Born in 1510, Francisco Borgia was the viceroy of Catalonia and Duke of Gandia, a grandee second only to the Spanish emperor, when God called him to leave everything and become a Jesuit. At that time he was a widower with five children, 36 years of age, and a member of one of Europe’s most influential families. But Francis never looked back on his decision.
His conversion had all the elements of the dramatic: on the death of the young queen Isabella, Francis Borgia was asked by the king to accompany the funeral cortege to her resting place at Granada, a journey of some days. On reaching the palace, it was his task to open the coffin and attest the identity of the dead body. To his horror, Francis discovered that the beautiful and intelligent woman whom he had served all his life was a piece of decomposing flesh, already being eaten by maggots. Francis swore he would never serve an earthly ruler again.
Ignatius Loyola admitted Francis into the Jesuit Society secretly, while he disposed of his properties and settled his affairs. Later, as a fully fledged Jesuit, Francis helped immensely in the development of the Society and the setting up of missions in Europe and elsewhere.
He succeeded Ignatius as Superior-General, and the Jesuit practice of an hour’s meditation every day, and the annual retreat of eight days is attributed to him. He also founded the Roman College in Rome, the predecessor of the present Gregorian University. Many call him ‘the second founder of the Jesuits’.
Francis Borgia died in 1572 and was canonized in 1670.