In the winter of 1206, Francis Bernardone, a boy from Assisi, publicly renounced his own wealthy father so as to belong only to God. He abandoned the parties of his companions in order to help lepers, derelicts, and many of society’s rejects. Francis spent two years as a hermit and a restorer of three dilapidated churches in the area of Assisi: San Damiano, San Pietro, and Santa Maria degli Angeli. Over time, his intentional lifestyle initially attracted many followers and soon an 18 year old noble woman named Clare came to know of him and on Palm Sunday, 1212, she, too, fled her father’s house. Francis cut her hair as a sign of her consecration to God in the little chapel of the Portiuncula. Many other sisters then followed Clare and in about 1219, Clare and the Sisters received pontifical approval to live in cloistered poverty. Thus was born the Second Order of San Francis, which is called the Poor Ladies. Then, between 1210 and 1221, a major development of St. Francis occurs as he sends his companions throughout the world in order to preach the poor, humble and crucified Christ and to bring reconciliation and peace to everyone. The identity of Franciscans is found in the living out of the Gospel in the Church according to the model proposed and observed by Saint Francis of Assisi and preach it to every creature. Since then, The First Franciscan Order has undergone a profound restructuring. From it has arisen three major tendencies, which have subsequently given birth to juridically independent branches, but with the same common Rule of Life. The three major branches are: Friars Minor, Friars Minor Conventuals, and Friars Minor Capuchin. These three major families have developed as branches on a single giant tree, with very many works, missions, martyrs, religious, and merits, all following the model of one man, named Francis.
St. Francis, the Early Years
Francis enjoyed a very rich, easy life as he grew in the city because of his father’s enormous wealth. From the beginning, everyone loved Francis as he was always happy and charming! And no one loved pleasure more than Francis and he had a quick wit, sang happily, delighted in fine clothes, and had some very showy displays. Francis was said to be handsome and courteous and soon became the prime favorite among the young nobles of Assisi! But, even at this time, Francis showed an instinctive sympathy to the poor and spent money generously to assist them.
In 1205, the night before Francis set forth for a battle with the Pope’s militia, he had a strange dream in which he saw a vast hall hung with armour all marked with the Cross. “These,” said a voice, “are for you and your soldiers.” “I know I shall be a great prince,” exclaimed Francis exultingly, as he started for Apulia. But a second illness arrested his course at Spoleto and Francis had another dream in which the same voice bade him turn back to Assisi. He did so at once. Although Francis still joined in the festivities of his former comrades, his behavior showed that his heart was no longer with them. He began to thirst for a life of the spirit and to assist those whom he cared for deeply. After a short period of indecision, Francis began to seek in prayer in solitude for an answer and one day, while crossing the Umbrian plain on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a leper. The sudden appearance of this repulsive man filled him with disgust and he instinctively retreated, but controlling his natural aversion, he dismounted his horse and embraced the man and gave him all the money he had.