education. It is in this college where he met with Peter Faber, another Jesuit priest, and Ignatius. Ignatius inspired Peter and Francis to join him in forming the Society of Jesus at the hill of Montmartre in Paris with four other men.
St. Francis Xavier is considered the greatest missionary since the apostles, and rightly so. He traveled more than 100,000 km in ten years of missionary work. He converted thousands of people to Christianity in Mozambique, India, Malacca, the Moluccas, and Japan. He preached to the natives of Mozambique and tended their sick on his way to Goa in India. He lived among the natives of Goa and adopted their customs. He would ring a bell repeatedly in one hand while holding a cross in the other to attract a sizable crowd of children. He would explain the Catechism in a nearby church, baptizing them by the hordes. St. Francis was later made a provincial of the then-new province of India. He went to Malacca and converted many despite the natives’ resistance to his efforts. On his way there, he lost his cross at sea only to find it at shore carried by a crab, hence the miracle story of the Crab and the Cross. He then went the Moluccas, where the Portuguese had some settlements, and preached there for more than a year. He went to Japan, learning their language and conveying the Word of God until he was banished by the Buddhist monks in the area. He then moved to other cities of Japan, establishing Christian communities there.
St. Francis Xavier always had a vision to go to China because he was intrigued by the potential of converting such a vast region, despite their isolation from Christianity. He set out for China in 1552 until a terrible fever struck him as he was in the island of San Chuan, China. He was within sight of his goal, yet he died before he was able to reach the mainland. His dream of evangelizing China was fulfilled though by the Jesuit Matteo Ricci around 30 years later.
It is truly an honor to have such a great example of service to God as our patron saint. St. Francis Xavier, through his example, validates the saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” Despite the large distance and the opposition of the natives, he was able to convert a lot of people to Christianity in just ten years. As Xaverians, we should all give tribute to St. Francis by emulating the example of our patron saint in being “men for others.” Like him, we should all try to “win the world for God,” in our own little ways.