Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
St. Francis of Assisi
Feast day: October 4
Francis of Assisi is honored by the Catholic Church as the patron saint
of animals and ecology. Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or
1182. His father was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to
follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a
troubadour or a knight.
In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and
remained a captive there for a year. As a result of his captivity and a
severe illness his mind began to turn to religion, but around 1205 he
enlisted in another military expedition, to Apulia. However, he had a
dream in which God called him to his service, and he returned to Assisi
and began to care for the sick. In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ
called him to repair His Church. Francis interpreted this as a command
to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi.
He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the
church. His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis' behavior,
imprisoned him and brought him before the bishop as disobedient. Francis
abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes. Two
years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by
companions. When they numbered eleven he gave them a short Rule and
received approval from Pope Innocent III for the brotherhood, which
Francis called the Friars Minor.
The friars traveled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for
people to turn from the world to Christ. In his life and preaching,
Francis emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God's providence
rather than worldly goods. The brothers worked or begged for what they
needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor. Francis turned
his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns.
In 1212 Saint Clara Sciffi, a girl from a noble family of Assisi, left
her family to join Francis. With his encouragement she founded a
sisterhood at San Damiano, the Poor Ladies, later the Poor Clares.
In time the brotherhood became more organized. As large numbers of
people, attracted to the preaching and example of Francis, joined him,
Francis had to delegate responsibility to others. Eventually he wrote a
more detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the
Franciscans. He gave up leadership of the Order and went to the
mountains to live in secluded prayer. There he received the Stigmata,
the wounds of Christ. He returned to visit the Franciscans, and Clara
and her sisters, and a few of his followers remained with him. He died
at the Porziuncula on October 3, 1226.
Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty, and humility before God.
He worked to care for the poor, and one of his first actions after his
conversion was to care for lepers. Thousands were drawn to his
sincerity, piety, and joy. In all his actions, Francis sought to follow
fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the
Gospels. His respect and appreciation for creation was so profound
because it always led him to the Creator.
For Francis, the Eucharist became the deepest source of support for his
desire for cosmic peace and reconciliation. Just two years before he
died, St. Francis said: "I beseech all of you, by whatever charity I
can, that you show reverence and all honor to the most Holy Body and
Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, because (in Him) all things, whether on
earth or in heaven have been pacified and reconciled with Almighty God".
Every year on the Sunday nearest his October 4 feast day, Catholic and
other Christian churches around the world host services where animals
are blessed. These services are a powerful way to celebrate both
Francis's and God's compassionate concern for all creatures.
Though never ordained, Francis' impact on religious life since his times
has been enormous. Probably no saint has affected so many in so many
different ways as the gentle Saint of Assisi who, born to wealth,
devoted his life to poverty, concern for the poor and the sick, and so
delighted in God's works as revealed in nature.