The family name of Francis of Assisi is Bernardone. His Christian name was to be Giovanni (John), but his father Pietro (Peter), back from one of his travels, preferred to give him the name of Francesco (Francis). This is because he did business with France, and also perhaps because his wife Pica came from Provence.
A golden childhood, followed by a profound conversion
As Francis was born in Assisi, he is known as Francis of Assisi. Born in 1182, he enjoyed a fulfilled childhood with every material comfort. The son of a rich merchant, he naturally groomed himself to take over from him. And as he had plenty of money - he also had many friends - he was a prince among the wealthy young people of Assisi. Yet he dreamed of becoming a knight. His first experience was a disaster; after a war against the neighboring town of Perugia, he ended up in prison for a whole year! Then he fell ill. Despite this, he tried to dedicate his life to chivalry. Gradually, however, he had an intuitive feeling that there were better things to do with his life.
First of all, he realized that he was called to repair ruined churches; the crucified Christ at the church of St. Damiano revealed this to him in 1205. He was then twenty-three years old. The following year, he severed the ties with his family and gave up his possessions. For the next two years, he cared for lepers and repaired chapels. Then, in 1208 at the age of twenty-six, while listening to the Gospel at Mass, he discovered that his calling was to live out its message to the letter.
Following in Christ’s footsteps, he attracted a great following of those called to the monastic life
Very quickly, other men came to join him. They went to Rome to request permission from the Pope to adopt this new way of life within the Church. This was granted with some reservation! Then women began to adopt the same way of life they were called the Poor Clares, taking their name from St Clare, the first of these religious women. Lay people also asked to live this evangelical way of life whilst remaining within their family and continuing to carry out their trade. This was the Third Order, and completed the Brotherhood. Franciscans left for other European countries. In 1219 Francis himself went to Egypt to convert the sultan. The two men parted with great respect one for the other.
Francis then gave up the leadership of his order and withdrew to write a Rule for his friars - his guidelines on how to live. This was finished in 1223, and received the Pope’s approval. Francis spent Christmas at Greccio, where he organized the first living Nativity Scene. Finding that he identified ever more closely with Jesus who pervaded his inner being, he withdrew to Monte Alverno. There he prayed a great deal; later the marks of Jesus’ Passion (the stigmata) appeared clearly on his body. Ill, suffering from eye disease and almost blind, he withdrew to St Damiano, where he composed The Song of Creation and wrote his Testament. He died on October 3, 1226, at the age of 44. He was canonized in 1228, and the Pope ordered that a Basilica should be erected in his honor at Assisi. Crowds from the world over come to honor Francis, a humble witness to the Gospel.
Francis in praise of Mary
Some magnificent prayers to the Virgin Mary were written by Francis. Here is one of the most beautiful songs of praise to Mary that are ascribed to him:
Hail Mary, very holy Mother of God,
You were chosen by our Father in heaven,
and consecrated by Him as His temple.
In you was and is the fullness of grace and
He who is perfect in all goodness.
Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Dwelling!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!