St. Francis was born in Calabria, in Italy, in 1416. His parents had a strong devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, after whom they named their son. They were poor, but gave Francis a rich spiritual life, inspiring him to imitate his namesake.
As a young boy, Francis showed remarkable faith, accepting poverty as a path to holiness. When he was 13, he went to live and study with a group of Franciscan friars, and decided to live according to their strict religious order. After a year, he and his parents made a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome. When they returned, Francis, at the age of 15, asked for permission to live as a hermit.
Francis lived in a cave, and gathered food from the wild, occasionally accepting offerings from his friends. Two companions joined him within a few years, and the townspeople built them three individual cells, as well as a chapel where they could attend Mass.
The group continued to grow, and the archbishop approved a religious order, known as the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, but later called simply the “Minimi,” meaning “the least.” The monks were committed to an austere lifestyle, with a strict diet that eliminated all food products made from animals. This abstinence became a fourth vow of the order, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Francis’ desire to live in solitary communion with God attracted the attention of many important kings and nobility, and bishops and popes. Some were interested in his healing and prophetic powers, while others saw him as a spiritual leader out of the corruption of the day.
At the request of Pope Sixtus IV, Francis traveled to Rome, with his nephew Nicholas, whom he had raised from the dead. King Louis XI was approaching death himself, and hoped that Francis would perform a miracle. Francis, however, told the king to prepare for heaven, instead of fearing death, and became the king’s spiritual advisor until Louis died in Francis’ arms in 1483. He remained close to the king’s successor, his son Charles VIII.
At the age of 91, Francis sensed that death was near, and lived in solitude for three months to prepare. When he returned, he gathered a group of Minim brothers and gave them instructions for the order’s future.
St. Francis died on Good Friday, April 2, 1507. He was canonized just 12 years after his death.