Feast Day 4 October
Francis was born in Assisi, a charming hill town in the Italian region of Umbria. His father, Pietro Bernardone, was a wealthy cloth merchant who traded often in France, and his mother, Pica, is said to have belonged to a noble family of Provence. Though baptized “John”, their only son was called “Francesco” or “the Frenchman”.
Young Francis had an expansive nature and was a lover of life, spending his father’s money lavishly. He was also devoted to romantic chivalry then being extolled by troubadours.
At twenty he fought for Assisi against Perugia and was imprisoned for a year. Later, he sought to join another general, and bought a handsome horse and outfit, but meeting a poor man on the way, gave him his clothes. Taken ill, he heard a voice that invited him to fight for “the master” rather than the man.
As he prayed in the Church of San Damiano, he heard a voice coming from the crucifix: “Francis go and repair my house, which you see is falling down.” Thinking he was ordered to rebuild the crumbling church, he sold a bolt of cloth, and his horse and offered the money to the pastor who refused to use it.
From then on, young Francis embarked upon a spiritual path that culminated in his father publicly disowning him. In a dramatic gesture, Francis handed his father all his clothes, and was covered by the bishop’s cloak. He then set out to beg alms to repair churches in his area. Knowing him, the town’s people mocked him, all of which he bore joyfully.
Francis had fallen in love with “Lady Poverty”, leaving all to find ALL. His was the calling to counteract the worldly spirit then infecting society, so contrary to the spirit of the Gospel that had built the Middle Ages.
Around the small chapel of Portiuncula, in the valley below Assisi, he built a first community of wood and mud huts. As others joined him, the community grew to the point that he sought approval of Pope Innocent III in Rome, who, having had a dream of Francis holding up God’s falling church, blessed his Order.
Out of humility, Francis gave his order the name of “Friars Minor”, and never sought ordination, thinking himself unworthy of such an honour.
He also co-founded a feminine branch of the Franciscans with St. Clare of Assisi.
In the fall of 1212, St. Francis resolved to go and preach to the Muslims. His first two attempts were foiled, and he returned to Italy where he preached extensively.
In 1219 he went into Egypt with the Crusading army, and fearlessly sought and faced Sultan Malek-al-Kamil, who, impressed with his teaching, invited the monk to stay with him, but, ultimately, did not make a commitment.
Disappointed, Francis returned to Italy to face a crisis developing in his Order, now spread throughout Europe. In response to a movement attempting to overturn his initial ideal of strict poverty, he revised his rule. The form ultimately approved by Pope Honorius III in 1223 substantially represented the spirit of St. Francis.
In August of 1224, Francis retired with a companion to Mount Alvernia where he was granted the stigmata of Christ. As his health worsened, the wounds were a source of further pain and weakness and he also became nearly blind.
He died surrounded by his spiritual sons, laying on the floor as he had requested, exhorting his brethren to love of God, of poverty and of the Gospel, “before all other ordinances”.
He was forty-five, and was canonized only two years later by Pope Gregory IX.