I’ve wondered about this name before, and why such a Catholic Catholic as Regis Philbin would have some weird name like that. But since he passed away this week, I finally got around to looking it up.
If you look at it, it looks like it would be from “regis,” the genitive case of Latin “rex,” king. So this would be a kid who belongs to Christ the King.
But no! Regis was named by his dad for Regis High School, a free-tuition Catholic boys high school in Manhattan, run by Jesuits and founded on the big honking money of one Julia M. Grant, the widow of Mayor Hugh J. Grant. His dad was accepted into the school in the 1920’s, but was expelled in his sophomore year for fighting. With a teacher. All the same, Regis’ dad got a good education there, and was grateful and sorry afterward. Hence the name.
But who was the high school named for? (Yes, we will now expose my lack of Jesuit knowledge.)
St. Jean-Francois Regis, a Jesuit priest, worked as a missionary/revival preacher in France in the 1600’s. Before he joined the Jesuits, he was a shy kid of a merchant turned minor nobility, deathly afraid of displeasing his parents and teachers. He learned voraciously and kept his head in his books. But as a Jesuit, his fervent love of Jesus led him to start preaching to everybody, everywhere, in a simple way that came straight from the heart.
He was made a priest early, and immediately began to serve in areas stricken by bubonic plague. Then the next year he was assigned to spread the Gospel, first by working with his community in Montpellier, and then by being sent out on his own.
He walked from town to town, preached ex tempore, heard Confession in the morning, visited hospitals and prisons in the afternoon, and relied on the hospitality of locals on his missionary journeys. He often lived off apples and black bread. He spent much of his time preaching to Protestants, but he also was out to help Catholics be saved.
Along the way, he provided help for the desperate people he met, mostly by helping them get job training and learn entrepreneurship (such as in the lucrative lacemaking industry). He found safe housing for orphans and poor women, including ex-prostitutes. But since he didn’t have a parish or funding, he had to persuade members of each community to do this stuff on their own, and to leave them the job of running it. (So in other words, he was a _real_ community organizer, unlike most people with that name.)
If you joined one of his confraternities for Eucharistic adoration and you had money, he would often send you a note asking for help for a specific person, right down to the number of sous, or send you the person to feed, as his special gift to you! But it worked.
As he helped prostitutes get out of their bad situations, he was often threatened by armed pimps and angry exes. By showing no fear, and by speaking clearly about their own situation, he got them to drop their weapons and leave him (and the women) alone.
All that made him sad was opposition from supposedly good people, and the fact that his superiors refused to let him go to Canada and work for Jesus there.
He seemed tireless. But like many pre-modern priests, he died of exhaustion and a lung sickness that wouldn’t go away, at the age of 43. He literally died on the job in the confessional in the tiny mountain town of La Louvesc, asking Jesus to receive his soul, on December 31, 1640.
After his death, the French formed many “Regis Societies” in his honor, dedicated to helping the poor and the unemployed, as well as educating people in rural areas. He was canonized in 1737, and is often called “St. Regis” for short. St. Jean Vianney gave all the credit for the success of his own parish mission to the intercession of St. Jean-Francois Regis. There is a miraculous spring in La Louvesc near the site of his death, where many people find healing. And the order of the Cenacle Sisters was originally founded in his honor.
So yes! It’s a very Catholic name!
There’s also a St. Jean-Francois-Regis Clet, who was a Vincentian nicknamed “the walking library.” After working as a professor and seminary director, he saw all his work destroyed in the French Revolution, and his community disbanded.
So he went to China to serve as a missionary, at the age of 43. He worked in China for 28 years, but never mastered any of the languages to the point where he felt fluent. Still, he persevered in a mission territory that stretched over 270,000 square miles. In 1811, the Vincentians were falsely accused of inciting rebellion, and they had to live on the run. But he managed, until he was betrayed to the authorities on June 16, 1819, and executed as a traitor on Chinese New Year — Feb. 17, 1820 — at the age of 72. (Two hundred years ago, this year.)
He was tied onto a cross, and then strangled slowly… in Wuchang (then Frankified as Vu-tsheng-fu or Ou-tchang-fou)… which is now merged with Hankou and Hanyang, and called Wuhan, China.
(“Hopei Province” is now spelled “Hubei.” He also worked in Hunan.)
He was buried on Red Mountain in China; but eventually had his remains translated to the Vincentian motherhouse in France, and then to St. Lazare’s in Paris. He was canonized on October 1, 2000. His day is February 18; and he is is one of the Martyr Saints of China.
St. Jean-Francois-Regis Clet, pray for us! And please pray for Wuhan!
These are really great models of the Christian life, and awesome patron saints for anyone bearing their name.
(Btw, many other Christians were executed in Wuchang in various persecutions, including another Vincentian priest, St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, on Sept. 11, 1840. He was big on spreading the Miraculous Medal, and was apparently the actual guy who prayed “May my hands be the hands of Jesus,” as part of a prayer for Christian tranformation to become more Christ-like. I’m going to look that up and report back.)
(Oh, and it was the Vincentians and many convert friends who were saved during the Boxer Rebellion, in the small village of Donglu, by an apparition of Our Lady in the sky. The Boxers shot at her, but obviously that didn’t work. Then a “fiery horseman” appeared in the sky on a heavenly horse, charged the Boxers, and drove them off. This was the first big apparition of Our Lady of China. The second big one was on May 23, 1995, also in Donglu, on the eve of the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, when she appeared with Baby Jesus in the sky, for 20 minutes, to tens of thousands of people. The church was banned the next day, and destroyed within the year by the Chinese government. To this day, thousands of soldiers are sent to Donglu in May every year to stop “illegal” pilgrimages, and yet the pilgrims sneak in and out.)
UPDATE: An article about St. Francis-Regis Clet and St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre.