Born inItalyto a wealthy silk merchant. His parents were awed by the French, so they called him Francis (the Frenchman), although he was baptized with the name John.
Francis spent most of his early life in seeking pleasure (parties, fine clothes, spending money, wine, and women), being very popular in the town ofAssisi.
When Francis was 21, he went on a military campaign against the rival city ofPerugiawhere he was captured and put in prison for a year.
After he was released, he became very ill, then he found his former pleasure- seeking life unappealing. While he was ill, he heard the voice, “serve the master rather than the man.” He tried to find enjoyment in clothes and chivalry again, but found that when he gave his stuff away, he felt more joy.
He then began a life of prayer, and he began to help the poor, but he was tempted to turn away from a leper. Instead of going with his impulse to turn away, he kissed the leper and gave him money.
He subsequently walked toRomeon a pilgrimage, giving away his clothes on the way and begging for alms by the time he arrived at St. Peter’s.
When he was 25, he returned home and prayed at a church called San Damiano where he heard, “Repair my house, which is virtually ruined.” He literally worked at repairing the building of San Damiano but used his father’s funds to pay to give to the priest there for the materials.
His father beat Francis and locked him in a room; his mother soon came and released him; Francis went to the Bishop; his father followed him demanding his money back; since Francis had nothing but the clothes on his back, he took those off and gave them to his father, happy to be disinherited; the bishop covered Francis in a woolen cloak—the type he would wear for the remainder of his life.
He went back to San Damiano to rebuild it with whatever materials he could find without money. Some people rebuked him, spat on him, or beat him when they saw him; others embraced him, clothed him, and fed him.
When he was 27, he was inspired to begin preaching. He began going around the area spreading the Gospel: he, in turn, inspired such people as Bernard (a wealthy merchant who gave up everything), Pietro (an assistant to the bishop who gave up his office), and Giles (a man in search of wisdom); they began to follow Francis’ rule of life: poverty, asceticism, reliance on alms, the Gospel life. Since he did not feel worthy, he never became an ordained priest but rested content as a deacon.
He asked for formal permission from the Pope to continue this rule of life, and received it when he was 29 after the Pope had a dream about Francis rebuilding the Church.
When he was 31, he helped his friend Clare create an order that was similar for women.
By the time he was 38, there were 5000 Franciscans.
By the time he was 40, a third order was established for lay people.
Francis left to become a missionary to the Muslims—the Sultan of Egypt would not allow anyone to harm him because he saw that Francis was a holy man.
On his return toEurope, he found that the Franciscan order had developed problems, having grown as far as Spain,Germany, and Hungary.
Francis was asked to set down a revised, clear rule, which he did.
After that, he left the order into other hands so that he could live as a hermit.
He was the Saint who started the custom of setting up a Nativity scene; he also received the stigmata two years before he died.
He died when he was 45.
see “Authentic Masculinity, Lived” for references