Saint Francis of Assisi (Italian: San Francesco d'Assisi); born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco; 1181/1182 – October 3, 1226) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women not able to live the lives of itinerant preachers, followed by the early members of the Order of Friars Minor, or the monastic lives of the Poor Clares. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
Francis' father was Pietro di Bernardone, a prosperous silk merchant. Francis lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man, even fighting as a soldier for Assisi. While going off to war in 1204, Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor in begging at St Peter's Basilica. The experience moved him to live in poverty. Francis returned home, began preaching on the streets, and soon gathered followers. His Order was authorised by Pope Innocent III in 1210. He then founded the Order of Poor Clares, which became an enclosed religious order for women, as well as the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance (commonly called the Third Order).
In 1219, he went to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscan Order had grown to such an extent that its primitive organisational structure was no longer sufficient. He returned to Italy to organise the Order. Once his community was authorised by the Pope, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs. In 1223, Francis arranged for the first Christmas nativity scene. In 1224, he received the stigmata, making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ's Passion. He died during the evening hours of 3 October 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142 (141).
On 16 July 1228, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy (with Catherine of Siena).
On the day before Francis was canonised, I was ordained into the sacred priesthood, and on the day after the little saint died I was episcopally consecrated, ie the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi 1991.
Saint Francis had many mystical experiences which made my own affinity with him all the closer. This statue of the beloved saint stands in the retreat's grotto garden which also serves as a sanctuary for wildlife.