July 2, 2020 — Today is the feast day of St. John Francis Regis, a 17th-century French Jesuit known for his zealous missionary efforts and his care for the poor and marginalized, especially at-risk women and orphans.
St. Regis was born on Jan. 31, 1597, in southern France to a wealthy merchant father and a mother descended from nobility. Educated by the Jesuits from the age of 14, he entered the Society of Jesus in December 1616 at age 19. He was ordained a priest in 1630 at age 34.
In 1632, St. Regis received his assignment as a missionary to the French Protestants — known as Huguenots — as well as the country’s lapsed Catholics and others in need of evangelization. This work spanned both a broad geographical distance and a wide social spectrum — he preached the Gospel to children, the poor, prisoners and others forgotten by society in over 50 districts of France. He lived off apples, bread and whatever came to hand, preferring to spend his time preaching, teaching and hearing confessions.
His best-known work involved helping women escape prostitution by establishing safe houses for prostitutes who wished to leave the business and helping them find other jobs. He helped many become trained lace makers, which provided them with a stable income. Thus, he is known as the patron saint of lace makers.
St. Regis passed away on Dec. 31, 1640, at age 43. He had been suffering from a lung ailment, but insisted on preaching a parish mission and hearing confessions. A penitent found him unconscious in the confessional, and he was revived long enough to receive last rites before dying. His last words were “Jesus, my Savior, I recommend my soul to you.”
Hailed as a confessor of the faith and a model for Jesuit missionaries, St. Regis was beatified on May 24, 1716, by Pope Clement XI and canonized on June 16, 1737, by Pope Clement XII.
After his death, Regis Societies were formed throughout France and focused on outreach to the poor and teaching in rural areas. Today, St. Regis’ name lives on across the world. There is a St. Regis Lake, Mount St. Regis, Regis High School (in both Manhattan and Denver), Regis University in Denver and St. Regis Hotels.