Catholic Saints: St. Francis of Assisi Biography

You must learn more about Catholic saints in order to improve the life and to grow as a Catholic. In the article, I am going to present you the life of Saint Francis, one of the most popular and holy men in the history of Christianity. I hope St. Francis of Assisi biography will inspire you to battle your own weakness and problems and help you to grow as a Catholic.

Saint Francis
Bernardo_Strozzi_-St Francis of Assisi adoring the Crucifix

St. Francis of Assisi biography

Young Francis

St. Francis of Assisi was born in either 1181 or 1182, to a wealthy couple near Assisi, Italy (source newadvent.org). From his youth, Saint Francis was popular with people from his hometown, known for his generosity and his love of singing, dancing, and throwing large parties.

Basilica Francis in AssisiAs he grew into a young man, St. Francis quickly learned the skills of running his father’s successful cloth business. He fell in love with the idea of a noble lifestyle and dreamed of one day becoming a knight who would one day fight for the good of his homeland against a threat from others.

As a young adult Francis realized his dream as he was called to fight troops from the nearby town of Perugia. He was eventually taken a prisoner and spent a year in prison before being released, thanks to a ransom paid by his father. St. Francis became sick after his release but quickly regained health and prepared to return to battle.

God’s plan for Francis

God, however, had other plans in mind for him. Through a vision in a dream, He instructed St. Francis to return home, where he faced bitter humiliation from his townspeople and anger from his father (Catholic.org). This dream inspired the beginning of what would be a long process of conversion from a life of sin to a life dedicated to the love of God and His creation.

Francis’ conversion

The reason we call St. Francis a saint is because of this conversion he experienced in his heart. He was touched by God’s loving grace, which inspired him to change his life in many ways that would help him turn away from sin toward holiness, revealing the power in God’s grace and love.

This sign of conversion is an important part of stories of the lives of ALL the saints. Conversion of heart is the gift from God that will someday make you and me a saint if we choose to accept it.

Radical Poverty

povertyOne of the ways in which St. Francis’ heart experienced a deep conversion is through the love of poverty. A key point which many people associate with St. Francis’ life is a great love of radical poverty. After he returned home from what would have been his second experience at war, St. Francis was inspired by God, through prayer, to devote his life to total, complete dependence on God’s promise to provide for all of his needs. This devotion to poverty first began after St. Francis had taken money from his father’s cloth business.

“Re-build my Church”

St. Francis had received instructions from God, during his prayer in the Church of St. Damien, to begin re-building His Church. St. Francis took this literally to mean that God wanted him to actually re-build the Church he was praying in, as the building was not in good shape. When his father learned that he had taken money from his cloth business, he dragged St. Francis in front of the local bishop to regain it.

After this experience, in which the bishop instructed St. Francis to return the money, St. Francis removed the clothing his father had given him, completely leaving behind his ties with his family. St. Francis declared that now his only father would be God the Father in heaven. With that he went to live in the woods, wearing a simple tunic he had received from the bishop.

What does accept poverty mean?

To accept poverty means to realize that without God we truly have nothing in life. Our life and all of its beautiful gifts come to us by God’s grace, and St. Francis sought to live out his life of conversion with a firm conviction in this truth. One way he did this was by simplifying his clothing. He entered his new life wearing a simple tunic, a far cry from the style of clothing he was accustomed to wearing during his time in abundant wealth. He inspired early followers in his new way of life to adopt such simplicity.

Francis rely only on God’s providence

Another way St. Francis and his followers lived out radical poverty was by an emphasis on relying on God’s providence to provide for all of their lives’ needs, especially through the almsgiving of others. St. Francis often went back to his hometown to beg for the things he needed, choosing the lowliest offerings (for example, only stale pieces of bread) to meet his own needs and leaving anything else offered to him to benefit another person living in poverty.

He even relied on God’s providence to provide for his shelter and a source of companionship. He did this in a radical way when he chose to live in the wilderness, relying on God’s natural creation to provide for his basic need of shelter. While there are many people who simply admire the natural world for its beauty, there are probably not many would choose to live in it in the same way that St. Francis chose.

Companionship with all of God’s creatures

After he broke ties with his father to begin is a life of radical poverty, St. Francis chose to make a home for himself in the woods and to make companionship with all of God’s creatures. His companionship included the wild animals he encountered, as well as people out casted by society, especially people who lived with leprosy.

This was a group of people that St. Francis had once greatly feared. It has even been said that at the beginning of his conversion, St. Francis was moved by God to embrace a man with leprosy, kissing him on the forehead and giving him some money so he could survive. This radical poverty attracted to his way of life a great number of men who witnessed it when he returned to town to beg for his needs.

Radical humility

Reliance upon God’s providence for the fulfillment of one’s needs is what inspired another significant trait that we see throughout the life of St. Francis’ conversion: conversion to a life of humility.

What is humility?

Humility is, quite simply, thinking of oneself less than of others. It does not mean we should ignore our own needs or reject our own gifts because doing so would mean rejecting the gift of life God has given to us. St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps the poster child for living this virtue. This is because the one virtue that he is most commonly associated with is charity. Even before his conversion, it has been said, that he was always mindful of and ready to fulfill the needs of those less fortunate than himself. That virtue grew even more after his conversion.

St. Francis and hunger brother

There are beautiful stories that illustrate the strength of this virtue in his heart. One night, while he and his brothers were observing a period of strict fasting, one of the brothers awoke in the middle of the night, crying in agony from the pains of hunger. St. Francis is said to have awoken the other brothers to break the fast and share a meal together with their suffering brother.

St. Francis and a man with leprosy

Leper_manAnother beautiful story, mentioned above, is his well-known embrace of a man battling leprosy. St. Francis had always been afraid of these people who had been shunned to the outskirts of society. It surely took some great courage for him to have embraced this hurting child of God, but when he felt God moving him to act, he did so without delay.

St. Francis and a wolf

Another famous story involves his taming a wolf that had been scaring the people of one town. He looked beyond any fears he probably had of this animal and reached out to touch it, showing the gentle, loving compassion that comes to us from God.

St. Francis’ community

He also had a deep devotion to the humility of God the Father, who came down to earth, in human flesh in the Person Jesus Christ, through the womb of the Virgin Mary. This same God comes to us in the form of simple bread and wine in the celebration of Holy Mass. This humility of God the Father was an inspiration to St. Francis (Bader, 1996) and the model for his own humility.

It is no wonder that St. Francis’ community grew as quickly as it did and has grown immensely to this day. There are flourishing Franciscan communities throughout the world today because of the important foundations laid by St. Francis and his early followers.

franciscansHis brothers were attracted to his profoundly humble nature because through it they could see how deeply he cared for each of them before himself. Humility is probably the most important virtue in the building up of any community, large or small because it moves us to look for the good of others before our own good.

It inspires us to look for the strength of God—who loves us and has given us so many gifts—to help us build up the lives of the people around us. St. Francis modeled this virtue so beautifully for us throughout his life.

Radical Love of Nature

St. Francis – the patron saint of animals and nature

Flying-birdsSt. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and those who study nature because he himself was so deeply connected to the natural world with a great love for it. As we said above, he not only felt great affection for it in his heart, he also chose to live among the many wild animals that call it home. He had a great reverence for all created beings, and there are many beautiful stories to illustrate this fact.

natureSt. Francis is said to have imposed rules for his followers that were mindful of God’s creation. One example of this is that if wood from trees was needed to fulfill their basic needs, the brothers were not to cut down any trees that were still alive.

They were also to make use of natural resources only according to their basic needs or those of the people they served. He is even said to have tried to rescue worms that were close to a cooking fire that the brothers had started, and he probably would have instructed them to do the same.

An effective preacher

His great admiration for and gentleness in dealing with nature is beautifully illustrated in his preaching. St. Francis was not actually a priest but was ordained, reportedly against his will, as a deacon (Catholic.org).

Saint_Francis_of_Assisi
Saint_Francis_of_Assisi_by_Jusepe_de_Ribera

One of the duties of deacons is to preach, and he was an effective preacher. It has been said that he preached to even the animals he lived with, and they apparently showed signed of listening to him.

One story states that as he preached to birds they would sit nearby and listen to him, leaving only after the gentle saint dismissed them. The story of his taming a wolf that had scared a town full of people is a further demonstration of his special bond with creation.

Radical Love of Suffering

The wounds of the stigmata

St Francis of Assisi biography
St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata

St. Francis is said to have been one of the first saints to receive the wounds of the stigmata, the same wounds that Christ suffered from during his Crucifixion. St. Francis was no stranger to suffering, whether it was at the hands of those who belittled him upon his return from battle, those who belittled his devotion to Christ, or bouts of illness that greatly diminished his health over the course of his life.

An important piece of his conversion story is that he was likely transformed by God from a man who preferred comfort over suffering into a man who learned to love suffering above all else because it brought him closer to the love of God. The many, many men and women whom we call saints today learned to love suffering because it brought them closer to God.

Early in his life St. Francis was well liked by his fellow townspeople because of his joyfulness, energy, and his willingness to help those less fortunate than himself. This positive opinion changed for many people when he returned home before really setting out on his second trip to war with the town of Perugia. He was quickly labeled as a coward upon his return.

He did not gain the favor of his father either when he chose to take money out of his business’ profits to pay for the materials he needed to re-build the Church of St. Damien as he had planned. In either case, St. Francis did not allow other people’s unfavorable opinions of him to stop him from fulfilling the mission he believed was laid out for him by God. He carried out his vocation without concern for other people’s opinions of him.

As St. Francis’ love for Christ grew in his heart, he received ridicule from his townspeople and even his own father. On more than one occasion he had to hide from his father’s wrath so that he could continue to follow God’s plan for him without obstruction.

His father was a worldly man who cared for the profits his business gained for him above anything else. He also grew up in a time when prestige and nobility were highly valued. He himself, born in a noble family, had held this value as well. His conversion, however, inspired him to embrace extreme poverty over prestige and all of the suffering that came with it.

St. Francis did experience serious health complications throughout his life, but he endured them with the grace given to him by the God who loved him. He exhibited great energy and zeal throughout his ministry but eventually was met with exhaustion that would slow him down.

He is said to have suffered blindness but endured this cross with the grace of God. One story even states that as he was to be treated, he spoke to the fire used to heat the iron that was to be used in the treatment, calling it Brother Fire and begging it to be gentle to him. The story states that he did not feel pain during the procedure.

Finally, the wounds of the stigmata, which are said to be excruciatingly painful, appeared on St. Francis’ body. It has been said that these wounds remained with him for much of his adult life, so we can imagine the great pain he must have endured each day of his ministry (Bigoraphy.com). He endured this agony for love of Christ.

Radical Love

At the heart of St. Francis of Assisi’s life and ministry was a radical love of both God and neighbor that led to his being counted among the saints in heaven. Love is characterized by the willing sacrifice of self on a daily basis for the glory of God and the good of one’s neighbor. St. Francis’ life and ministry exhibited this beautifully.

He treated each person and each living creature he encountered with great love and affection, willingly setting aside concern for his own needs. He counted every person and every creature that crossed paths with him as his brother or sister. He even famously called the sun his sister and the moon his brother.

In the wake of his death, he reportedly bid farewell to Mount Alverna, which he had called his home, and to a “Brother Falcon he had encountered (Bader, 1996). He even greeted his passing from this world as “Sister Death.” This is admirable because many people are afraid of death. He joined hands with Sister Death in 1225.

St. Francis of Assisi biography – conclusion

St. Francis’ life and ministry were truly countercultural and can only be characterized as a radical conversion. His great love of the Lord Jesus inspired every act of charity for the poor, every tender touch of the animals he encountered in the wild, and every embrace of the very people that mainstream society had banished.

St. Francis truly loved God the Father and this love inspired him to embrace extreme poverty, a strong spirit of humility, a tender devotion to all of the creation, bitter suffering, and the common bond of all the vocations: radical love.

He put concern for his own needs below the needs of all others around him, and this is what it means to be a great saint!

Do you know any other fact about St. Francis of Assisi biography? Please share it with us bellow.

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