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Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis’ life speaks to the world today in so many ways that it is impossible to address them all at once. In the future, this section of our web site will reflect different aspects of Francis’ life. This reflection focuses on the birth of Saint Francis and the world into which he was born. 

Il Poverello, the little Poor Man of Assisi, whom the world knows and embraces as Saint Francis, is known and loved across cultural, religious, and socio-economic lines. He is invoked as the patron saint of animals and animal welfare societies, birds, zoos, ecologists, environmentalists, families, fire, lace makers, merchants, and the country of Italy. 

In 1181, Saint Francis was born to Pietro and Pica Bernadone in Assisi, in the region of Umbria in Italy. Assisi was a relatively unknown town, fraught with the same problems as other mountain towns in Italy at the time. The struggle for survival from the land, the emergence of a merchant class, and the warring factions from town to town were the background of Francis’ youth. From these humble beginnings, through the grace of God, came a man who would change the face of the church and of religious life. 

Francis’ father, Pietro Bernadone, was a cloth merchant, a member of the rising middle class of the day. His family enjoyed a degree of wealth and privilege. Legend has it that Pietro Bernadone was away on business when his son was born. The birth proved to be difficult, and Lady Pica asked to be brought to the stable beneath their house, where, almost immediately, she brought forth a healthy baby boy. In his father’s absence, Lady Pica decided to name him Giovanni (John). Some saw this as presaging Francis’ great preaching ability, like John the Baptist. However, when Pietro returned from his business trip to France, he gave his son the name Francis as a reminder of and tribute to a country he loved. 

Whether or not Francis’ birth replicated that of Our Lord, we know that his life did. Despite having a certain degree of wealth and privilege, Francis was brought up to love and to practice his faith and to reverence his Lord in creation, in all human beings, and in the institutional Church. 

Francis was baptized in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore at Assisi. As a child, he studied in the little schoolhouse adjoining the church that was dedicated to the warrior-saint, George. Francis learned to read and write. He learned Latin in school, as well as French at home. He was educated in the Catholic faith, and witnessed that faith lived at home. From his father Francis learned about the cloth trade, and he was exposed to buying, selling, and handling money in his father’s shop. Having a friendly and generous nature, he was well liked, polite to customers, and generous with his friends. One of the stories about the young Francis places him working in his father’s shop when a beggar came in asking, in the name of Christ, for alms. Being busy, Francis dismissed him, but immediately was overcome with remorse. He thought to himself, “If that beggar had asked for something in the name of some great lord of this world, I would surely not have turned him away, but he asked in the name of Christ, the Lord of all.” From this happening, Francis determined never to turn away anyone who asked anything from him in the name of Christ. This story helps us to realize that, even before his conversion, Francis knew and loved the Lord, and tried to reach out to His people wherever he encountered them.