St. Francis was born in 1182 to a middle class merchant family that traded cloth. His upbringing was full of leisure, and he notoriously over-indulged. Although it doesn’t appear he was a full libertine, he was well known for his pranks and being the center of attention.
In the latter part of his youth, Francis became enthralled with the gallantry and high adventure of knighthood. His romantic escapades as a knight were cut short when he was captured in battle. During his captivity, Francis suffered a long illness, but this was not enough to change the course of his life. When he was released, he returned home, and re-embarked on his career as a knight.
In a trip to court, a vision was bestowed on Francis. The vision showed armor marked with the cross, and a voice said, “These are for you and your soldiers.” Francis became excited that God was promising him great military success. God corrected Francis’s interpretation with another illness, a repeat of the vision, and marching orders to return home.
Following this wake-up call, St. Francis fell deeply in love with God. His love for God expressed itself as a deep longing for poverty and he began to associate with the most outcast of his age, the lepers.
While praying in a small run-down church, St. Francis received another vision which said, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Once again, St. Francis took God at his literal word, and embarked on a project to rebuild the physical church known as St. Damian. During this time, everyone thought he had gone mad. His former friends threw mud and rocks at him, and his father beat, bound, and imprisoned him.
Francis was freed from imprisonment by his mother. He and his father then went to present their disagreement to the bishop. In a public display, Francis stripped naked on the steps of the Cathedral, and handed his father the clothes. Thus, Francis declared himself entirely for God, and the bishop covered his nakedness with his robe showing the protection of Mother Church.
After Francis finished the restoration of St. Damians, he continued begging for stones to restore other chapels and caring for lepers. It was not long before well-known people began to join Francis’s work. When asked how they should live, Francis pointed to Jesus’ words, “Freely you received, freely give. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.” (Matthew 10:7-10) Eventually, women also came to follow Francis, and the first to follow Francis literally ran away from home. Her name was Clare. In society, She was a very rich heiress, and she became the foundress of the Poor Clares.
Many aspects of St. Francis’s thought could be stereotyped as fanatical or narrow-minded, but this stereotyping is an intellectual arrogance aimed at sincerely held opinions. St. Francis was very suspicious of book learning as a road to holiness, and he held strongly to the conviction that radical poverty was a school of sanctity and grace. He also believed that the follower of Christ should never sell short the miraculous. At the end of his life, the followers of St. Francis started to dilute his words and teachings. These dilutions caused pain to St. Francis.
In the last years of his life, St. Francis secluded himself on a mountain for forty days. After much prayer he received invisible stigmata which caused him severe physical pain. After suffering the invisible stigmata for some time, they became visible, and his brothers easily found the ailment he was attempting to keep hidden. St. Francis is the first stigmatist on record.
Very few people embody a type of spirituality. In a special way, these people represent a spiritual revelation about living the gospel and following God. For example, St. Anthony of the Desert is to monasticism, what St. Ignatius Loyola is to missionary societies, and what St. Francis of Assisi is to Friardom. St. Francis of Assisi is an example to all who wish to dedicate themselves completely to charity and preaching the Gospel while trusting in providence for all necessities. This trust in divine providence is why he is the special patron of this house.
“Our Lord has himself told me that he wishes me to be his poor little fool in this world, and I will not follow, nor allow those who belong to me to follow, any other road to heaven than this one, which, although it may appear folly to the world, is true wisdom in the sight of God.”
St. Francis of Assisi
And that [Francis] might make himself contemptible to all, he was not ashamed when preaching to manifest his defects before all the people.
And because they possessed nothing earthly, and feared to lose nothing earthly, they were secure in all places; troubled by no fears, distracted by no cares, they lived without trouble of mind, waited without solicitude for the coming day, or the nights lodging. Many sufferings and insults were inflicted upon them in divers parts of the world, as on men unknown, vile and of no account; but the love of the Gospel of Christ had given them so much patience, that they sought rather to be where they might endure persecution in the body, than where (their sanctity being known) they might receive honor and favor from the world.
And he said that the brother is to be preferred, who, being simple and slow of speech, excites others to good by the force of his good example, and he gave this explanation of the verse: “The barren hath borne many children. “The barren,” he said, “is a poor little friar, who has no office to bring forth children in the Church; but he shall bring forth many in the last judgment, for they who are now converted to Christ by his secret prayers shall then be ascribed by the Judge to his glory. He who hath borne many children hath become weak; that is, the vain and loquacious preacher who rejoices now in many children, begotten (as he believes) by his own virtue, shall then acknowledge that he has no part in them.”
St. Bonaventure. The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.: Rockford, IL 1988.
Brown, Raphael. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, Image Books: New York, NY 1458.