St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionaries and one of the founders of the Jesuit order, was born on 7 April 1506, in Navarre in present day Spain. He was part of a noble family and his childhood was one of privilege. However, it was interrupted by the death of his father and attempts by outside forces to take control of Navarre.
In 1525, Xavier went to study at the University of Paris where he encountered Ignatius of Loyola who had experienced a conversion while recovering from a war wound. Ignatius implored Xavier to join him on the same path of devotion.
On 15th August 1534, Xavier, Ignatius and five others pledged themselves to the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. Xavier became a priest on 24th June 1537. They then went to Rome and put themselves in the hands of the Pope.
When the Pope asked for men for the conversion of the Indies, the choice fell on Xavier: “Go, set the world on fire with God’s love”, St. Ignatius said to him. Xavier sailed off in to the unknown East from Lisbon, Portugal on 7th April 1541 on his 35th birthday. The voyage was terrible and sickness ravaged the passengers and the crew. Xavier gave himself heroically in caring for the sick. It took them five months to reach Mozambique on the African coast. They also touched Malindi in Kenya where to this day a hut where St. Francis Xavier celebrated Mass is preserved.
Leaving Africa, they reached Goa, India on 16th May 1542, more than a year since leaving Lisbon. Xavier devoted himself to caring for the sick, catechizing the children and preaching the gospel. He came to be admired in India for his ability to live and work side by side with the poor.
Seeking more converts, Xavier continued to travel south to the Fishery coast in Cochin. In 1545 he spent a long time in prayer and retreat at St. Thomas shrine in Mylapore, where he understood that God was calling him still further East. He travelled on to Ceylon, the Molucca Islands, the Banda Islands, the Malay Peninsula, and finally reached Kagoshima, Japan on August 15, 1549.
His next target was China and landing on the island of Sancian, near Canton, he could not access the mainland as borders were closed to foreigners. Unfortunately, he succumbed to illness before he could find a way into the mainland and died on 3rd December 1552 at the relatively young age of 46. His miraculously preserved body was shipped to Goa for burial in 1554 where it still resides.
In a short span of 10 years, St. Francis Xavier travelled to so many mission lands that he is considered second only to the great Apostle St. Paul in conversion of souls.