Saint Francis of Assisi was called by Pope Benedict XV the “greatest image of Our Lord that has ever been.” He was born in 1182. His name was John Bernardone. His father was a rich cloth merchant who had to travel frequently to France and who spoke French fluently. His son John (Giovanni) learned to speak French so well that he was called, in Italy, “Francesco,” which means “the Frenchman.” When he became a religious he gave up his family name and took his nickname for his title.
Saint Francis of Assisi, in imitation of Jesus with His Twelve Apostles, chose twelve companions with which to begin his Religious Order of the Friars Minor. His Order was approved in 1215. He made a journey to foreign lands so as to be martyred for the Catholic Faith. But he came back unharmed by way of Palestine. Saint Francis of Assisi built the first Christmas crib in 1223. He was given the stigmata, the five wounds of Jesus, in his hands and feet and side, when he was praying on a mountain in 1224. This was when he was making a forty-day crusade of prayer and fasting to Saint Michael, the great Archangel who protects the Catholic Church from its enemies. Along with Saint Clare of Assisi, a beautiful and radiant young girl who joined him when she was eighteen, Saint Francis founded the Poor Clares, an Order for women under the Franciscan Rule. He also founded a Third Order of Saint Francis for the sanctification of lay people who want to practice some of the works of humility and poverty for which the Franciscans are noted. There are various branches of the first Order of Saint Francis, including the Friars Minor, the Capuchins, and the Conventuals. The Franciscan Order has given the Catholic Church more than one hundred canonized saints and one hundred and forty-six blesseds.
See also: Saint Francis the Doctrinaire