“I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.”
St. Francis of Assisi
Born Giovanni Francesco di Bernadone in 1182, his wealthy cloth merchant father called him Francis. Well-educated and high-spirited, Francis often led the young men of Assisi in enjoying good food and drink, singing and dancing. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, Francis wanted to be a knight; he joined the Assisi forces but was taken prisoner in a fight against another town and fell ill. He had several spiritual experiences while recuperating and as he prayed in the chapel of San Damiano outside Assisi, he heard Jesus direct him to “repair my house.” Francis immediately began to rebuild the San Damiano church, broke ties with his father and from then on, lived a life of poverty.
Francis’ beliefs are simple: all people, no matter their station, must be treated with dignity and respect; greed causes suffering; and the gift from God that is nature must be protected. He taught his followers by example and found his inspiration in three readings from Scripture:
- “If you would be perfect, go and sell all you have and give to the poor, and follow me.”
- “Take nothing with you for the journey.”
- “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
In 1209 Pope Innocent III gave his approval for Francis’ followers to become a religious order, although Francis himself was never ordained a priest. In 1224, however, he was praying on Mount Alvernia and had a vision during which he received the stigmata, the marks of the nails and the lance wound suffered by the crucified Christ. Soon after he took ill and never recovered; he died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. Just two years later, he was canonized a saint.
St. Francis is considered the patron saint of merchants, the environment and of animals.