Jean-François Régis was born on 31 January 1597, in Fontcouverte, Aude, in the Languedoc region of southern France. His father, Jean Régis, had recently been made a noble as a result of service rendered during the Wars of the League. His mother, Marguerite de Cugunhan, was also of a noble family.
He was educated at the Jesuit College of Béziers. On 8th December 1616, when he was nineteen, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Toulouse and took his vows two years later.
After finishing his course in rhetoric at Cahors, Regis was sent to teach grammar at several colleges, Billom from 1619–22, Puy-en-Velay from 1625–27, and Auch from 1627–28. While he was teaching, he also pursued studies in philosophy at the Scholasticate at Tournon. Noted for an intense love of preaching and teaching the Faith, as well as the desire to save souls, Regis began his study of theology at Toulouse in 1628.
Less than two years later, in 1630, he was ordained a priest at age 31. The following year, having completed his studies, Regis made his tertianship.
He was now fully prepared for his lifework and entered his apostolic career in the summer of 1631. He was a tireless worker who spent most of his life serving the marginalized. As a newly ordained priest, he worked with bubonic plague victims in Toulouse.
From May 1632 until September 1634, his headquarters was at the Jesuit College of Montpellier. Here he laboured for the conversion of the Huguenots, visited hospitals, assisted the needy, withdrew from vice wayward women and girls, and preached Catholic doctrine with tireless zeal to children and the poor.
St. Regis is best known for his work with at-risk women and orphans. He established safe houses and found jobs for them. He established the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, which organized charitable collections of money and food from the wealthy.
He also established several hostels for prostitutes and helped many become trained lace makers, which provided them with a stable income and an opportunity to avoid the threat of exploitation.
In 1633, the saint went to the Diocese of Viviers at the invitation of the local Bishop, Monsignor Louis II de la Baume de Suze, giving missions throughout the diocese. From 1633-40, he evangelized more than fifty districts in le Vivarais, le Forez, and le Velay.
Regis laboured diligently on behalf of both priests and laypersons. His preaching style was said to have been simple and direct.
His labours reaped a harvest of conversions. However, his boldness perceived as arrogance in some cases, led to a conflict with certain other priests, a period of tension with the local Bishop, and even threats of violence from those whose vices he condemned. Hahaha. Typical!
Although he longed to devote himself to the conversion of the indigenous inhabitants of Canada, he remained in France all his life. He walked from town to town, in rough mountainous areas where travel was difficult, especially in the winter. He died of pneumonia at age forty-three on 31st December 1640, at Lalouvesc, Ardèche, in France’s Dauphiné region.
In a 1997 letter to the Bishop of Viviers, Pope John Paul II commemorated the fourth centenary of St. John Francis Regis’ birth, honoring him as a “lofty figure of holiness” and an example for the Church in the modern world. Today, Regis’ name lives on across the world.
St John Francis Regis, pray for us. Amen. Happy feast day to all John Francis.
Compiled by Elvira Kudiabor