St. Francis Xavier (Tongan Chapel)

This chapel has an interesting history. The Tongan community which had it built, initially wanted a statue of St Peter Chanel in whose honour they planned to build a chapel. The statue of St Francis arrived from the overseas vendors instead. Deciding against sending it back, and seeing in it the providence of God, they decided to built a chapel in honour of the great Missionary of the Indies. On the day of the blessing of the chapel, it turned out that the first class relic visiting Australia at the time (the right arm of the Saint) was available to be taken to Marian Valley for a visit. All these coincidences just go to show that God certainly wanted a chapel built in honour of His amazing Missionary.

St Francis Xavier

Feast Day 3rd December

Francis was born on 7th April,1506, the youngest son of an aristocratic family, in the castle of Xavier in the Kingdom of Navarre (later incorporated into modern day Spain). At the age of 19 he travelled to Paris to study at the Collège Sainte-Barbe. There he met Ignatius of Loyola. Initially his interests were quite worldly and he avoided the company of Ignatius, who at 15 years his senior was leading a more ascetic life after his own conversion. Over the course of a few years Ignatius’ good influence eventually won over the younger Francis. On 15 August 1534, setting in place the foundations for the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), in a small chapel in Montmartre, Ignatius, Francis and five others made vows of poverty and chastity and a vow to go to the Holy Land as missionaries when their studies were completed in two years’ time.

In 1536 Francis and his companions left Paris to make their way to the Holy Land. They journeyed to Venice, where Francis was ordained a priest, together with Ignatius, on 24 June, 1537. The war with the Turks blocked any chance of them travelling on to the Holy Land and they subsequently travelled to Rome, placing themselves at the service of the Pope. Preparations were made in Rome for the definitive foundation of the Society of Jesus. The order was approved by the Pope verbally 3 September,1539 but written approbation was not secured for another year.

In the meantime, Francis was appointed, at the request of the King of Portugal, to evangelize the people of the East Indies. He left Rome 16 March, 1540 for Lisbon and then on 7 April, 1541, he embarked in a sailing vessel for India. The voyage was tedious and extremely dangerous, but he eventually landed at Goa (India) 6 May, 1542. Initially he preached and ministered to the sick in the hospitals. He would also go through the streets ringing a little bell and inviting the children to hear the word of God. When he had gathered a number, he would take them to a church and would there explain the catechism to them.

From Goa Francis headed south and spent three years preaching to the people of South Western India, converting many, and reaching in his journeys even the Island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He endured great difficulties and hardships at the hands of both local rulers and wayward Portuguese soldiers who retarded his work by their bad example and vicious habits. By 1545 Francis was travelling further afield, preaching the Gospel in Malacca (Malaysia), the Molucca Islands (Indonesia), and perhaps even Mindanao (Philippines), laying the foundations for permanent missions. He also journey back to Goa to organise the expanding affairs of the Society of Jesus, sending other missionaries to follow up his work in various places. In 1549 he began his journey to Japan, landing at the city of Kagoshima on 15 Aug. After working about two and a half years in Japan he left the mission in the hands of others and returned to Goa, arriving there at the beginning of 1552. By April he left Goa again, eventually arriving at the small island of Shangchuan near the coast of China. While planning the best means for reaching the Chinese mainland, he took ill with a fever and died on 3 December 1552.

St Francis Xavier is noteworthy for his courageous missionary work, both as organizer and as pioneer. In only ten years he traversed the greater part of the Far East. When one considers the challenges of language, the conditions of travel, the means of transport, the delays and difficulties which beset him at every stage, it is, even physically an astounding achievement. It is even more remarkable when one considers that he left behind him a flourishing church wherever he went and that the effects of his labours remain to the present day. He is said to have converted more people than anyone else has done since Saint Paul. He was canonized in 1622 and in 1927 proclaimed by Pope Pius XI, along with St Therese of Lisieux, Patron of all Catholic Missions (which at the time included Australia).

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