Feast Day: October 4
Francis was born to a wealthy Umbrian cloth merchant’s family. He spent his early years in song, drink, and extravagance, going through his father’s money but showing no interest in his father’s business. His companions were youths who loved the wild life.
Italy didn’t become a unified kingdom until the 19th century, so in Francis’s time, frequent territorial battles took place between the cities and states. The people of Assisi and Perugia often were at battle; in one fight, Francis and his friends went to defend Assisi. The Perugians defeated Assisi, however, and Francis was jailed for a year.
Francis became ill with fever while in jail and spent time in the infirmary, providing him with plenty of time to think of how he had wasted his life thus far. After being released and at home, he began visiting the sick and poor giving them whatever he had. He spent more time in prayer. One day in prayer in the church of San Damiano, a voice emanated from the crucifix and told him three times, “Francis, go and repair my house, which you see is falling down.” Francis took one of his father’s horses and a large amount of cloth, both of which he sold to rebuild the ruined church.
His enraged father came to the church where Francis had been spending most of his time, but Francis hid. Several days later, he emerged in public after fasting and praying; crowds pelted him. His father took him home and tried everything to dissuade Francis from his “mad” ideas, including beatings and shackles, but Francis was immovable. He returned to the church, whereupon his father demanded that he either come home or renounce his inheritance and repay the cost of the horse and cloth. Francis responded by stripping off all his clothing and giving them to his father. He renounced his patrimony by saying to his father: “Up to now I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.’” Francis took a vow of absolute poverty. He was given the dress of a laborer, marked it with a cross in chalk, and wore it. The white cross on the undyed woolen tunic was to become the trademark of Franciscan monks.
Overtime, Francis acquired some companions who sought to rebuild the Church, and he realized what the Lord had meant: The Church he wanted Francis to rebuild was not the buildings but rather the people who came to worship in them. Francis realized his mission was to preach spiritual renewal to the people of God. Pope Innocent III gave permission for him to establish a new religious community, the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), which would later be known as the Franciscans.
Francis is known as the patron saint of animals and animal lovers because he spent time in meditation outside and was sometimes found conversing with these creatures. He even befriended a wolf in Gubbio that had been bullying the local villagers. He admonished the beast to behave, which the wolf did from then on. Well before his life ended, Francis was blessed with the gift of the stigmata, the manifestation of the five wounds of Jesus on the person without any physical harm (stigmata disappears immediately at death).
Francis also traveled to the Holy Land in an attempt to convert the Muslim Saracens and thus end the Crusades peacefully. He was unsuccessful in that specific goal, but he did secure the admiration of the sultan, who ordered that certain Christian shrines in Jerusalem be placed in the care of the Franciscans—a role the Franciscans have carried out for centuries.
THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Trigilio, Rev. John, Ph.D, Th.D, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.