John Francis Regis


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Jesuit priest. He was born in Fontcouverte in south-eastern France and passed most of his life in that area. He went to school at Béziers and decided to become a Jesuit, entering the Toulouse novitiate in 1616. As was usual, he spent the next few years in different houses: Cahors, Tournon, Le Puy, and Auch. He returned to Toulouse for his final preparations for the priesthood, but the plague raged in the town for four consecutive years in all and he was sent into the country. Ordained in 1630, he tended the plague-stricken, but when his companion in this work died, he was sent to teach at Pamiers and to act as a missionary in the diocese of Montpellier in 1632. This had suffered the dire effects of the Wars of Religion. The Huguenots had taken over the churches and many Catholics had abandoned their religion. The rest of his life was spent in ceaseless missionary work among the lapsed which was no less necessary and no less daunting than the equivalent task in the foreign missions. John also visited prisons, collected food and clothing for the poor, and even established homes for the rehabilitation of prostitutes.

In mid-September 1640 he had a premonition of death. He spent the next three days in retreat, made a general confession of his whole life, and continued his mission to Louvesc. Snow was falling, the missioners lost their way and sheltered in a wooden hut. They reached the village church on Christmas Eve. Without resting Regis preached at once, heard confessions, and said the Christmas Mass. The next day, in tireless zeal for the good of souls, he caught pneumonia in the draughty church. He fell unconscious, but rallied until 31 December, when he experienced a vision of Heaven. He died soon afterwards. He was canonized in 1737. Feast: 2 July.

J. N. Tylenda, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs (1983), pp. 485–7; Bibl. SS., vi. 1002–7. Lives by R. E. Holland (1922) and A. Foley, A Social Crusader (1941).

Subjects: Christianity.

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