The setting of the early years of John Francis Regis was southern France. He was born on January 31, 1597 in Fontcouverte, attended the Jesuit school in Béziers, and entered the Jesuit novitiate in Toulouse on December 7, 1616. His temperament was described as "sensitive and shy."
John Francis was ordained in Toulouse on May 19, 1630. He had asked that the date be advanced by one year so that he could serve plague victims in and around Toulouse. In the summer of that same year, the area was afflicted with the plague, and John Francis went among victims, caring for both bodies and souls.
All of Regis' subsequent assignments were in Southern France where Catholics were in great need of spiritual and physical help because of the rise of Protestantism.
For six years Father Regis visited remote towns and diocese of the region teaching, hearing confessions and preaching "unadorned" sermons. In the mountain villages he taught children and adults, visited prisons and collected food and clothing for the poor. In Le Puy, he founded St. Agatha's Refuge for former prostitutes.
These efforts were not always applauded by his superiors, local bishops, or negligent pastors. In 1638, the rector of the Jesuit community in Le Puy was so suspicious of Regis' work, that he was confined to his room for ten weeks. Regis referred to this episode as "the greatest trial of my life."
The next rector "warmly approved" of his work, and those whose lives Regis touched remembered and spoke of his tender heart and his work to correct social ills. He was described as gentle, austere and zealous.
On December 17, 1640, Regis left Le Puy, the major town of the region, with a Jesuit brother, to give a mission in a neighboring town, Lalouvesc. They went on foot, in the snow. Father Regis preached and heard confessions for hours in a confessional with an open vent. He was soon bed-ridden with fever and, after several days, he lapsed into unconsciousness. He died shortly before midnight on December 31, 1640.
John Francis Regis was beatified in 1716, and canonized by Clement XII on April 5, 1737.