St. Francis of Assisi: The Story of Our Patron Saint

The Story of Our Patron Saint

St. Francis Episcopal Church proudly bears the name of St. Francis of Assisi, a medieval Italian Catholic friar, deacon, and preacher. Originally Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (nicknamed “Francesco”), Francis was born around 1182 to a wealthy family in Assisi, Umbria. He lived a privileged lifestyle, supported by his parents, assisting in his father’s silk business. On one occasion, when approached by a beggar, Francis was said to have experienced something like a religious conversion, renouncing all things earthly, including the clothes on his back. Mocked and shunned by his friends and family, Francis enlisted in the military around age 20, and was subsequently sent on expedition, only to return after having seen a strange vision.

In 1205, Francis was said to have had a mystical vision of Jesus in the Chapel of San Damiano, just outside Assisi. Gazing upon the crucifix (see right), he heard the words, “Rebuild my church that is in ruins.” Francis received these words as divine instruction and began devoting his life to serving God and the poor. 

Others joined Francis in service, drawn by his humble devotion and dedication to God and those in need. In 1209, Francis penned a simple rule by which he and his followers were to live. The next year, 1210, Pope Innocent III recognized this band of brothers as a religious order. They were called "Ordo Fratrum Minorum" or "The Order of Lesser Brothers." Franciscan friars are still styled "OFM" to this day. 

In addition to service to the poor and those in need, Francis is well known for his commitment to a life of poverty, insisting that his brothers renounce all else for the sake of Christ, who himself became poor for our sakes. Many today, whether in the church or not, recognize too Francis' deep affinity for creation, which he understood as something of a beautiful script that told of the character of the divine itself.

While the St. Francis community recognizes the dramatic differences in context between medieval Umbria and contemporary North Carolina, we nevertheless seek to live into the spirit of Francis. In particular, we identify three virtues of Francis' life and ministry that help shape our community's life together: simplicity, compassion, and hope.

  • We recognize simplicity as the beautiful expression of a life lived in singular devotion to God, manifest in acts of straightforward charity and justice.
  • We seek to enact lives of compassion toward those in need in our city, county, and beyond, working for the dignity of every person.
  • We proclaim hope with our lips and in our lives, as we lean into the beautiful example of St. Francis of Assisi. 

Resources for Further Reflection

 

Augustine Thompson, O.P., Francis of Assisi: A New Biography

(From Amazon) In this authoritative and engaging new biography, Augustine Thompson, O.P., sifts through the surviving evidence for the life of Francis using modern historical methods. The result is a complex yet sympathetic portrait of the man and the saint. Francis emerges from this account as very much a typical thirteenth-century Italian layman, but one who, when faced with unexpected crises in his personal life, made decisions so radical that they challenge his own society―and ours.

 


 

G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi

(From Amazon) Chesterton's Saint Francis of Assisi is the popular biography of a beloved Christian saint and founder of the Franciscans, told by an equally beloved author and storyteller. It is an accessible, interesting and compelling story of a man known more by legend than fact. In this brilliant reflection on the poor friar of Assisi, G. K. Chesterton unfolds the life and times of St. Francis, from his conversion as a young man to his receiving of the stigmata at the end of his life.

 


 

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

(From Amazon) First printed in 1476, this collection of stories, or "little flowers," chronicles Saint Francis of Assisi's journeys, activities, and miracles. Told in brief anecdotes of charming simplicity, the stories include Saint Francis' sermon to the birds, his taming of the savage wolf of Gubbio, his conversion of the Sultan of Babylon, and his miraculous healing of a leper. Picturesque and poetic, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis transports readers to the Middle Ages for an inspiring portrait of the saint and his earliest disciples. One of the world's most popular and widely read religious classics, its universal appeal extends to people of all faiths and every intellectual level.

 


 

Jon M. Sweeney, The St. Francis Prayer Book: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life

(From Amazon) This warm-hearted little book is a window into the soul of St. Francis, one of the most passionate and inspiring followers of Jesus. "Prayer was to Francis as play is to a child: natural, easy, creative, and joyful," author Jon Sweeney tells us. "Before it became common to speak in personal terms of a relationship with God, Francis did so and made it seem natural."

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