Francis Borgia


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Jesuit priest. The son of the duke of Gandia, the great-grandson of a pope (Alexander VI) and of a king (Ferdinand V of Aragon), Francis was educated privately and was received at the Emperor's court when eighteen years of age. The next year he married, and was made viceroy of Catalonia by Charles V. In 1543 he became Duke of Gandia, but his career suffered a setback through his suppression of magistrates' corruption, and he retired to his estate, which he improved, fortified, and enriched with a Dominican foundation and the restoration of a hospital. His happy family life as the father of eight children ended when his wife died in 1546. In 1547 he secretly joined the Society of Jesus. He resigned his dukedom in favour of his eldest son, and made provision for the others. The news of this extraordinary recruit to the Society could not remain secret; although he tried hard to conceal his rank, his ability could not be hidden. He was ordained priest in 1554 and was appointed Commissary for Spain and Portugal by Ignatius of Loyola. There he made full use of the experience he had previously acquired in governing Catalonia, and founded many colleges and other houses.

In 1561 he was called to Rome; in 1565 he was elected General of the Jesuits. For the remaining seven years of his life he was so zealous in government that he has been called the Jesuits' second founder. Both in the reform of Christian life in Europe and in its propagation overseas Francis actively inspired and supported his priests. In Rome he helped to found and direct the Roman College (later called the Gregorian University), he built the church of St Andrew on the Quirinal, and began the famous Gesù church. He established a new province in Poland, new colleges in France, and initiated Jesuit missionary work in the Americas. In 1566, when the plague raged in Rome, he raised money for poor-relief and sent his priests to tend the sick in the hospitals. In 1571, accompanying a papal ambassador to Spain, Portugal, and France, he enjoyed great personal success, but, worn out with sickness and responsibility, he died soon after the journey was over, having blessed and prayed for all his children and grandchildren in turn. He was canonized in 1671. Feast: 10 October.

AA.SS. Oct. V (1786), 149–291; over 1,000 letters survive in Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu (5 vols., 1894–1911);Opera Omnia were published at Brussels in 1675. The early Life by P. de Ribadeneira, Vida del P. Francisco de Borja (1596) is uncritical; more reliable portraits by P. Suau (1910), O. Karrer, Der heilige Franz von Borja (1921), and M. Yeo, The Greatest of the Borgias (1936). See also J. Brodrick, The Origin of the Jesuits (1940); id., The Progress of the Jesuits (1946);C. de Dalmasses and J. F. Gilmont, ‘Las obras de San Francisco de Borgia’, Archiv. Histor. Societatis Iesu, xxx (1961), 125–79.

Subjects: Christianity — Early Modern History (1500 to 1700).

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