Biography of St. Francis Xavier
Most definitely to be included in this section
are three great Jesuit missionaries, particularly
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), who is considered
to have been the greatest missionary since St.
Paul. He is known as the “Apostle of the
Indies,” and the “Apostle of Japan.”
In about ten short years (1541-1552) Francis
did the work of a thousand individual missionaries,
spreading the Catholic Faith from Goa (Portuguese
territory in western India), over South India,
Ceylon, Bengal, Cape Comorin, the Moluccas, Spice
Islands, Malacca, and through the China Sea to
Japan where he died alone, except for one companion,
a Chinese youth named Antiry, on the Japanese
island of Sancian, waiting for a ship to China.
On his journeys St. Francis Xavier converted hundreds
of thousands, and the impact of his work lasted
Those exotic lands were vastly different from
the Basque country of his native northern Spain
and the Xavier Castle on the fertile mountain
slope overlooking the Aragon River. There in the
Kingdom of Navarre, Francis Xavier had been born
in 1506, the youngest of the six children of the
Chancellor of Navarre, Don Juan de Jassu (a doctor
of law), and the very beautiful Donna Maria Azpilcueta
Francis Xavier’s was a brilliant and attractive
personality. As a student and lecturer at the
great University of Paris, he came under the influence
of St. Ignatius Loyola. Francis was among the
first seven to take their vows in the fledgling
Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatitus; he
was later the last to make the famed Spiritual
Exercises of St. Ignatius. If Francis had remained
in Europe and the universities he might have become
famous as a great teacher or doctor of the Church,
judging by the promise of his already brilliant
At that time it came about that King John III
of Portugal asked the Pope to send six members
of the new society to do mission work in Asia.
He wanted them to leave in the royal galleon of
the Governor of Portuguese India in April, 1541.
Ignatius could spare only two Jesuits, and one
of them, Bobadilla, became seriously ill with
a severe fever at the last minute. It was apparently
with dismay on the part of both Ignatius and Francis
that the latter became the substitute.
Then and there the history of the Church and
its missions was changed by the workings of Divine
Providence. So often it seems that there is a
“sacrifice of brilliant talents”;
the ability to teach metaphysics in university
classes and the meticulously acquired knowledge
of Greek and Latin give way to the simplest form
of catechism, as a missionary instructs the children,
pagans, and cast-offs of many distant places,
returning again to language study as he struggles
with the idioms of foreign dialects. But God knows
what He is about.
Due to inclement weather it took the packed galleon
of 900 passengers 13 months to complete its voyage.
It arrived at Goa in May, the month of Mary, 1542.
There St. Francis Xavier spent five months before
traveling on to Cape Comorin. In Goa he preached,
cared for the sick and for prisoners, taught children,
and endeavored to bring Christian morality to
the Portuguese there, particularly denouncing
the concubinage which was so prevalent among them.
Besides his numerous cures, there were many other
wonders on St. Francis’ life: gifts of tongues,
predictions, bilocation, calming a storm at sea,
and more. Francis had been “all things to
all men”; he was known and loved (and sometimes
hated) by great and small in all walks of life.
Perhaps the greatest wonder of all is the fact
that he baptized 100,000 with his own hand. That
remarkable right arm is still preserved and venerated.
Apropos of miracles of raising the dead, Butler
speaks of four such events which occurred in one
period alone, according to the canonization process.
Those four resurrections were those of a catechist
bitten by a venomous snake, a child drowned in
a pit, and a young man and a young girl dead of
On the Fishery Coast, St. Francis Xavier worked
enough miracles to fill a large volume. Once when
he was about to begin Mass in a small church at
Coimbatur, a crowd entered with the corpse of
a boy who had been drowned in a well (perhaps
the “pit” mentioned by Butler). His
mother threw herself at the feet of St. Francis,
who was also the one who had baptized this child.
She implored him to restore the boy to life. Francis
said a short prayer, took the dead child by the
hand, and bade him arise. The child rose and immediately
ran to his mother.
There was a pair of youths who accompanied Francis
as catechists. During the night one of them was
bitten in the foot by a “cobra da capello.”
In the morning the youth was found dead. Francis
took some saliva from his own mouth, touched the
foot of the poisoned catechist, made the Sign
of the Cross over him, took him by the hand and
bade him arise in the Name of Jesus Christ. The
youth responded immediately and was able to continue
the missionary journey at once. It was as simple
as if he had just gotten up from sleep, instead
of having been restored to life itself. This is
probably the miracle of the “venomous”
serpent given without details by Butler.
It is important to note that the chroniclers
attribute to St. Francis other resurrections of
the dead in that part of the country. Only the
Lord knows how many Francis actually recalled
from the dead in all his missionary life, laboring
night and day. Large numbers could be expected
when one recalls that he was the greatest missionary
since St. Paul, and if one considers how many
of the dead have been raised by other great missionaries.
Further, it is stated in the processes concerning
Francis that one of the children he often sent
among the sick in his name raised two dead persons
to life. The Christian “children”
of St. Francis worked many prodigies. One is reminded
of the helpers St. Vincent Ferrer commissioned
to continue working miracles for the multitudes
during the times when the saint himself was exhausted.
The following miracle of St. Francis Xavier is
recorded in the Relatio documented in the time
of Pope Paul V. In the streets of Mutan, Francis
met a funeral procession bearing the body of a
youth who had died of a malignant fever. According
to the custom of that area, the body had been
kept for 24 hours wrapped in a shroud. Like Jesus
with the widow of Naim, Francis pitied the bereaved
parents; they pleaded with him.
The saint knelt down, raised his eyes to Heaven,
and prayed to God for the lad’s life. Then
he sprinkled the covered corpse with holy water
and ordered the funeral shroud cut open. When
the body was visible, Francis made the Sign of
the Cross over it, took the youth by the hand,
and bade him in the Name of Jesus to live.
The youth rose up alive, and Francis gave him
to his parents in good health. The crowd marveled
and praised the holiness of Francis. The youth’s
parents and friends, in gratitude and memory of
the deed, erected a great cross of the spot and
held a festival there.
At another time, St. Francis was preaching at
Quilon, near Cape Comorin in Travancore at the
southern tip of India opposite Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
This was a seaport, a rough town where many Christians
dishonored their name. Francis, while preaching
in the Portuguese Church there, felt baffled and
stymied by the wall of obstinacy he met in his
Now it happened that a man had been buried in
the church the day before. St. Francis stopped
preaching; he prayed to God to honor the Blood
and the Name of His Son and to soften the hearts
of the congregation. Then he directed a few men
to open the nearby grave of the man who had been
buried the day before. He had prayed in tears,
and now he accompanied his directions with the
burning words of holy eloquence. He told the congregation
how God was pleased even to raise the dead in
order to convert them.
When they opened the tomb and brought out the
body, it was already giving off a stench. On Francis’
orders they tore apart the shroud to find the
body already beginning to putrefy. Francis expressed
his desire that they should all take note of these
facts. (They could hardly escape them!) Then the
saint fell on his knees, made a short prayer,
and commanded the dead man, in the Name of the
Living God, to arise.
The man arose alive, vigorous and in perfect
health! The onlookers were filled with awe. Those
who needed it fell at the saint’s feet to
be baptized, and a large number of people were
converted because of this miracle.
The two miracles above were accepted by the auditors
of the Rota as resting on incontrovertible evidence
from two witnesses, Emanuel Gago and Joam Audicondam,
as well as from one “dead” person
himself. These great miracles led almost the entire
kingdom except for the king and a few of his countries
to become Christians within a few months. And
as Father Coleridge points out in his two-volume
life of St. Francis Xavier, “We must take
these miracles as but specimens.”
Why would God grant anyone the power to perform
such great miracles? This becomes easier to understand
when one appreciates the immense number of souls
converted by St. Francis Xavier. Within about
a year he had established up to 45 Christian communities
in the area. It is hard to conceive of such mass
conversions, whether by Francis Xavier or by any
missionary apostle, without great and numerous
wonders to testify to the truth of the apostle’s
words. Our Lord used His own miracles as signs
that testified to His Messaiahship and Kingdom.
His wonders proved that He was, indeed, the Son
of God sent by the Father. He ordered His disciples
to work similar miracles with generosity, and
promised that they would work even greater wonders
than He had.
Man is inclined to measure miracles by his own
limited standards and abilities. But for God,
of course, the “great” and the “small”
miracle are equally easy. Yet it somehow seems
more wonderful when (as with Lazarus) someone
who has been dead for days is raised, rather than
one who has very recently died. But death is death
whether it has lasted a minute or a week-and the
wonder of restoration is equally marvelous in
At Malacca St. Francis Xavier worked a miracle
for someone who had been buried for several days.
When Francis was away from the town, the daughter
of a recently baptized woman died. The mother
had sought Francis everywhere while the girl was
still ill. When this earnest parent learned that
Francis had returned, she was full of the simple
faith that Francis, whom she was convinced could
have healed her daughter as he had cured people
en masse could just as easily raise the girl from
the dead. As Martha said to Jesus, “But
now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask
of God, God will give it thee.” Jn 11:22
When the mother found St. Francis she threw herself
at his feet, and like Martha and Mary, exclaimed
that if he had been there her daughter would not
have died; nonetheless, nothing was difficult
for God, and she knew that Francis, with his prayers,
could return her to life. As Jesus had marveled
at the faith of the Roman centurion and the Syropheomician
woman, St. Francis Xavier marveled at the faith
and confidence of this recent convert.
Since the mother seemed so worthy of such a favor,
Francis prayed for God to grant her this consolation.
Then he turned to the mother and told her to go
to the grave; her daughter was alive. Hopeful,
fearful, not disbelieving, but because Francis
had not offered to come himself to the tomb, she
answered simply that the girl had been three days
buried. But St. Francis had measured her testing
She questioned St. Francis no further; with shining
faith she ran rejoicing to the church where her
daughter had been buried. At the burial place
the mother, together with many other witnesses
who had hurried there with her, had the stone
raised from the grave. The dead daughter, buried
three days, came out alive! As with the raising
of Lazarus, no one could doubt the verity of such
One must admire the tenacious faith of this newly
converted woman. Such strong faith is seldom found.
The great faith and wisdom of the apostle met
and matched the faith of the mother, when he asked
her to go to the tomb alone.
This power of raising the dead from a distance
seems to have been a special charism of St. Francis
Xavier. In Japan, at or near Cagoxima, a pagan
nobleman lost his only daughter. He was greatly
grieved. Some recent Christian converts, sympathizing
with him, recommended that he seek help from the
God of the Christians and the prayers of the “great
teacher of the Portuguese.” The father went
to St. Francis and cast himself at his feet. He
was so choked with emotion he could not speak.
But the saint understood.
St. Francis went into the little oratory where
he offered Mass. His helper, Joam Fernandez, went
along with him. After Francis prayed for a few
moments he came out and told the anxious father
to go, that his prayers were heard. That was all
Francis said, so the nobleman turned homeward,
hurt and grieved.
But on his way a servant met him and joyfully
told him that his daughter was alive. Next, the
girl herself came running and threw herself upon
her father’s neck. She informed her father
that when she had breathed her last breath, immediately
two horrible demons had seized her. They were
about to hurl her into Hell when two venerable
men came to her rescue. The next moment she found
herself alive and well.
When the girl’s father brought her to St.
Francis Xavier’s house she identified Francis
and Fernandez as her two deliverers. Father and
daughter were subsequently instructed and baptized.
Another miracle occurred when Francis was on
a ship, the Santa Croce, going to San Chan. A
Musselman’s five-year-old son fell overboard
at a time when the ship was running fast before
the wind. It was impossible even to attempt to
save him. The father had been in despair for three
days when he chanced upon Francis on the deck.
Francis somehow for the glory of God? Had not
heard of the tragedy. He asked the father if he
would believe in Jesus Christ if his child were
restored. (A small child, overboard in the sea
for three days, miles behind the ship, and Francis
confidently asks such a question!) The man said
he would believe.
A few hours passed, probably while Francis was
praying. Suddenly the Musselman met his child,
bright and joyous, running to him on the deck.
The father and his entire family were baptized.
“For, Amen, I say to you, if you have faith
as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this
mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall
remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
Mt 17:19. The “mountain” may represent
the great obstacle of unbelief to be overcome.
A mustard seed is very, very small. Suppose one’s
faith were the size of the watermelon seed …….Or
a coconut …….?
In Japan at Cagoxima, Francis blessed the swollen
body of a deformed child, making it straight and
beautiful. And that expresses well the objective
of the saints: to make all men straight and beautiful
in the eyes of God.
Among his later miracles, Francis raised to life
a young pagan woman “of some quality”
who had been dead a whole day. At Malacca he restored
to life a young man, Francis Ciavos, who later
became a Jesuit.
St. Francis Xavier died on December 3, 1552,
at the age of 46. Before his burial, the coffin
was filled with lime, two sacksful beneath, the
body and two over it in order to hasten decomposition
so that at some future time the bones could be
easily transported to India. Ten weeks later,
when the saint’s body was exhumed to be
taken to Malacca, it was found to be perfectly
Only 12 years after he had first embarked on
his missionary journeys, the body of St. Francis
Xavier was brought back to Goa in veritable triumph.
Around the saint’s body miracles were recorded
every day of that autumn and winter.
When his remains were temporarily placed in the
chapel of the college of St. Paul on March 15,
1554, several blind were cured, as also were paralytics,
those with palsy, etc. Francis had been the special
envoy of both the Holy See and of King John III
of Portugal; on the order of the King a verbal
process was made with the utmost accuracy, in
Goa and in other parts of India; in it, accounts
were taken of many miracles wrought through St.
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 mentioned above,
have been removed and sent to various places as
most precious relics. In 1974-75 the body of the
saint (in a glass case) was exhibited for viewing
and veneration for a six-week period. Today it
rests in a silver reliquary in the Basilica of
Bom Jesus in Goa, India.
This article on St. Patrick
is a chapter from Raised from the Dead, True Stories
of 400 Resurrection Miracles, by Fr. Albert J.
Hebert, S. M.