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Saint Francis Borgia

The third Superior General of the Jesuits, Saint Francis Borgia, played a critical role in the spread of the Society of Jesus throughout the world during its formative years, particularly with respect to the founding of colleges and centres of education.

Born in Gandia, Spain, in 1510, Francis Borgia was the great grandson of Pope Alexander VI, who had infamously kept several mistresses. His father was Juan Borgia, the third Duke of Gandia, a nobleman with many familial connections to other noble houses across Europe. As a child, Borgia had a pious attitude and desire to be a monk, despite this however, at eighteen he was sent to the court of King Charles I of Spain, a relation of his. A year later he married Leonor de Castro Mello y Meneses, a Portuguese noblewoman with whom he had eight children.

Borgia remained at the court of the king, holding several appointments, the last of which, in 1539, was as viceroy of Catalonia. Then in 1543 with the death of his father Borgia became the fourth Duke of Gandia. However, three years later his wife died, and Borgia found himself turning to God more than ever. He set about putting his affairs in order before he could renounce his titles in favour of his eldest son to pursue religious life. He secretly joined the Society of Jesus in 1547 but it wasn’t until 1550 that Borgia travelled to Rome where he was publicly accepted into the Society of Jesus by St Ignatius himself.

A year later Borgia was ordained a priest and three years after that he was made commissary-general for Spain, despite his desire for a quiet life of pastoral work and solitude. Given his connections and governing experience, he was ideally suited to this position and was instrumental in the further establishment of the Jesuits in Spain; during his time as commissary-general he founded a dozen Jesuit colleges.

After the death of Diego Laynez in 1556, Borgia was elected the third Superior General of the Jesuits. The society was still in its first stages of development, having been founded only twenty six years earlier. In that time it had grown vastly in numbers and spread across the world; Borgia set about solidifying this universal presence, with the establishing of colleges and the close supervision of the affairs of the Order. He continued his work until his death in 1572. Francis Borgia was beatified in 1624 and canonised by Pope Clement X in 1670.

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