St. Francis was born in the early 1180s, one of many children born into a wealthy family. He was originally named Giovanni, but his father called him Francesco (Francis). In his youth, Francis had an active social life, enjoying the benefits of his father’s wealth and status. He fought in a war with a rival Italian city-state, and was imprisoned.
During that time, Francis began thinking more seriously about his true purpose, and received a recurring dream that suggested his true “army” was more heavenly in nature. In 1205, he returned to Assisi and considered a life of voluntary poverty.
In Assisi, he kissed the hand of a leper, overcoming his fear of diseases. He then made a pilgrimage to Rome, and left his money at the tomb of St. Peter and gave his clothes to a beggar. After returning home in poverty, St. Francis received a vision from Christ, telling him to “repair my house.”
Francis used his father’s money to rebuild churches, which enraged his cloth-merchant father. In response, Francis removed his clothes and publicly declared that he had no father but God.
In 1208, Francis was inspired by the Gospel story where Christ tells his disciples to go out without shoes, clothing, or money to preach his word. This way of living eventually became the basis for the Franciscan order, which drew thousands of followers during his life.
Francis received the stigmata, Christ’s wounds from the Crucifixion, in his hands and feet in September 1224. Over the next two years, he grew increasingly more frail and sickly, giving his life as a “living sacrifice.” Francis died on Oct. 3, 1226, and was canonized just two years later by Pope Gregory IX.