Father Joseph Boenzi, faithful son of Don Bosco, provides the reader with a comprehensive study of Francis de Sales and his spirituality. As both a true scholar and disciple, Fr. Boenzi searches for every detail to make St. Francis and his friends come alive, and as a follower in the Salesian family he introduces the Saint as a model and most lovable companion.
Francis de Sales: Life and Spirit by Father Joseph Boenzi, SDB
Book Review by Father Roland Calvert, OSFS
This is a remarkable compendium of Salesian material, the result of Fr. Boenzi’s extensive
scholarship on Francis. He has given innumerable retreats, talks and classes on Francis
and his spirituality, and this book is a valuable summation of his studies.
In the preface the author defines Salesian Spirituality using the Vatican II phrase,
“the universal call to holiness.” This spirituality has a common sense approach: “God is
sought in the ordinary events of life where the profane is not separated from the sacred.”
Father Boenzi begins with a review of Francis’ life. He has many original comments
and insights. One of the salient early points is that Francis was a Savoyard and not
a Frenchman. Francis wrote in the French language, but the Duchy of Savoy was quite
separate from France and often in conflict with it.
The capital of Savoy was Turin which eventually became part of Italy. Francis spoke
Italian fluently and studied at the University of Padua as well as Paris. So he is a
Savoyard and a reflection of the complex culture found in that duchy.
A particularly valuable section of the book is a description of all the major publications
of Francis and some of his lesser known works. One learns much about Francis in his
attitude toward these publications. In 1600, for example, he published “The Defense of
the Holy Cross of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” In 1613 a pirated edition with inflated language
and a new title (“Pantology”) appeared. Francis protested: “Such boastful title pages
horrify me.” He cared very much about how his works were presented to the public.
It is fitting that he’s the patron of writers.
Francis gave a key to how he wrote when he commented in a letter to Jane about
his masterpiece, the Treatise on the Love of God: “I will attempt to write it in my heart
as I put it down on paper.”
Father Boenzi has additional sections on St. Jane de Chantal and her writings.
He then examines the historical sources of Francis’ spirituality and reflects on
Francis as a theologian. There is a valuable listing of religious congregations
and other groups who have been deeply influenced by Salesian spirituality.
Francis de Sales: Life and Spirit is a rich treasury of Salesian material that will
benefit those advanced in their knowledge as well as neophytes. We are indebted
to the author for this beautiful distillation of his extensive studies.