The year of Saint Francis of Assisi’s birth is not known. It is thought to have been either 1181 or 1182. He was born in Umbria, Italy and was the son was Pietro di Bernadone, a worldly merchant. Although his baptismal name was Giovanni, he was called Francesco or Francis after his father had commercial success in France.
During his youth, Francis was rather worldly. His wakeup call came around the year 1201 when he joined the military fight against the neighboring Umbrian city of Perugia. Francis was captured and remained in prison for about a year. He was released only because he was desperately ill.
While he was ill, Francis heard a heavenly voice asking if he would serve God or man. Although he at first tried to ignore this calling, he soon gave up his lavish lifestyle and started working with the lepers.
Once, while he was praying in a poor, broken down church, the famous San Damiano cross came to life and said “Francis, go and repair my house, which you see is falling down”. Taking these words literally, he sold some of his father’s goods and gave to money to San Damiano’s parish priest. Pietro, greatly upset at his loss of money, tried to lock Francis up and keep him from his pious ways. Francis responded by returning the very clothes on his back and leaving his father’s house forever.
His simple life as a beggar soon attracted other young men including several of Francis’ friends. In 1209, he and his eleven brothers traveled to Rome and asked Pope Innocent III to approve their new religious order. Francis’ order is now known as the Order of the Friars Minor. During that same year, Saint Clare of Assisi left her rich family and joined Francis in his poverty. The Order of the Poor Clares was founded in 1211.
After the founding of his order, Francis made several pilgrimages to the Holy Land. While in Egypt during the year 1219, he got caught between the soldiers of the Fifth Crusade and the Sultan Malek al-Kamil. He so impressed the Sultan that he later stated that, if all men were like Francis, the entire world would be Christian.
Francis lived out the last part of his life in Italy. He began suffering from severe eye problems that almost completely robbed him of his sight. It is now thought that he had macular degeneration.
On September 14, 1224, Francis received the stigmata. With his brothers singing his composition The Canticle of the Sun, Francis died peacefully on October 3, 1226.
Saint Francis of Assisi was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on June 16, 1228. Because of his well known love of animals and nature, he was declared the patron saint of animals. His feast day is October 4. Traditionally, on this day, Christians bring their pets to local churches to receive a blessing.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints