Born: 1181 or 1182
Died: October 3, 1226
Feast Day: October 4
Patron of animals, merchants, and ecology
Few saints enjoy the kind of “rock star” status that St. Francis of Assisi has. Since his death in 1226, many souls have been challenged by his holy example and countless gardens have displayed statues in his honor. It is kind of ironic, if you think about it … there is St. Francis, known for his love of animals, now serving as a target for pigeons everywhere. Still, Francis was so humble even he probably would have thought it was funny.
Francis was born in Assisi, a little town in northern Italy. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, he was a wild child and lived a pretty crazy young adulthood by most people’s accounts. He joined the army, fought in the fourth Crusade, and was intent on becoming a knight. He was captured soon after and eventually made his way home, where he began to reveal a deep-seeded love for the poor. Something was happening in Francis’ heart.
At the age of 26, while praying before the crucifix in an old, rundown chapel, he heard a voice from the crucifix say to him, “Francis, repair my church, which has fallen into disrepair, as you can see.” Francis took the words literally and quickly began “fixing” the dilapidated building. In time, Francis came to understand that the Lord was talking about rebuilding the greater, universal Catholic Church, not just the chapel building.
Francis went forth with nothing earthly to his name. He traveled the countryside, begging and preaching the Gospel message. Most people ridiculed him, but a small group of people who also renounced their possessions began to travel with him. Within about 15 years, he was leading over 5,000 friars and an order of religious sisters (the Poor Clares, begun by St. Clare of Assisi). He crafted a strict rule of life to live by, which called for absolute poverty, authentic humility, and great discipline.
He wrote beautiful prayers and was a gentle and compassionate soul. Francis preached against greed and worldly excess to a world (and even some of the Church) that did not want to hear it. He went without food for himself while giving what little he had to others. His Franciscan brothers reported witnessing incredible miracles while in his presence over the years, including watching him levitate, bi-locate, tame wild animals, heal paralytics, and cleanse lepers of their leprosy. He is said to have cured those who were mute, deaf, and blind and to have even exorcised demons from people who were possessed simply by walking into the room they were in. As if this was not enough, while praying in 1224, Francis was granted the gift of the stigmata — the marks of Christ’s five wounds — upon his own body, which bled for the remaining two years of his life.
Francis of Assisi had a deep love for God, people, animals, and the environment. Put simply, he saw God in everyone and everything. Above all, he cared for and loved the sick and poor in a way that few others ever have. His mission was to demonstrate the love of God through actions and not just words. Invite St. Francis of Assisi to pray with and for you. Ask him — by his intercession — to help you see Christ in others and to witness God’s design and handiwork throughout creation. If you do, you will not only grow in holiness and awareness but selflessness and humility, just like this great saint.
- Experienced a profound conversion at the age of 26
- Had a great love for animals
- Founded the Order of St. Francis: the Franciscan Friars
- Known for many miracles throughout his life
- Composed the popular prayers, “The Prayer of Humility” and “The Canticle of the Sun”
- His writings are compiled in various anthologies