St. Francis of Assisi
at a glance
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1182. He grew up living a privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis loved to learn and sing songs as a boy. His father wanted him to become a businessman and taught him about the French culture.
Going to Battle
About the age of nineteen Francis dreamed of heroic action, like knights of old, and went to battle with the army from Assisi against the nearby town of Perugia. Following Assisi’s defeat, Francis was captured and taken prisoner. He was held in a dungeon for a year until his father paid a ransom.
Visions from God
Over the next few years Francis began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was sick with a high fever. His first reaction was that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to “repair my church, which is falling in ruins.”
At this point, Francis, against his father’s wishes, gave all his money to the church. Because of this, his father became very angry with him. Francis then left his father’s home and took a vow of poverty.
The Franciscan Order
After Francis began to live his life of poverty and to preach about the life of Jesus Christ, people began to follow him. By 1209, he had around 11 followers. He had one basic rule which was “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.”
Francis was a devoted follower of the Catholic Church. He and his followers traveled to Rome to get the approval of the Pope for their Order and their rule of life. At first, the pope was reluctant since he saw in front of him men who were dirty and poor. However, eventually he understood their vow of poverty and blessed the Order.
The Franciscan Order grew rapidly and many men joined the first followers and made vows of poverty. At a certain point, even a woman from Assisi, Clare Offreducci, wanted to follow the model of life and make the same vows. Francis supported her and helped her start the Order of the Poor Ladies (Order of Saint Clare or Poor Clares).
He also started another order, the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (later called the Third Order of Saint Francis) that was for men and women who didn’t take vows or leave their jobs, but lived out the principals of the Franciscan Order in their daily lives. That lay Third Order is now known as the Secular Franciscan Order.
Love for Nature
Francis was known for his love of nature and animals. There are many stories about Saint Francis and his preaching to animals. It is said that one day he was talking to some birds when they began to sing together. Then they flew into the sky and formed the sign of a cross.
It was also said that Francis could tame wild animals. One famous story tells of a vicious wolf in the town of Gubbio that was killing people and sheep. The people of the town were frightened and didn’t know what to do. Upon their request, Francis went to the town to confront the wolf. At first the wolf growled at Francis and prepared to attack him. However, Francis made the sign of the cross and told the wolf not to hurt anyone else. After the encounter, the wolf changed and became tame, living in the town in harmony with the inhabitants.
In the last years of his life, Francis suffered from many illnesses and ultimately become blind. He died in 1226 while singing Psalm 141. He was declared a saint of the Catholic Church only two years after his death.