Francis & Clare

info_francis_clareFrancis’ parents, Pica and Pietro Bernardone, living in the early part of the 13th century, were members of Assisi’s prosperous merchant class. A born leader, Francis instigated many revels among the young men of Assisi. Shaken by a year’s imprisonment as prisoner of war and by a long illness, Francis decided to abandon his knightly ambitions and dedicate himself to God’s service. He would eventually describe himself as “the herald of the great king.”

One day, while praying before the crucifix at San Damiano, a dilapidated wayside chapel near Assisi, Francis heard these words, “Rebuild my house, for it is nearly falling down.” He then repaired San Damiano and two other nearby churches. That required begging stones for Assisi; nevertheless, Francis survived the occasional mocking which greeted him there.

Francis’ life took a new direction when he met a man suffering from leprosy. Tempted to ride on, Francis dismounted, kissed the leper and gave him some money. Later, Francis and his followers would work among people suffering from leprosy.

Francis quickly attracted followers and in 1209 went to Rome to get approval from Pope Innocent III for this new group called the “Penitents from Assisi.” They dedicated themselves to prayer, manual labor, and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their voluntary poverty lent credibility to their way of life. In time, Francis called his followers Friars Minor (Lesser Brothers).

Francis had a missionary heart. He traveled to Egypt and the Holy Land, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When he returned to Assisi in 1220, he had become ill, and he realized that his fast growing group of followers needed more capable leadership. He resigned as leader. In the next two years, Francis devoted much time to formulating a Rule, a way of life, to be submitted to the Pope for approval. The final Rule was approved in 1223.

In September of 1224, while Francis was praying on Mount LaVerna, he received the stigmata, the marks of Christ’s passion on his hands, feet and side. Growing blind and progressively weaker, he composed his famous Canticle of Brother Sun, a hymn of praise to his Creator. Francis died on the evening of October 3, 1226. He was proclaimed a saint two years after his death.

One of the followers of St. Francis was Clare, daughter of Favorone and Ortolana Offreduccio, a noble family of Assisi. Clare was fascinated by Francis’ preaching and felt called to live the Gospel as a nun in what was becoming the Franciscan way of life. Clare, with her sister Agnes, moved to San Damiano, the birthplace of the “Poor Ladies of San Damiano,” later known as the Poor Clare Sisters. At San Damiano the sisters lived poorly and dedicated themselves to a life of prayer. Clare died in 1253 and was proclaimed a saint two years later.