Francis Bernerdone was born the son of a wealthy merchant in Assisi, Italy, in 1181. It was during a prolonged severe illness that he became aware of his religious calling. At the age of 25, Francis became inspired by the Scripture passage of Matthew commanding the disciples to evangelize the world without possessions. He abandoned his affluent way of life and embraced a life of radical poverty, or, in the words of Francis “to wed Lady Poverty.”
Three years later in 1210, his companions numbered 12 and Francis received the approval of Pope Innocent 111 to lead a life according to the Rule of the Holy Gospel. They became a band of roving preachers of Christ, thus began the Friars Minor, or Lesser Brothers. Rejecting all material goods, Francis and his brothers preached throughout Italy. They summoned people to faith and penitence, refused even corporate ownership and ecclesiastical preference. Saint Francis never became a priest out of humility. Francis’ practice of poverty and devotion to the humanity and Passion of Christ resonated in the hearts of a world grown spiritually cold; soon a vast Franciscan movement swept through Europe. By 1219, over 5,000 Franciscans gathered at Assisi for the famed Chapter of Mats. Francis subsequently founded a Second Order through Saint Clare of Assisi for cloistered nuns. A Third Order for religious and laity of both genders was also formed. Worn out by his apostolic efforts, pained by the stigmata he had received in 1224 and blinded by eye disease, Francis died at sunset, October 3, 1226.
The simplicity, directness, and single-mindedness in his devotion to Christ, and his lyrical multi-faceted life, have allowed Saint Francis to capture the heart and imagination of men and women of all religious persuasions. Notable Franciscans who have served the Church through the centuries are Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, Saint Bonaventure, and Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
Saint Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228; he is the Patron Saint of Catholic Action, animals, and the environment. His Feast day is celebrated on October 4 of each year.