St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis (1181-1226) was born in Assisi, Italy, to a wealthy cloth merchant. He was a spoiled child given to pleasure, fine dress, liberal spending, and worldliness. Handsome and courteous, he was a favorite among the nobility. As a chivalrous young knight he took part in a battle between the Italian city-states and became a prisoner of war in Perugia. After his release he became seriously ill, and while reflecting on his wanton life he had a profound conversion experience. He gave up his frivolous life, cut off his family ties, and embraced a life of extreme penance and poverty in such a dramatic manner that it caused many to think he had gone mad. While praying before a crucifix in the church of San Damiano in Assisi he received his call from Christ to rebuild his Church, which had fallen into ruin. St. Francis followed Christ in a radical manner by patterning his new rule of life after the example of the Apostles in the most literal way possible; he dressed himself as a poor peasant, worked odd jobs for food, and went through the countryside preaching repentance, love of Jesus, and peace. His religious enthusiasm attracted followers, and with these he founded the Order of Friars Minor and the Poor Clares. His Order was approved by the Holy See in 1210 and it grew rapidly. Two years before his death he became the first known saint to receive the stigmata. His holiness was so widely attested that two years after his death the Church proclaimed him a saint. St. Francis of Assisi is the patron of peace, ecology, the environment, animals, Italy, merchants, and families. His feast day is October 4th.