St Francis Xavier was a close friend of St Ignatius Loyola, and helped him found the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. He is most honoured for his missionary accomplishments, particularly in India, Southeast Asia and Japan.
Xavier was born in 1506 in the Basque region of northern Spain, the fifth and youngest child of noble parents. At the age of nineteen he left home to study at the University of Paris, where he earned a Masters degree in philosophy and taught the subject for four years before beginning theological studies.
While at university Xavier befriended fellow student Ignatius Loyola, who would go on to have a significant influence on him. In August 1534, he joined Ignatius and five other companions in taking religious vows. Xavier and Ignatius were ordained priests together in 1537. The following year, Xavier went to Rome to take part in the discussions that led to the founding of the Society of Jesus. Xavier then served as the secretary of the Society prior to commencing his missionary travels in 1541.
After assisting several established missions in Africa and India, Xavier began the first Christian mission in Japan in 1549. Three years later he left to do the same in China, but he was denied entry and forced to wait for several months on an island off the Chinese mainland. He died on the island of an acute illness at the age of forty-six. Xavier was canonised in 1622 alongside his companion Ignatius Loyola, and was quickly declared the patron saint of missionaries.
Xavier sought to help others by helping them find God. During his missionary work he wrestled at times with loneliness and a sense of inferiority, yet his steadfast confidence in God enabled him to carry out his mission with infectious enthusiasm. He once wrote to a fellow Jesuit: “In this life, we find our greatest comfort living in the midst of danger, that is, if we confront them solely for the love of God.”
Xavier was charismatic and passionate, and fervently pursued the high standards he set for himself, yet his zeal was complimented by prudence and realism. He likewise balanced openness of spirit with decisive action. A companion once wrote of him: “I have never met anyone more filled with faith and hope, more open-minded than Francis. He never seems to lose his great joy and enthusiasm. He talks to both the good and the bad. Anything he is asked to do, Francis does willingly, simply because he loves everyone.”