St. Francis of Assisi, "the little beggar," whose feast is celebrated on October 4, is perhaps the most popular saint in history. Born to noble parents in Umbria, Italy in 1182, Francis grew up in relative luxury and was an avid pleasure seeker leading a frivolous life. Despite his high living, however, he was always generous with the poor.
Francis went off to war seeking glory and was captured in battle and held captive for over a year. On returning home, he continued to long for glory and went to war yet again. However, along the way he fell ill with a fever, and having already realized the emptiness of his life, he turned back to Assisi following a dream in which Christ instructed him to do so.
His attitude on returning home was less exuberant. He spent time with his friends but his heart and mind were distant. He had begun to fall in love with ‘lady poverty.’
One day, while on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a poor leper, a sight which filled him with disgust and repulsion. Instead of turning away, he made an effort to fight against his discomfort and he dismounted his horse, embraced the man and gave him all he had.
Later, while praying in the church of San Damiano, he heard the Lord tell him, "Repair my Church." Francis took it literally and began to live in a ruined Church and rebuild it. Soon, after the town had mocked him for giving away his inheritance and selling his father’s cloth in order to pay for materials, the sons of many of the noble families in the town began to also give away everything and join him. These were the beginnings of the Franciscan order.
In 1212, moved by a sermon he preached, Clare of Assisi, a young noblewoman asked to join him and Francis and Clare founded the Poor Clares, a parallel woman’s order.
In 1224 St. Francis became the first person recorded to receive the stigmata – the wounds of Christ – which he bore for two years until his death in 1226, at the age of 44.
St. Francis was canonized in 1228.