Our Founder: St. Francis of Assisi
Feast Day: October 4
Born: 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, Italy (named Giovanni)
Died: Evening of October 3, 1226, at the Portiuncula near Assisi, Italy
Canonized: July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX
Francis was born in Assisi, Umbria, in either 1181 or 1182. Baptized Giovanni, his father, Pietro di Bernardone, nicknamed him “Francesco” while he was still a child. Pietro was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a troubadour or a knight. In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage and remained a captive there for a year. As a result of his captivity, and a severe illness, his mind began to turn to religion. Around 1205 he enlisted in another military expedition to Apulia. However, he had a dream in which God called him to his service, and he returned to Assisi and began to care for the sick.
In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair his church. Francis interpreted this as a command to repair the dilapidated church of San Damiano, near Assisi. He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the church. His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis’s behavior, imprisoned him and brought him before the bishop as disobedient. Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions as Pietro’s son, including his clothes. Two years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by companions. When his followers numbered 11, he gave them a short Rule of Life and received approval from Pope Innocent III. Francis called his newly approved group the Friars Minor, or “lesser brothers.”
The friars returned to Assisi and settled in huts at Rivotorto near the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula, the birthplace of Francis’s fledgling fraternity. The band of friars traveled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for people to turn from the world to Christ. In his life and preaching, Francis emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God’s providence rather than worldly goods. The brothers worked or begged for what they needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor. Francis turned his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns.
In 1212, Chiara (or Clare) di Offreduccio, a girl from a noble family of Assisi, left her family to join Francis. With his encouragement, Clare founded a sisterhood at San Damiano, the Poor Ladies, later known as the Poor Clares.
As large numbers of people were attracted to the preaching and example of Francis and joined him, Francis had to delegate responsibility to others. Eventually he wrote a more detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the Franciscans. He gave up leadership of the order and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer. There he received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. He returned to visit the friars, and Clare and her sisters, and a few of his followers remained with him. He died on the evening of October 3, 1226, at his beloved Portiuncula.
For Francis, the Eucharist became the deepest source of support for his desire for peace and reconciliation. Just a year or two before he died, he said: “I implore all of you brothers to show all possible reverence and honor to the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in Whom that which is in heaven and on earth has been brought to peace and reconciled to almighty God” (A Letter to the Entire Order).
Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty and humility before God. He himself worked to care for the poor and outcast: One of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers. In all his actions, Francis sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels. Throughout the centuries, millions have been drawn to his sincerity, piety and joy.
To this day, Saint Francis is honored by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of animals and ecology. His feast day is celebrated on October 4.
“My sister birds, you owe much to God your Creator and you ought to praise Him always and everywhere because He has given you the freedom to fly everywhere, and has given you two and three layers of clothing… God feeds you, and gives you the rivers and springs for your drink; and He gives you the mountains and valleys for your refuge, the high trees to make your nests; and since you do not know how to spin or sew, He clothes you, you and your little ones. Therefore, your Creator loves you very much, since He gives you so many benefits… Always strive to praise God.”
— St. Francis of Assisi
The Little Flowers of St. Francis