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St. Francisca Salesia Aviat Teaches about Our Inherent Dignity

By Susan Ciancio

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast day of St. Francisca Salesia Aviat. Born Léonie Aviat in 1844, this young French woman had a special devotion to God from the time she was little. The nuns and priests who taught her had an immense influence on her development.

During this time in France, young women led very difficult working lives in poor conditions and with little pay in the textile mills. One of the priests who taught Léonie wanted to open homes and schools for these young women to not only care for them but to teach them Christian values. He had difficulty finding someone to lead and teach the girls. Then he realized that Léonie would be perfect for the role.

She wasn’t sure about his offer until she went into one of these mills and saw these girls for herself. God moved her heart, and she joined the newly formed Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales and vowed to “forget” herself “entirely.”

Léonie took the name Francisca and soon became the Superior General of the order. Under her guidance, many grade schools and boarding schools were opened, not just in France, but in several other countries as well. Because of religious persecution, Sr. Francisca had to eventually move the mother house to Italy, where it flourished. 

St. Francisca lived and taught the Salesian principle that says “Let us work for the happiness of others.” She spent her entire life in service to young women. She helped build a culture of life by teaching them about God and by helping them see the inherent dignity in themselves—something that was difficult to do at that time when women were not always treated fairly.

How can we adopt this principle in our lives and help others see their inherent dignity?

Love is wanting what is best for the other person. But it goes beyond just wanting others to be happy. Happiness is fleeting. True joy in Christ comes from knowing Him, loving Him, and serving Him well. When we feel that joy, we also exude that joy. And this translates into our interactions with others. They see it and want to be more like us. They see it and want to know Christ.

If we truly love people and want to show that we value them, we must treat them well at all times. We must go out of our way to love them. That means we speak kindly, we hold our tongues when we feel angry, we perform acts of kindness, and we put others before ourselves—always acknowledging the sanctity of life.

But we also have to teach our children to see the dignity in others and to respect all people, and saints like Francisca—and the many saints that CLSP has created lessons about—provide wonderful examples and help them integrate these values into their lives.  

Today’s society teaches that people should do what makes them happy in the moment. It wants people to follow their feelings rather than Christian tenets. And it dismisses moral thoughts and actions, replacing them instead with the erroneous belief that life should be lived however people want. This “you do you” mentality has risen in popularity over the past few years, and it’s incredibly harmful to not only bodies but souls.

If we want to combat this and live as the saints lived, we must teach the inherent dignity of all people, and we must live our lives reflecting this dignity. That means putting God and our faith first in life and having the moral courage to live as Christ and the saints lived, always teaching the value of others.