How I Discovered the Gentleman Saint

My 10th great-grandfather was dead to begin with. Drowned one stormy night near Quebec back in 1642. An Interpreter, he had been on his way to rescue a man being tortured. A month or so later his widow made an inventory of his possessions.

Inventories are a family historian’s goldmine giving a glimpse—it is hoped—into an ancestor’s personality by the possessions left behind. Grandfather Jean Nicolet, I was pleased to see, left a Library.

But were the books any good?

Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

Scanning the titles I learned he had books about logic, science, sailing, history and religion in his collection. Intrigued by one religious title I checked for an English version. The closest book I could find was one called “Introduction to the Devout Life.” It turned out to be a classic Catholic devotional written by St Francis de Sales, known as the Gentleman Saint because of his kindly manner. It had been published in 1609, thirty-three years before Jean Nicolet’s death, and described how a layperson’s life could be enriched as they practised the devout life in the ordinary occupations of their day.

I downloaded an English version to see what grandfather Jean Nicolet might have been reading a couple hundred years ago and was amazed at how pertinent the Gentleman Saint’s words were.

I have spring-boarded off some of his thoughts in my free devotional Bright as Wildflowers.

I’m grateful my 10th great-grandfather introduced me to the Gentleman Saint and his words of wisdom.

Select Sayings of St. Francis de Sales

“While we are busy and anxious to find out what is the better, we unprofitably let slip the time for doing many good things…the enemy is glad to make you lose time when he cannot make you lose eternity.”

“At the end of your meditation linger a while, and gather, so to say, a little spiritual bouquet from the thoughts you have dwelt upon, the sweet perfume whereof may refresh you through the day.”

“We must not busy ourselves with wanting to do the last day’s journey, but remember that we are to do and work out the first.”

“Let us walk … joyously, dear souls, among the difficulties of this passing life … “

“I leave you the spirit of liberty—not that which excludes obedience, for that is the liberty of the flesh; but that which excludes constraint, scruple and worry.”

“Keep that holy gaiety of heart, which nourishes the strength of the soul, and edifies our neighbour.”

“[God] would never exhort the faithful to persevere if he were not ready to give them the power to do so…though perseverance does not come from our power, yet it comes within our power.”