Salesian tradition tells us that when St. Francis de Sales as a young priest arrived at Chablais, France in 1594, only 27 persons out of 72 000 were still Catholic (The rest were Calvinist), but after 4 years of his efforts, the figure was exactly reversed, there remaining only 27 Calvinists: 72 000 souls had returned to the True Faith. It is one of the most remarkable conversion stories in all Catholic history. People were afraid to listen to him preach, and so he dedicated himself to writing pamphlets to slide under the doors. He kept in mind a warning of Vincent of Lerins:
"Teach, however, what thou hast learnt; that whilst thou sayest things in a new way thou say not new things."
St. Francis begins his argument with an examination of mission from God, showing that the Catholic Church possesses this mission and the Protestant sects do not. He also delineates eight Rules of Faith- Holy Scripture, the Apostolic Traditions, the authority of the Church, the authority of Councils, the authority of the ancient Fathers of the Church, the authority of the Pope, miracles, and the harmony between faith and reason- showing how all point to the Catholic Faith as the divinely given religion. He states: "Ultimately, however, the sole and true Rule of right-believing is the Word of God preached by the Church of God." But why, he asks, should anyone bow to the supposed authority of a Luther or a Calvin?
Our admiration of St. Francis´ technique must not blind us to the fact that his weapons were first of all spiritual. He had planned to take Geneva by love- "Love will shake the walls of Geneva." "Ardent prayer must break down the walls of Geneva and brotherly love charge them.." "But the way to this is the propitiation of Almighty God by our penances." A huge mural in the Visitation Monastery of Thonon in the Chablais gives us another clue to the Saint's success: It pictures him and his cousin Louis invoking the Guardian Angel of the diocese as they approached the region for the first time. And it will be recalled that in his youth St. Francis had promised Our Lady to pray the Rosary daily.
There were also miracles. A baby, the child of a Protestant mother, had died without baptism. St. Francis had gone to speak to the mother about Catholic doctrine, and prayed that the child would be restored to life long enough to receive Baptism. His prayer was granted and the whole family became Catholic.
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee.