Feast day: Oct. 4
Born into a life of privilege in the 12th century, Francis spent his youth pursuing leisure. But then, one day, something changed. Some say it was because of a serious illness. Others say it was the experience of being imprisoned for a year as part of a military expedition. But change he did.
During this period of rebirth, Francis was praying in front of a crucifix at the abandoned San Damiano chapel near Assisi. There he had a vision in which God said, “Francis, repair my house, which is falling into ruin.” He listened, looked around at the crumbling chapel, and then sold some of his possessions in order to help rebuild it.
Did Francis sense that God was referring to more than that crumbling chapel in Assisi when he asked Francis to rebuild his Church? Perhaps. The wider Church in the 12th century was wealthy and often corrupt. So when Francis sold everything he owned and embraced a life of humble poverty and preaching, it was counter-cultural, to the extreme. Francis’ goal was to bring the Church back to its roots of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ordinary people.
And people listened. And the number of his followers began to grow. The simple rule of the brotherhood of followers was: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.” Soon, the message spread far and wide, and Francis’ followers numbered in the thousands. Eventually, St. Francis traveled to Rome and was given approval for the Franciscan order.
Before his death at the age of 44, St. Francis had founded three religious orders and spent his life in poverty preaching and caring for the sick and poor. He was canonized in 1228, only two years after his death. The world was reminded of this humble saint’s legacy when, in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the newly elected pope, chose the name Francis, saying, “How I would love a Church that is poor and for the poor.”