St. John Francis Regis was born in 1597. His father was a wealthy merchant, and his mother was descended from nobility. When John was young, he was devout, and eager to please his parents and teachers. He was educated by the Jesuits from the age of 14, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1616.
John followed the traditional Jesuit path of teaching and studying, and found that he was a skilled catechist. He was eager to enter the priesthood, offering his first Mass in 1631. For the rest of that year, John spent most of his time caring for victims of a plague outbreak in Toulouse.
In 1632, John was assigned as a missionary to the French Protestants, known as Huguenots, as well as the country’s lapsed Catholics. He spent the rest of his life in service of this mission.
John’s missionary work spanned 50 districts of France and a wide social spectrum. He preached the Gospel to children, prisoners, the poor, and the forgotten. He was well-known for helping women escape prostitution.
John’s work led to many conversions, but his boldness, which some perceived as arrogance, led to conflicts with other priests, a period of tension with the local bishop, and even threats from those whose vices he condemned.
John persevered, praying fervently and living an ascetic lifestyle. He often traveled through difficult winter conditions, and one witness at his beatification testified that John often preached outdoors all day, then heard confessions throughout the night.
At the age of 43, John died, in December 1640. He had suffered from a sickness in his lungs, but insisted on preaching a parish mission and hearing confessions. A penitent found him unconscious in the confessional, and he only came to long enough to receive last rites before dying.
St. John Francis Regis was beatified in 1716 and canonized in 1737. He is hailed as a confessor of the faith and a model for Jesuit missionaries. Although his feast day was established on June 16, the Jesuits celebrate St. John on July 2.