The future saint was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in the Italian town of Assisi, in 1180 or 1181. He was nicknamed Francisco (Francis) by his father. His father was a prosperous merchant, and this allowed Francis to live the life of a young gentleman. As a young man, he fought as a knight and spent some time in prison. After his release, he was determined to join a Crusade to the Holy Land. However, after only a short ride from home, he had a vision that changed his life and history.
Francis adopted the lifestyle of a poor beggar, and renounced all his worldly goods. He dramatically gave up his father’s inheritance. During his wanderings he began to preach, and soon he had won many followers. Francis was a great preacher.
Francis not only preached to humans but also to animals. Francis had a deep love of nature, and saw God everywhere in the world and in everyone and everything. He called animals his ‘brothers and sisters’. That is why today he is the patron saint of animals.
Francis wanted to bring the message of God to all peoples. He wanted to live according to the Gospels, in a joyous and loving way.
He brought his message outside of Italy and traveled to Muslim Egypt in an effort to convert the Sultan. The Sultan was not converted, but was greatly impressed by the holiness of Francis.
Francis inspired many in Italy, and soon he had his own special following. Francis created a special rule for his followers: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps."
In 1209, St. Francis approached the Pope and asked to be allowed to found a religious order to preach the Word of God. Initially Pope Innocent III resisted, but after a dream he recognized the holiness of Francis.
Those who joined Francis' new order were known as Friars, and they lived a life of poverty and holiness. The new Order grew quickly. Soon there was the Order of Friars Minor for men, and the Order of Saint Clare for women. These orders flourish to this day.
St. Francis performed many miracles. At Pormarcio, the parents of a dead child approached St. Francis for help, and he told them that the girl was not dead. The girl soon rose from the dead. In Gargano, a man blinded himself with a hatchet while working. He pleaded with St Francis, who restored his sight.
Francis sought to imitate the Life of Christ above all things. He wanted to imitate Christ’s love for all, and his humility:
“No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.”
Francis saw himself as bringing the word of God, and his mission was to bring love and peace to all:
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
The future Saint died in 1230, while listening to his favorite Psalm. Francis was canonized in 1228.