By Kelly Legg

A canonized saint that is honored as a special protector is known as a patron saint. A patron saint may also be a benefactor of persons in a certain occupation or a guardian of those who bear the saint’s name. A patron saint may be invoked to intercede with God for help in a time of special need.

This month we are learning some interesting history about Saint Francis Xavier, who is considered the patron saint of missionaries.

Francis Xavier was born in 1506 near what is now present-day Spain. He was a member of a noble family and his childhood was one of privilege.

Xavier went to study at the University of Paris where he met Ignatius of Loyola, who had experienced a religious conversion. Inspired by his friend, Xavier pledged himself to a lifelong devotion to God and started the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). He made vows of celibacy and poverty and he became a priest on June 24, 1537.

Xavier felt called to disciple to the people of India, Japan and China. He first arrived in Goa, India where he lived and worked side by side with the poor. Seeking more converts, Xavier continued to travel; his stops included Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands and the Malay Peninsula.

Xavier’s next focus for missionary work was China. He was unable to enter the country because borders had been closed to foreigners. While waiting to enter China, he became ill and died at the age of 46. His body was then taken back to India.

Ten weeks after his death, when the saint’s body was exhumed to be taken to India, it was found to be perfectly incorrupt. Today the body of St. Francis Xavier is dry and shrunken, but there is no corruption. Many parts of the body, notably the right arm, have been removed and sent to various places as most precious relics. In 1974, the body of the saint (in a glass case) was exhibited for viewing for a six-week period. Today it rests in a silver reliquary in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India.

Though he passed away at a relatively young age, Xavier had accomplished much in his life, including baptizing more than 30,000 people.

Stay tuned next month as we learn about Saint Catherine of Bologna.