Saints and Holy People

Find out about their lives and how they changed the world

Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1181–1226)

Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 1181–1226)

Patron saint of animals, ecology, and the environment

Feast day: October 4

Fame. Comfort. Power. Like Jesus in the desert, Saint Francis faced down these temptations to find his purpose in life. He was the son of a wealthy twelfth-century Italian merchant, and early in his life was devoted to partying and enjoying his social status. Then his life changed. He became seriously ill after experiencing life as a soldier, and he began to rethink his values. Encountering a begging leper, he embraced the man, gave him money, and began to spend more time with the poor and outcasts. His father was furious for what he saw as a waste of time and dragged him before the local bishop to set Francis straight. Instead, Francis stripped off his fine clothes, gave them to his father, and renounced all worldly wealth and possessions.

At first Francis’s former party mates looked at his new way of life and scoffed. However, there was something remarkably appealing about the way that Francis loved the poor and the sick, prayed, preached the Good News, and went about rebuilding the Church one stone at a time.

Francis is known for his prayer life, particularly the way that his prayers reflect the joy and awe of God that he experienced in nature. Wild animals were known to flock to him and even obey him! The joy and freedom with which Francis lived as a follower of Christ soon attracted so many followers that he had to establish an order and write a rule for them.

Today people are fond of summarizing the rule with these words: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” (From The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, Third Edition [Saint Mary’s Press])

(Image © Vicki Shuck / Saint Mary’s Press)