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Episco-Fact #17
October 9, 2016

Who was St. Francis and why was he important?

Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named as Francesco (1881/1882- 3 October 1226), was an Italian Roman Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women's Order of Saint Clare, The Third Order of Franciscans and The Custody of the Holy Land. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. The current Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, took Francis for his Papal name because of the thirteenth century saint's commitment to the poor, reverence of God's creation, and commitment to modeling his life on the actions and values of Christ.

The son of a wealthy merchant who dealt in silk cloth, Francis showed an empathy for the poor even before his transformation in 1203 and 1204. His concerns did not stop him from enjoying the wealth of his father entirely nor did it stop him from enlisting in Assisi's army. But after having become a prisoner of war, he had a series of religious visions that led him to publically renounce his worldly goods and to take on a life of poverty and simplicity.

The spirit of the Roman Catholic Church, the effective church of Western Europe, was struggling at the time of Francis. There was internal corruption, growing cynicism of the ongoing Crusade (Francis preached to the son of Saladin during a cease fire in the fifth crusade—to no apparent affect), and laxity in clergy discipline. His example of poverty caught on among peasants and merchants alike. Francis and his followers soon made wandered the hills of Italy preaching and inspiring the laity.

In 1210 Pope Innocent III began the process of regularizing the Franciscans as an order, so that their preaching could occur from churches and not just in the fields. The adherents of the Franciscans grew beyond the structures of Francis' simple Order. Innocent III endorsed Bonaventure's ordering the charism of this young and spirited religious group.

Francis' response to the Holy Spirit may have delayed a Reformation in Europe in the 1200's, but he reinvigorated faithful Christians across the west in a reformation of the structures in place.

He is also known for having been the first Christian to experience stigmata, having preached to the birds (hence the Creche Schools Trademark), and for creating the first Creche (in fact, our idea of the Lukan nativity has more to do with Francis than history).

This is our Patronal feast day. A chance to remember the spirt of our founding and the spirit of the Saint whom we honor.

 

The Rev. David Lucey

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