Early Life of St Francis of Assisi: Founder of the Franciscan Order
Francis was born to a religious mother that had him baptized as Giovanni, named after John the Baptist. His father, on the other hand, wanted his son to be a businessman rather than a religious man. Francis' father was a rich merchant and loved the country of France and renamed him Francesco which meant Frenchman.
Francesco, or Francis as we know him, lived a beautiful, wealthy life. He had a charming personality and everyone who met him fell in love with his presence. He was a natural leader and people looked to him this way his entire life, and not only because of the prominence of his family.
He did not do well in school but nobody pushed him to, because they enjoyed his presence there so much. Whenever he was sick, people would care for him and people often made excuses for his behavior or poor choices. He rarely suffered consequences and, like many kids without discipline, he eventually fell into a crowd of people who spent their time partying wildly. Later in life, his biographer described the group that Francis spent time with as being “addicted to evil and accustomed to vice” which tells you just how wild their partying lifestyles were.
Just as his father had hoped, Francis developed his love for the country of France. He enjoyed their adventurous and romantic culture and he also developed his father’s love and skill for business. He had no desire to follow Christ or anything related to the church and he instead wanted to be a nobleman or a knight. When war broke out between Assisi and Perugia, Francis joined the ranks of nobility but was captured as a prisoner to be ransomed. One would think that achieving his dream of nobility only to be seen as a valuable ransom and be locked in a dungeon for a year would have changed his life’s course, but instead he continued his life of evils and vices upon release.
Even the actions of Francis that appeared altruistic were always met with significant boasting about how great he would be viewed for whatever he had done. He had no sense of humility and one day he even gave his cloak to a poor knight but bragged that he would return a prince because he did so. One day when he was riding outside of Assisi, he had a dream in which God told him that he had everything all wrong and told him to return home. He obliged the instruction and returned home but he had not seen any battle, so he was ridiculed harshly. Given the sense of pride and arrogance in Francis, this was likely a challenging experience to endure.
Although he continued to work as a businessman, Francis also began to seek God’s face through prayer. He would confess his sins and atone for them, and God’s grace felt overwhelmingly joyful to him. One day when he was riding outside of town, Francis came across a leper. Normally, his vanity and arrogance would have driven him away from the leper and although he was appalled by the sight and smell of him, he still jumped from his horse to kiss his hand. The leper kissed the hand of Francis in return and the gesture filled him with intense joy. He turned to wave before leaving but the leper was gone; this told Francis that God was trying to test him by bringing this leper along his way: the leper was Jesus Christ.
After this event, Francis spent more time in prayer and heard Christ telling him to repair his church. Francis thought that it meant the building in which he worshipped but over time it became apparent that the meaning was about the overall Catholic Church. He became a prominent preacher and encouraged those of faith to return to God and return to obedience, and he shared his own testimony of partying to no avail and finding purpose in Christ. He became known for his theological arguments that made the life of poverty a holy one and took the tradition of sacrificing material things to follow Christ extremely seriously. He also felt that the creations of God were holy and to be revered like nature and animals. For that reason, St. Francis is seen as the patron saint of animals and of ecologists as a way to honor that love and reverence that he felt for the creations of God’s beautiful, earthly kingdom.
You can find some St. Francis medals for devotion directly from Rome in our store or by searching in your local Church gift shop. We carry a large selection of medals and catholic gifts that can be blessed on demand by Pope Francis.
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