Francis Solano


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Franciscan priest called ‘The Apostle of America’. He was born at Montilla (near Cordoba) and proved a lively, energetic, and self-willed student at the nearby Jesuit school. In 1569 he entered the Franciscan Order at Montilla, where he practised severe austerities. In 1572 he was sent to Seville, where he was ordained priest in 1576. For a short time he was novice-master and developed into an effective preacher, but in the plague of Granada (1583) he first nursed the sick and was then struck down himself. After his recovery he volunteered to go on the foreign missions. This was at first refused, but when Philip II asked for more friars to be sent to South America, Francis was chosen.

His first experience of a journey to Peru was almost fatal. When a violent storm arose and his ship was nearly wrecked, the Spaniards went for help in a lifeboat, but Francis stayed on board with the eighty African slaves. Part of the ship survived, Francis and the slaves reached land, their morale strengthened by his exhortations and baptism; eventually they reached Lima after living on fruit for a two-month journey.

For the next twenty years Francis travelled many thousands of miles through Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina, both converting the native population to Christianity and reminding the Spanish rulers vigorously of their duties of justice and integrity. He was first sent to Tucuman (Argentina), where he learnt the native dialects, and then moved to Paraguay, where he supervised the missions he had established, with both priests and catechists to provide for the needs of the large congregations. Later he was appointed Guardian of Lima, where he preached eloquently against its corruption, comparing the fate of individual souls to that of a doomed city. The viceroy appealed to St Turibius for calm, and Francis complied without compromise.

In character he was very austere and disciplined, but would play his lute and sing both for his community and as an act of veneration of the Blessed Virgin. He died at Lima at the age of sixty and deserves to be better known. He is however patron saint of Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. His relics are in Buenos Aires and Rome. He was canonized in 1726. Feast: 14 July.

AA.SS. Iul. V (1868), 847–910;F. Royer, St Francis Solanus, Apostle to America (1955);Bibl. SS., v. 1241–4; H.S.S.C., viii. 290.

Subjects: Christianity.

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