Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria in 1181 or 1182. His father, Piero Bernardone, was a prosperous merchant, and Francis planned to follow him in his trade, although he also had dreams of being a troubadour or a knight. In 1201 he took part in an attack on Perugia, was taken hostage, and remained a captive there for a year. As a result of his captivity and a severe illness his mind began to turn to religion, but around 1205 he enlisted in another military expedition, to Apulia. However, he had a dream in which God called him to his service, and he returned to Assisi and began to care for the sick. In 1206, he had a vision in which Christ called him to repair His Church. Francis interpreted this as a command to repair the church of San Damiano, near Assisi. He resolved to become a hermit, and devoted himself to repairing the church. His father, angry and embarrassed by Francis' behavior, imprisoned him and brought him before the bishop as disobedient. Francis abandoned all his rights and possessions, including his clothes. Two years later he felt himself called to preach, and was soon joined by companions. When they numbered eleven he gave them a short Rule and received approval from pope Innocent III for the brotherhood, which Francis called the Friars Minor.
The friars returned to Assisi and settled in huts at Rivoreto near the Porziuncula. They travelled throughout central Italy and beyond, preaching for people to turn from the world to Christ. In his life and preaching, Francis emphasized simplicity and poverty, relying on God's providence rather than worldly goods. The brothers worked or begged for what they needed to live, and any surplus was given to the poor. Francis turned his skills as a troubadour to the writing of prayers and hymns. In 1212 Clara Sciffi, a girl from a noble family of Assisi, left her family to join Francis. With his encouragement she founded a sisterhood at San Damiano, the Poor Ladies, later the Poor Clares. In 1219 Francis joined the crusaders and preached to the Sultan of Egypt.
Francis did not wish to found and 'order', but in time the brotherhood became more organized. As large numbers of people, attracted to the preaching and example of Francis, joined him, Francis had to delegate responsibility to others. Eventually he wrote a more detailed Rule, which was further revised by the new leaders of the Franciscans. He gave up leadership of the Order and went to the mountains to live in secluded prayer. There he received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ. He returned to visit the Franciscans, and Clara and her sisters, and a few of his followers remained with him. He died at the Porziuncula on October 3, 1226.
Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty, and humility before God. He worked to care for the poor, and one of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers. Thousands were drawn to his sincerity, piety, and joy. In all his actions, Francis sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels.
Feast Day: October 4